Eat for Your Body, Not Your Bikini: How to Love Your Summer Body
Summer is around the corner, and while many look forward to the joys this season brings — vacations, more time spent outside, time off from school and work — just as many dread it thanks to media marketing around getting “the perfect bikini body” and photo-shopped models painting an unrealistic ideal. Along with the “beach body” marketing comes an onslaught of ridiculous fad diets and expensive schemes that ultimately lead to long-term weight gain…not to mention lower self-esteem, anxiety and preoccupation with food. This summer, try eating for your body, instead of that bikini and implement these practices to cultivate body respect and kindness.
Ever wonder how a toddler knows exactly what and how much he/she wants to eat? We’re all born with an innate ability to know what food our body needs and when we’re satisfied. But unfortunately, somewhere along the way, a family member, friend, health professional, or the media told us what we should and shouldn’t eat and we lost touch with that inner voice. The good news is that inner wisdom still lives within each of us, and intuitive eating is a practice that helps us strengthen that voice by tuning into our body to honor our hunger and feel when we’re full. The work involves making peace with food by ditching the diet culture mentality, telling the food police to shove it, and finding pleasure and satisfaction from eating. This summer, rather than asking yourself “what should I eat right now?”, which comes from a place of fear, guilt and shame, empower your internal wisdom and flex that self-trust muscle by asking, “what do I want to eat right now?”
The only “diet” that may be of some value to follow this summer is one where you control the media you take in. Marci Evans, registered dietitian and eating disorder expert in Cambridge, MA, helps her clients block unhelpful people on Facebook, un-follow provoking Instagram accounts, toss out triggering magazines and carefully curate the blogs they read. “Then we have fun filling their feeds with information that inspires them to be their healthiest and most authentic self in mind, body, and spirit. It's a picture of health that is taken from the inside, rather than the outside,” Evans says. Not sure where to start? Evans recommends to “try searching for people who promote body positivity, body acceptance, intuitive eating, and non-dieting.” Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, author of Body Kindness, says we need to filter our social media feeds so we can see pictures of people in larger bodies having fun. “The reality is 67% of American women are a size 14 or higher. Why can't we see more representation of what people really look like? Exposure to size diversity helps us all.”
Negative body talk is all around us; in fact, many women bond over complaining about their bodies. But if we don’t like our bodies, guess what, we’re not going to treat them very well. It’s time to change the dialogue because our thoughts affect our behaviors and if we want to start treating our bodies better, we need to start with shifting the dialogue from negative to positive. Scritchfield suggests trying to focus on all the wonderful things our bodies do for us. “Write a ‘love letter’ to yourself. Put positive post-its where you get dressed and feel naked and vulnerable and see if the self-love note helps you feel a little less body shame.” She also says it’s pretty powerful to “write down your 'critic' thoughts and ask 'would I say this to a little girl'?”. Evans recommends getting your girlfriends in on the change. “Let your friends know that you want your friendships to foster support and encouragement, not body bashing.”
The reality is that many aspects of our bodies are out of our control, and the more we try to manipulate them to fit a certain size or reach a number on the scale, the more if backfires and we feel worse. The best thing we can do is to treat our bodies with respect because health is more about behaviors than it is about a size. Rather than waiting to treat yourself until you reach that “number,” start working today to feel good in your here-and-now body. Evans recommends trying things like a fun pair of sunglasses, a new nail polish, a fresh haircut and hydrating your skin with lotion. “You deserve to treat your body with warmth and kindness today! Turns out we treat things we like better than we treat things we hate. So start treating your body as if you like it, and your health just might thank you for it!”
Kara Lydon, R.D., L.D.N., R.Y.T., is a nutrition coach, yoga teacher and self-proclaimed foodie. She is a recipe developer, food photographer, writer and spokeswoman. Her food and healthy living blog, The Foodie Dietitian , features seasonal vegetarian recipes and simple strategies to bring more mindfulness and yoga into your life.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.