Striving for better health is one of the best motivators for healthy eating and consistent exercise, but it can often lead us down a path where physical appearance becomes the main metric of success. Nutrition Expert Courtney Ferreira shares the strategies we need to reset our thoughts, and remember why health is our most important asset.
It is not uncommon for health goals to inadvertently morph into a desire for the self-perceived “ideal” physical appearance. When appearance takes top priority, the path to better health is halted. Far too often, healthy habits evolve to become extreme and unhealthy. Overexercising, calorie and food restriction, obsession with weight – these are negative thoughts and actions that cloud your judgment and is destructive for your overall wellbeing.
If you are struggling with separating good health from your physical appearance, here are a few ways to begin embracing the amazing body you already have:
Stop the number obsession.
The numbers that taunt us the most are weight and calories. Step away from the scale and take a break from your diet tracking app. Seem impossible? Start with just seven days. The freedom you will feel after these seven days will be empowering.
Cut back on exercise.
Believe it or not, exercising too much puts extra stress on the body which can actually harm you. If you are exercising for more than an hour at a time, cut it back to 45-60 minutes. If you are exercising 5-7 days in a row, try breaking it up. For example, three days on, one day off, two days on, one day off. You can still be active on your off days! Go for a walk and listen to a podcast or call that friend you haven’t talked to in ages.
Unfollow, unfollow, unfollow.
Social media perpetuates comparison and negativity. If you are following any social media accounts that elicit, “I wish I looked like that” thoughts, hit the unfollow button. These accounts are NOT motivating you, they are bringing you down.
Stop the negative thoughts.
Don’t let negative thoughts linger in your mind. Similar to the approach you might take to meditation, the instant you become aware of a negative thought in your head, push it away. Don’t dwell. Simply say, I am not going to think about this anymore, and replace it with a happy thought. The most surprising part of this task will be how often these negative thoughts are creeping into your stream of conscious. Having this awareness is key to changing your mindset.
Listen to your hunger and cravings.
This is the most difficult mindfulness task to master, that is why I saved it for last. Start with listening to your hunger cues. If your stomach is growling, you are light headed, or low on energy, do not ignore it. It is not an accomplishment in self-control to ignore the signals that your body is sending you. Respond by reaching for a wholesome, real food snack, and feel good about honoring your body in a healthy way.
As with anything else in life, you cannot completely change yourself or your habits overnight. Instead, focus on one of these strategies at a time and commit to it for seven days. If after seven days you are still struggling to embrace the new approach, keep at it for another seven. Move through the list at your own pace, and as you build confidence, add another strategy from the list.
Learning to love yourself isn’t easy and is truly a never ending process. Creating the mental shift towards body appreciation will take time, but it is the most important piece of overall health – you CAN do it.
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Courtney Ferreira, MS, RD, LDN is a Registered Dietitian based in Baltimore, MD with a passion for helping individuals reach their health and wellness through flavorful whole foods and freedom from counting calories, fat, and minutes on a treadmill. For more insightful tips on living your healthiest life from Courtney, visit her at the RealFoodCourt.