By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
I rummage through my closet and decide to wear a pair of pants I haven’t worn in forever. Once they are almost on, I suck in extra tight to zip and button them. I can barely breathe. The negative thoughts come at lightning speed.
Were they this tight before? Did I wash them recently? Have I gained weight?
I’m a little perplexed because I have upped my workouts over the last two months and assumed, if anything, I would have lost weight. But when I jump on the scale I can see that I haven’t.
I’m well aware of the irony as I’m always preaching about the hazards of making weight the focal point of health. But yet here I am: clearly frustrated with my body.
As I see it, I have two choices in how I handle this.
Choice #1: Body Hate: It’s pretty acceptable for women to talk badly about their body. Get a group of moms together and you’re likely to hear negative comments about thighs, post-baby tummies, and those elusive 10 pounds to lose. This would be an easy route to take and I am familiar with it.
But I also know where this body hate leads you — to behaviors that aren’t good for health like skipping meals, letting the scale dictate mood, and gaining even more weight.
Researchers from the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU), followed over 1,000 normal-weight adolescent girls (13-19) into adulthood (24-30). The girls who perceived themselves as overweight at baseline gained more weight over 11 years than the girls who viewed their weight as just right. The researchers concluded the following:
“Girls, in particular, tend to consider themselves as overweight, even though they are not, which may lead to psychological stress and unhealthy weight control practices such as skipping meals.”
I know that if I turn against my body, I’ll get in trouble.
Choice #2: Body Love: I think about all my body has been through over the last six years: two births, turning 40, and a chronic illness. It’s held up pretty well and it’s done a lot for me. While I’m not at the weight I was before kids, I’m not overweight and my last physical got rave reviews in terms of lab work (better cholesterol than when I was single!).
What many people don’t realize is choosing to love your body is not about looking in the mirror and saying, “I love the way you look.” It’s about taking care of it and treating it well: getting adequate sleep, eating nourishing meals, and moving more.
Plus, research shows a positive body image can actually help eating behavior and subsequent weight. For example, a 2011 study published in the International Journal of Nutrition and Physical Activity put 239 overweight women either in a general health curriculum or group sessions that focused on body acceptance and eating cues. The second group experienced greater improvements in body image, eating behaviour (self regulation), and weight than the control group.
To trust or not to trust
In the old days, if my clothes felt tight, I’d simply work out more or add extra mindfulness to my eating and my weight would shift back into my comfortable place. But now that I’m older, this is no longer the case. I can either trust that my body knows what it’s doing or I can use my precious energy to fight against it.
So after taking some time to think about it, I choose to love my body and trust it. None of this means that I’m letting myself go, as a healthy diet, sleep, and exercise continue to take center stage. It simply means I’m putting my health, well being, and self-worth before the number on the scale. And I feel pretty good about it.