“It’s not about getting to a number on the scale—It’s about creating a vision for how you want your life to look.” —Oprah Winfrey
People have been obsessed with dieting for decades. We are constantly in pursuit of the hottest new fad, one that will magically change us into an image that belongs on the cover of our favourite magazine. I’ve personally tried Keto, Atkins, Paleo, Whole30, the military diet, intermittent fasting, and alternated between cutting sugars, dairy, and carbs out of my life forever. I’ve guilted and shamed myself into tears countless times over my food choices. So, why am I still obsessed with dieting?
Advertisements for different diets follow us everywhere; popular culture portrays the idea that skinny is healthy. However, health is shown in every size. A reduction in body weight doesn’t equate to an increase in happiness. If we were to compare two hypothetical people—one size zero, diet of microwaveable treats and vodka, and the other size sixteen, home-cooked meals, regular hikes—we could assess who was healthier. Yet, if we walked by these two people on the street, many of us might automatically assume that the size zero was healthier simply because our society glorifies smaller bodies. We need to be aware of any societal and personal ideals present to us so that we can actively prevent projecting these ideals onto others. Just because society is obsessed with dropping pounds, does not mean that everyone is. Body preferences are personal, and value is not derived from weight.
Weight loss is a negatively stated goal, driven by fear and focused on keeping us from falling into a worse state. The problem with negatively-stated goals is that they fail to value our current state. Instead, they shift our mindsets and devalue our self-worth. Negative goals teach our minds to be fearful of the future; a pint of ice cream and an episode of The Office becomes enough to break us into tears. If we are unable to recognize that this is the effect of our negatively stated goal, this cycle repeats—building stress and stealing happiness at an exponential rate. To avoid this, we need to recognize weight loss as an unhealthy goal and shift our focus to something more positively stated. Let’s start by acknowledging and accepting that weight is not an indicator of health or happiness.
If weight isn’t an indicator of health, how do we determine what healthy looks like? Dr. Dean Ornish is an American physician and researcher, has determined that there are four categories to improving personal wellness:
- What you eat
- How much you move
- How you manage stress
- How much love and support you have
Ornish’s research encourages people to be mindful of what they are eating instead of how much they are eating. Switching focus from weight loss to body nourishment may motivate one to consume more of the fruits, vegetables and whole grains need to fuel themselves. Move more by taking a quick walk between classes, getting off one bus stop early, or parking further at the grocery store, library or school. To decrease daily stress, try reducing your caffeine intake, downloading a meditation app, keeping a stress journal, or giving yourself extra travel time (if you arrive early, listen to a positive podcast). Happiness is significantly impacted by how much love we are able to give and receive. There are so many ways to give love to others, including sharing meals with friends, volunteering, donating, and smiling at others on the street. Be mindful of how you are giving and reflect on whether the actions you exert are bringing you joy. Stay aware of your true self and your emotions. Regularly step back to recharge and take care of yourself to avoid overexertion.
Surrounded by popular culture concentrated on weight loss, it is easily forgotten that weight is not an indicator of health or happiness. Weight loss is a negatively stated goal that is driven by fear. It may increase stress and decrease self-confidence. Instead of focusing on losing weight, we recommend focusing on pursuing a positive goal. Invest in yourself by learning self-acceptance and increasing your long term health.
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