Arbitrary standards of beauty negatively impact both women and men. But there is something particularly insidious in the way we teach women and girls that their value as human beings is connected, in no small part, to their perceived physical attractiveness. Even female politicians are routinely criticized about their appearances.
It’s no wonder, then, that many women approach weight loss from a place of desperation. In an effort to win approval from others, they look for the solution that will help them shed the most pounds as quickly as possible. Some examples of this include calorie counting, diets that require you to keep track of “points,” punishing workouts and, in more severe cases, eating disorders.
This has all kinds of damaging effects. The most obvious, of course, is the impact it can have on a woman’s physical health. Restrictive diets can often lead to a wide range of nutrient deficiencies, and that can have serious health consequences. In addition, pushing the body too hard during workouts can lead to injuries and other health complications.
What’s potentially even more harmful, however, is the emotional toll this approach to weight loss can take on a woman. It makes food the enemy, while the opposite is actually true–food is an amazing tool for promoting health and well-being. This mindset also often causes women to label certain foods as “bad” and others as “good.” This means that when a woman “slips up” and indulges in a “bad” food, she believes it’s a reflection of her lack of willpower, or even moral inadequacy, and she’ll often punish herself with yet another overly demanding workout.
The same is also frequently true when women attempt to lose weight by putting an end to unwanted eating habits, without fully understanding where those eating habits come from. For example, if a woman is trying to quit binge eating, but isn’t fully aware that the behavior may be a way of coping with a deeper emotional need that has gone unmet, she will likely punish and criticize herself quite harshly every time she “slips ups” and binges.
This approach only sets a woman up for failure. It demands perfect adherence to a diet’s protocol, and suggests that falling short of that means she’s weak-willed or a less valuable person.
So what steps can women take to lose weight in a way that’s healthier and more positive? We’ve got some suggestions.
Shift your outlook.
Losing weight shouldn’t be something you do because you’re afraid it’s the only way you’ll become a fully worthy and lovable person, or to win the approval of others. It should be something you do because you know you deserve to live a healthy life. When you see weight loss as a form of self-respect, rather than self-punishment, you’re more likely to choose strategies that are sustainable and that genuinely promote health—not crash diets or overly intense workouts.
Be compassionate toward yourself.
Try to stop yourself from feeling guilty or being self-critical if you indulge in a Snickers bar every once in a while. You don’t need to be perfect! When you notice that you’re beginning to criticize yourself, take a few slow breaths and remind yourself, “I’m doing my best, and that is enough.” Being gentle and loving toward yourself makes it more likely that you’ll succeed, because it helps you remember that losing weight is something you want to do for yourself, not something you have to do for someone else.
Do what lights you up.
There is no single diet or weight loss system that’s right for everyone, and what works famously for some can be completely ineffective for others. As you try different methods of losing weight and changing unwanted eating habits, notice how the different approaches make you feel, both physically and emotionally. If a particular strategy is making you feel stressed out or deprived, don’t stick with it.
Ditching a diet that isn’t right does not mean you’re giving up, it means you’re committed to finding something that’s more likely to result in success. Working to improve your health should lift you up, not drag you down. Keep moving on until you find an approach that feels like a natural fit, and that makes you feel good about yourself.
Do what inspires you.
Some people find a great deal of meaning in, for example, going vegan, while others swear by grass-fed meat and dairy. Many people have found both physical and emotional healing as a result of their yoga practices, while others are dedicated runners. Respecting you body and addressing your health can be something that leads to deeper healing—it can profoundly impact the way you live the rest of your life. It can even be a spiritual experience for some. So don’t just focus on protocols that will help you lose weight. Look for something that resonates with you on a deeper level, because when your healthy lifestyle inspires you in a more meaningful way, you’re more likely to stick with it over the long-term.
The Institute for the Psychology of Eating © Institute For The Psychology of Eating, All Rights Reserved, 2014
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