{Lifestyle} How to Be Healthy at Every Size

The holidays are here and ‘tis the season for parties, family, food, and the topic of weight loss and diets. Some people put too much effort into obsessing about the exact angle of their body in each picture that will make them look best, while others worry about how all the great food will reflect on the scale. To these individuals, it becomes all about a number, and quickly the joy of the season is crowed out by the worry of weight.

Obsessing about a number is like staring at obstacles you are trying to avoid.

When I first started mountain biking, I focused on—and ended up hitting—almost every rock on the trail. Finally, a friend suggested that instead of focusing on the rocks, I focus on the path I want to take. (This insight worked amazingly, and I wish I would have realized it earlier.) This also applies to the topic of weight. Instead of trying to develop and live a healthy lifestyle, people become consumed by a number. They see a cycle of weight gain and loss repeated between each “diet,” their self esteem suffers, and often the dramatic adjustments are not sustainable. Instead of actually achieving healthy and lasting changes, they keep focusing on the rock in the trail.

Why do we obsess about weight? True, it is a number that can give us a partial idea of our health status and it can contribute to health problems. The problem with focusing on just weight is that it is not the complete picture. Instead of worrying about weight, why don’t we focus on making lasting changes that result in us being happier and healthier?

Among the health movements today, there is a theory that people can be healthy, even if weight is not reflecting the “ideal” number. The concept of Health at Every Size (HAES) is one of improving and adopting lifestyle habits instead of focusing on just weight maintenance. It encourages decreasing cardiovascular risk factors in areas such as blood pressure, cholesterol, physical activity, and stress levels. It promotes people paying attention to their body when it comes to eating. It also strives to emphasize the acceptance of various natural body shapes and sizes. This approach can improve not only energy levels but also self esteem, which is often affected when the focus is on weight.

I am not suggesting that HAES is the perfect solution to solve the weight debate; there are many other changes that need to occur in individuals and society. What HAES does provide is a solid foundation for individuals to create and sustain lifestyle changes in multiple key areas based upon individual needs. So perhaps this year for the holidays, instead of obsessing about one rock in the trail, we can focus on the path that will allow us to enjoy the best overall health. More importantly, we can enjoy those around us and the true meaning of the holidays.

Here are some quick ideas to get started:

1) Go to your doctor for a physical if you have not recently done so. This will help you determine your current health status, give you a basis for specific goals you can set, and give you the opportunity to discuss with your physician the best action plan to accomplish these goals.

2) Start small. Pick one or two items that you want to improve upon or maintain. This may range from eating two pieces of fruit a day to engaging in physical activity for 40 minutes, five days a week. Pick goals that are achievable and measurable, and write them down.

3) Share your goals with friends and family. This will provide you with a support system and people you can be accountable to.

4) Set up a reward for when you accomplish these goals. It can be small, such as going to a movie or reading a new book.

5) Have fun. You may have days where you don’t make your goals, but don’t be hard or negative with yourself. Just take the next opportunity to try again.

Ruthann Cunningham is the circulation coordinator for LDS Living and has a master's in exercise physiology. She loves the outdoors, anything related to health and running, biomechanics, travel, and spending time with friends and family.

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