I’m a dietitian, and I’m tired of talking about body weight.
You might think that would be a career-ender, a confession I ought not dare utter aloud. After all, what do dietitians do when faced with an obesity epidemic, if not help people achieve a healthy weight? Weight loss should be my bread and butter (or, perhaps more appropriately, my organic whole grain bread and mashed avocado?), but lately, I’m kind of, well…over it.
I want to let you in on a little secret: obesity is not anyone’s problem.
It’s okay, I’ll wait for the gasps and murmurs to settle down. Hear me out. Obesity can cause many problems but it is not, itself, the problem. It is, in fact, a symptom, a consequence of our collective habits, behaviors, and preferences. When we fixate on a symptom, ignoring the tapestry of circumstances that brought it into existence, we miss the opportunity to make real, lasting change. It’s also, quite frankly, exhausting.
Imagine you’re in a boat, and it’s starting to sink because it’s filling up with water. Panicked, you start scooping the water up with a bucket and dumping it back into the lake. You view the excess water as the problem, not even seeing the very large holes at the bottom of the boat, causing it to fill up in the first place. You can spend every waking minute trying to scoop out the excess water, but you’ll never solve the real problem (the holes), and the boat will fill right back up.
So, you see, the number on the bathroom scale is just a distraction, something that leaves us panicked and not thinking clearly enough to see the bigger picture. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight can be a huge piece of your health puzzle, but it’s more likely to fall into place when you start treating the underlying issues.
If you’re not sure where to start, here are my top five recommendations for becoming healthier that have nothing to do with weight.
1. Explore mindfulness.
Mindfulness refers to focusing your attention on the present: one action, one person (or group of people) at a time. Though we like to think we are master multi-taskers, our brains can actually only focus on one task at a time. It simply puts the less interesting, more familiar tasks on autopilot, and before we know it, we’ve hit the bottom of the bag of chips during the season premiere of The Bachelorette. (Every year I tell myself I won’t even watch, and every year…)
2. Eat real food.
We could spend an entire day discussing what this means in all of its nuances, but at its core, I think we all understand. Baked potatoes are real food but sour cream and onion chips are not; a roasted pork tenderloin is real food, but pepperoni is not; and 100% maple syrup is real food, but splenda is not. None of these foods is bad or forbidden, but the more often we choose real, whole foods, the better off we are.
3. Move more.
You don’t have to run a marathon or even a 5k. You could walk to your mailbox and back, take a lap around your office building after lunch, or stand up and stretch during T.V. commercial breaks. Physical activity is not binary; it is not all or nothing. Just like number two above, the more often you choose moving around over sedentary activities, the better, but that doesn’t mean the only way to be healthy is to never stand still again. Every little bit helps!
If formal meditation isn’t your thing, think of it as time taken for personal reflection or stress relief. One easy technique is a mind body scan: close your eyes and every time you inhale, tense up a body part, then release as you exhale; start down at your toes and move slowly all the way up to your head. Journaling, a warm bubble bath, and dancing are other ideas that may work for different people.
5. Listen to your body.
When we ignore hunger pangs because we fear overeating, or we use a carton of ice cream to soothe a heartache, we teach our body to distrust its own signals. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full (not stuffed). Call a supportive friend when you’re sad. Go for a run when you’re angry. Your body has a lot to tell you, if you just give it the chance.
If you are tired of trying to bail yourself out of a sinking boat, all you have to do is put down your bucket. Listen to your body. Fuel it, strengthen it, and rest it well. Patch the holes, and embrace your new, healthy life.