A body-positive guide to why weight management matters
Six out of 10 Canadians are overweight or obese—a number that’s been rising for years. Simultaneously, the number of adults with eating disorders or on never-ending diet plans is also at record levels. Can you tackle weight loss while also showing your body compassionate acceptance? Experts say we can—and the importance for our overall health has never been greater.
Study after study has shown that most diets fail. For many, it’s because we’re doing it for all the wrong reasons.
Maybe we’ve bought the lies sold to us by Hollywood and magazine covers. Perhaps we can still hear that offhand remark from a partner or from our childhood that made us believe our worth was tied to the size of our waistline.
Psychologists call this extrinsic (external) motivation. A better, more sustainable approach to weight management is to accept yourself today and find your inner why (intrinsic motivation).
“You cannot hate your body and expect to lose weight,” explains psychotherapist Kristin Lloyd, PhD. “When you do, it creates a fight from within and can spur on disordered eating behaviours.”
“From a place of acceptance instead, you can honour where you are while still moving toward healthy change,” she adds. “It helps remove the inner fight … [and] your body by feeding it good, healthy foods and moving toward a path that is loving, kind, and supportive.”
When it comes to finding your positive inner why, focus on this: a healthy weight means a happier, healthier, and longer life!
While hashtags like #bodypositive and #BOPO may seem like a new social media trend, many of the modern movement’s roots can be traced back to New York’s fat rights movement and California’s feminism wave in the late ’60s and early ’90s.
Cardiovascular disease is one of the leading causes of death in Canada.
“Being overweight or obese are risk factors for heart disease,” says Elle Wittneben, RD, a board-certified specialist in obesity and weight management. In fact, your risks of heart disease jump by nearly a third for every five-point increase in your body mass index (BMI).
Wittneben notes that losing as little as 5 percent of your body weight is associated with a significant improvement in most markers of heart health, including your blood sugar, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels.
Obesity causes nearly 4 percent of all cancer cases worldwide. This number jumps higher when you zero in on specific forms of cancer.
For example, cases of esophageal cancer in men increase incrementally with higher rates of BMI. In the case of women, for whom gallbladder cancer rates are higher than in men, the risk increases even higher for women who are overweight or obese.
Numerous studies have documented how losing weight doesn’t just improve your sex hormone levels and boost fertility, but also improves your performance in bed. This includes your sex drive, as well as warding off potential problems such as erectile dysfunction.
Studies have found a complex two-way street between your body weight and your mental health. A higher BMI is linked with increased rates of stress, substance abuse, anxiety, and even depression.
In one study, losing as little as 5 percent of their current weight was found to significantly improve people’s moods.
Each of the above factors is part of a bigger picture: maintaining a healthy weight could be the literal fountain of youth.
Researchers estimate that one in 10 premature deaths in Canada are directly due to obesity. Plus, many of the habits that support healthy weight, including regular exercise, have been found to add years to your lifespan.
“Focus on health and quality of life benefits, such as reduced risk of disease, increased energy, et cetera,” says Wittneben, “rather than your appearance or the exact number on the scale.”
Don’t get caught up in the latest dieting fad. Instead, think beyond your meal plan and consider how your lifestyle supports your goal of loving and nourishing a healthy, strong body.
Take a look around the room right now. Are the foods within reach sabotaging your attempts to lose weight?
“The most important factor for weight management is the food environment,” says Alka Chopra, RD, a certified diabetes educator. “Having easy access to calorie-dense junk foods like chips is a huge temptation to eat them on a regular basis.”
Chopra recommends stocking your food environment with plant-based protein, whole grains, and healthy snacks. For instance, if you know you’re often tempted to grab fast food for breakfast on very busy mornings, stock your fridge with convenient meal replacement shakes instead.
Next, give your body some compassionate grace and flexibility. “I’ll never eat sugar again,” you might swear. “I’ll never buy dessert again,” you may claim.
But that’s just setting yourself up for failure.
“Make small, sustainable changes,” suggests Wittneben. For example, if you’re a soft drink fanatic, try eliminating just one drink a day instead of going cold turkey.
“You are more likely to be successful in creating new habits if you can stay away from the dieting all-or-nothing mindset,” says Wittneben.
“Eat well-balanced regular meals and choose healthy snacks,” suggests Chopra. You may also want to try supplements that support a healthy metabolism and balanced appetite, including fibre pills or shakes, green tea extract, and B vitamins.
When to use them
Eating whole foods is always preferable, but shakes give you convenient nutrition when you’re travelling or when you don’t have time to sit down for a meal.
How often to use them
Don’t drink them for every meal. However, studies suggest that replacing one or two meals a day with a shake may support healthy weight loss.
What to avoid
Check the ingredients label. The best meal replacement shakes are high in protein, provide fibre, and have little to no added sugar.
Your children mimic your own habits. Model smart choices and set your family up for a lifetime of healthy eating.
Words have weight
Don’t refer to your body as “fat” or “skinny.” Likewise, don’t refer to food as “unhealthy” or “bad.” Instead, talk about the benefits of different healthy foods. For example, you might say, “I love carrots! They help me keep my eyes strong!”
“How’s your tummy feeling?” Encourage kids to think about how their body feels, what foods make them feel energized and happy, and when they feel full.
Mix it up
Whether at home or in school lunches, ensure your children have a variety of different choices that expose them to different foods, textures, colours, and tastes.