How to Pursue a Healthy Lifestyle without Focusing on Weight

The concept of Health at Every Size is becoming more apparent as like-minded professionals work to get the message out that there’s so much more to health than weight. And that’s absolutely amazing! However, that may leave some people feeling lost. Society has told us for our entire lives that health is equal to dieting, losing weight, and/or maintaining weight. You may be thinking: “what does living a healthy lifestyle even mean if it doesn’t mean losing weight?!” Well, there are actually several ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle and they have nothing to do with manipulating your body size!

 

Engaging in Joyful Movement

Physical activity plays a huge role in keeping our bodies happy and healthy. Again, what does healthy mean if it doesn’t mean weight loss? Well, physical activity has been shown to help in the prevention of several chronic diseases, improves cholesterol and triglycerides, reduces blood pressure, improves insulin sensitivity, reduces systemic inflammation, and improves psychological well-being. You may be used to busting your butt to make it to the gym every day at 5 am to try to lose those extra pounds that society’s been making you think you need to lose. But, you really can stop doing that. Why? Because that takes the joy out of everything and causes more stress on the body. Stress is more harmful than lack of exercise. Instead, try engaging in movement that you’ll actually enjoy. This means that you don’t have to go to the gym every single morning if you don’t want to. Movement encompasses many different activities: dancing, walking, cleaning your house, etc. If you’re not sure what type of movement you enjoy, set goals to try some new activities out or make small changes each day. You could park the car a little further from your destination or take the stairs instead of the elevator. The main idea is that you’re moving your body in a way that feels good to you both mentally and physically.

 

Adequate Nutrition

Proper nutrition is also incredibly important to keeping our bodies thriving. But, again that can be so confusing in a world that promotes restricting and dieting. What does adequate nutrition even look like? Well, it looks like eating based on hunger and fullness cues, honoring cravings, and eating a variety of foods. If you’re struggling with finding your hunger and fullness cues, you may want to consider working with a registered dietitian to help you. It’s important to honor cravings because 1) there is no such thing as bad food and 2) if you restrict what you are craving, this is likely to cause a binge later on and this is completely normal. From an evolutionary standpoint our body is designed to prevent starvation. If we restrict, our bodies will produce hormones (ghrelin) to induce hunger signals. If you’ve been restricting for long periods of time, you will likely crave mostly carbohydrate foods for quick energy, but that’s another post for another day. If you have a typically “normal” eating pattern, then you will likely crave all types of foods. I definitely recommend trying to get a variety of foods into your meals so that you can obtain a variety of nutrients. This also means including a balance of both nutrient dense foods, such as fruits and vegetables, and desirable foods, such as cake and potato chips.

Sometimes I eat this...

Sometimes I eat this...

...and sometimes I eat this!

...and sometimes I eat this!

Proper Sleep

Studies have also shown that improper sleep (typically less than 6-8 hours per night) can have serious health implications. Lack of sleep can cause a spike in cortisol, the stress hormone, which can promote the development of insulin resistance. The hormones that regulate appetite (leptin and ghrelin) can also be influenced by a lack of sleep. Leptin, which signals satiety to the brain will decrease and ghrelin, which signals hunger to the brain will increase. Getting a good night of sleep is often overlooked because of our busy lives, but it is just as important as engaging in physical activity and adequate nutrition. Tips for proper sleep include limiting screen time before bed and creating a relaxing space incorporating comfy pillows, calming scents, and tranquil lighting.

 

Stress Management

Stress is a natural reaction to life experiences. Buying a house or having a baby can be stressful, but these are short-term situations that help you learn new skills. Chronic, long-term stress is very detrimental. Stress, like lack of sleep, is something that we typically let get to us due to our busy lives. Yet, we often stop to think how much stress can impact our health and well-being. Under stress, blood pressure, blood sugar, and cortisol levels rise. Stress can cause headaches, chronic pain, fatigue, stomach issues, sleep problems, anxiety, depression, etc. This can then change our behaviors.  When we are overly stressed out we can overeat or under-eat, become angry, isolate ourselves, and exercise less. An amazing way to manage stress includes taking time for self-care every single day. This could include setting aside 30 minutes a day to take a bath, read your favorite book, or paint your nails. You’re definitely worth it!

Kelly Miller