How do you focus on eating better for the health of your body/wanting to FEEL better without getting caught up in the diet culture? It’s been very difficult for me to wrap my mind around eating healthier and sustaining it without feeling bad about my current body in the process. Diet culture makes me feel like I'm “fixing” a problem, when I'm just trying to treat myself better. Where do body positivity and healthy eating connect?
You probably know by now that a lot of people assume believing in body positivity means throwing out any desire to better your physical health. Which has never been true, there are plenty of ways to prioritise your physical health (if that's what floats your boat!) without falling back into diet culture.
But before we dive into that, I do need to make it clear that physical health is not, and will never be a requirement in body positivity, since using 'health' as a marker of value or to determine which bodies are worthy of respect is plain old ableist. Some people will never be able to hit the 'as long as you're healthy' requirement that often gets attached to body positivity – people with chronic illness or impairments, for example. And regardless of ability, ranking which bodies are worthy based on their level of health is healthism, and no better than ranking bodies by appearance. All bodies are worthy of respect and acceptance, no requirements, no conditions, no exclusions.
Now we're agreed on that, if you are someone who is able to and wants to take steps to better their physical health, that's cool too! Here are a few tips on keeping it bopo while you do that:
Follow a Health at Every Size approach. HAES is a movement that encourages people to focus on healthful behaviours, like eating more nutritious foods and moving their bodies for joy, rather than using weight as a measure of health. If you want to learn more about it then I'd recommend getting a copy of Health at Every Size by Linda Bacon, downloading some of the free materials online, or even looking into getting a HAES certified nutritionist!
Practice intuitive eating with gentle nutrition. Intuitive eating is about getting back in touch with your innate hunger and fullness signals, ditching the diet rules and learning to listen to what your body really needs. That means no more 'good', 'bad' or 'forbidden' food categories, no more guilt and shame, and truly neutralising food so that carrot sticks have the same moral value as carrot cake. Once you have that food neutrality, you can bring in a focus on nutrition in terms of which foods make your body feel the most nourished. That way you actually enjoy eating them, rather than forcing yourself to out of obligation. To learn more about intuitive eating I'd recommend Linda Bacon's book again, and also Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch.
Make sure you're being weight neutral about it. We're taught our whole lives that health can be measured on our bathroom scale, but the truth is that health is so much more multi-faceted than weight and weight alone. Focusing on how our bodies feel instead of how our bodies look is a much better indication of whether our behaviours are benefiting our health, and stops us getting obsessed with that number.
Remember that mental health is health too. Always. Which means that the things we do in the name of 'health' that come at the expense of our mental wellbeing, aren't very healthy at all. Including restriction, calorie counting, exercise as a punishment and negative self talk as a motivator. Be wary of any health advice that's promoting those things, or focusing more on appearance than real wellbeing. Reject any version of 'health' that relies on fatphobia, shame, or encourages disordered eating.
Be kind to yourself, even when you're not making the most healthful choices. Because those choices will never determine whether you're worthy of your love or other people's respect.
Love & bopo,