By Victoria Beechum
The only weight you need to lose this season (or any season!) is the enormous pressure you put on yourself to change the way you look. This summer, shift your focus from achieving an ideal waist size to accepting your body as it is. You’ll feel a whole lot better if you do.
Bathing suit season is coming up…are you worried?
If not, congratulations! You are one of the few of us that accepts his or her body without judgement or shame.
If you are worried, you are not alone! In fact, you’re among the millions of people who are unsatisfied with their body and striving to change it. The problem is, not loving your body is not loving yourself—and striving to be something you’re not can have detrimental consequences.
Bodies are meant to come in all shapes and sizes
Contrary to a popular cultural bias, health is not determined by size! And, while we’re at it, beauty is not determined by size, either. Within our culture, weight is perceived to be caused by factors within our control, a view which is widely supported in the media.
“Many people believe that our body shape and size is only determined by what we eat and how much we exercise. But this couldn’t be further from the truth. Genetics and biology play large roles in determining our body shape,” explains Amy Campbell, a Registered Dietitian at Deer Lodge Centre. “Genetics and biology dictate how we metabolize nutrients and store energy. And these are unmodifiable variables in the equation.”
That word bears repeating: unmodifiable. You have not failed yourself by failing to lose weight through diet and exercise. If you are (mostly) following the tenets of healthy living (see sidebar), you are fulfilling your genetic potential.
Other factors that influence our bodies’ shapes and sizes are psychosocial factors (mental health), sociocultural factors (the foods you ate growing up and what your parents or others taught you about food), socioeconomic factors (how your budget or social class might influence your food choices), and your individual behaviour (the sum of your daily choices, preferences and habits).
“Registered Dietitians talk about diet all the time,” says Campbell, “but we fear that much of the time, people hear ‘I’m going to put you on a diet.’ When RDs refer to diet, we’re talking about the foods you eat, whatever they may be.”
Why do people go on diets, anyway?
“I believe we’re taught by the media to strive for the ‘ideal’ physique (which is unattainable by 90 per cent or more of the population) and are meant to feel shame if we are anything but ‘perfect,’” explains Campbell. “We are taught that certain foods are ‘sinful’ or that we must only ‘indulge’ in certain foods occasionally and should feel guilty after we’ve eaten them. So guilty that we banish such foods from our lives forever. That is, until we can no longer resist the urge to eat them again—and then we label ourselves as shameful, disgusting, unworthy, and—gasp!—fat!”
In fact, sustaining large amounts of weight loss through calorie-restricted dieting over the long haul is unlikely. Most people regain weight after they’ve completed their selected “diet”; some even gain more weight than they had before. Worse still, continual cycles of dieting and weight regain can be harmful to your health by contributing to high blood pressure, the accumulation of visceral fat (also known as deep or belly fat), changes to fatty acid composition, insulin resistance, and abnormal lipid levels in the blood. All of these changes put pressure on the cardiovascular system.
Forget diet: focus on health
Being healthy means making healthy choices a habit (like the examples in our tenets for healthy eating sidebar). It doesn’t mean restricting yourself, imposing rules, or setting impossible goals or standards.
“Healthy can mean different things to everyone, ” says Campbell, “but I suggest that you take care of your physical, emotional, and spiritual/psychological health. For the physical, get enough rest, exercise, and eat a healthy diet. For the emotional, spend time with loved ones, engage in the activities you love, and strive for work/life balance. And for spiritual and/or psychological health, ensure you have a way to express any feelings that may be causing you distress and keep up with spiritual devotions, if that is important to you.”
As for bathing suit season … practice appreciating your body for all the amazing things it can do. Once you love the skin you’re in, whatever your shape or size or age, you’ll feel a lot more comfortable letting it show with pride.
Tenets of a healthy diet
- Follow your hunger and fullness cues (eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re satisfied)
- Eat a variety of foods from all the food groups (whole grains, fruits and vegetables, milk and dairy, meat and alternatives)
- Eat a colourful diet
- Stay well hydrated with water
- Don’t skip meals
- Eat protein with every meal
- Eat high-fibre grains
- Avoid all-or-nothing thinking. Every diet has room for treats!
Watermelon & feta salad
by Amy Campbell
6 cups watermelon, cut from rind and chopped
into 1-inch chunks
½ small red onion, peeled and finely diced
1 cup crumbled feta cheese
½ cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
2 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 lime, juiced
¼ tsp salt
Black pepper, to taste
Place the watermelon, onion, feta and mint leaves in a bowl. Combine oil, lime juice and salt. Drizzle over salad and season with black pepper.