Amidst the barrage of skinny worshiping that happens on a daily basis, it can be difficult for those who don’t fit into a size small to feel good about themselves. People with health conditions like chronic pain may feel especially pressured to lose weight, and any difficulty shedding pounds frequently leads to frustration.

If this describes you, take heart: you’re perfect the way you are.

If you decide that you want to eat healthier or lose weight because you want to feel better or see if those changes reduce feelings of pain, that is completely your choice. But don’t beat yourself up because of the numbers on a scale.

If you do want to feel healthier, it may be helpful to think about the effort as a wellness journey. Stop scrutinizing your weight and start focusing on how different foods and behaviors make you feel. Do what feels good and forget about the rest.

Focus on what feels good. See which foods and activities leave you feeling amazing and include more of them in your life.

Despite the pervasive glorification of stick-thin models and actresses, many real, everyday people are changing their perspectives to focus on wellbeing and not just being skinny. You may have seen a popular saying on social media: strong is the new skinny. Many now believe it’s better to eat well and be fit than practice deprivation to achieve a number on a scale.

Culturally, the tide seems to be shifting away from the emphasis on fitting into skinny jeans and toward figuring out what it means to be healthy and well. Meanwhile, researchers at the University of Kent found that health care professionals who framed wellness in terms of weight harmed patients’ progress when compared with experts who emphasized more inclusive approaches that emphasized being healthy regardless of size.

Hostility towards obesity and “fat shaming” encourages yo-yo diets that aren’t effective for maintaining weight loss but do harm mental health, researchers said. The issue isn’t a “weight” problem, they added, noting the link between social factors such as racism and poverty to obesity.

Scientists also noted that people come in different sizes—not everybody is small-boned and primed for a slender body. Switching the emphasis to wellbeing would help people focus on what really matters: eating well and increasing activity levels. After all, many extremely skinny people don’t eat healthy or exercise. Weight truly isn’t the ultimate barometer of health.

Part of the difficulties many people encounter when trying to lose weight is that it’s hard to find the time to exercise or eat well. And the constant, conflicting information about what it takes to live a healthy lifestyle leads to rampant confusion.

Most U.S. adults find their taxes simpler to understand than healthy eating, study says.

76% of adults say they don’t know what to believe when it comes to making wise nutrition choices, according to a study by the International Food Information Council Foundation (IFIC). Obviously, becoming healthier is more difficult than it should be.

While 90% of U.S. adults think about the nutritional quality of their food, most reported choosing food based more on taste than nutrition. And who can blame them?

Many diets heavily restrict the types of foods one can eat, with some focusing on eating large quantities of meat or copious amounts of fruit. People who successfully adhere to these diets often tout them as if they were the only way. But everyone’s body is different and dietary needs vary based on genetics, lifestyle, and health conditions.

Meanwhile, severe restriction often leads to deprivation and binging on unhealthy foods. An inclusive approach based on moderation and a focus on feeling good may bring the results you seek.

When it comes to chronic pain, conflicting messages muddy the guidelines even more. Some pieces of advice recommend staying away from gluten or nightshade vegetables, while others admonish patients to avoid meat or sugar.

Experimenting with various diets to find one that works best for you is a great way to learn to manage pain naturally. However, it’s easy to get swept away by success stories—sometimes so swept away that we believe them despite our own experience of the opposite.

This wellness journey is one that you’re on, and you alone. Listen to your body and see which foods nourish you and which leave you feeling unwell. Do you feel energetic and light after a meal or heavy and tired? Sleepiness, excessive fullness, or vague feelings of unease could be signals that your body would like different foods.

Base your decisions off that and forget about the scale. The most important thing is to feel well.

And if you want to indulge, then indulge. It’s far better to eat ice cream once each week than to completely remove it from your diet and one day eat a gallon straight from the carton because you’re deprived of a favorite food.

Try striking a balance between seeing food as fuel and a source of pleasure.

In the range of eating habits, from meals of fast food, chips, and soda to those of salads with a double helping of carrots, most people fall somewhere in the middle.

You may find it overwhelming to completely overhaul your diet, but still find that you want to make a few changes. The best way to make those changes is by taking the middle road, and doing it one step at a time.

If you’re looking for pointers on eating healthy, take some cues from healthy countries around the world:

  • In Japan, eating small portions of brightly colored vegetables ensures diners avoid overeating while ingesting a variety of nutrients.
  • In France, people value food as pleasure, eating tiny squares of rich, dark chocolate for dessert instead of large cups of frozen yogurt, for example. Savor every bite of those small portions, skipping the low-calorie version, and you might find yourself more satisfied.
  • In India, cooks flavor food with aromatic, delicious, and healthy spices like turmeric and ginger. Taste the flavor and enjoy the health benefits, like lowered inflammation.

What are your thoughts about switching your focus from weight to wellbeing?

Image by David Amsler via Flickr

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