How many times have you browsed through online recipes and found yourself confronted by an assortment skinny or guilt-free options?
Skinny chocolate chip muffins. Guilt-free spinach dip. The implications are clear: if being skinny isn’t your goal, then it ought to be! If you don’t feel guilty indulging in a high-calorie treat, then you ought to!
If you spend enough time browsing recipes on Pinterest or admiring fitness pros on Instagram, it’s hard not to absorb the underlying attitude toward food and nutrition. That attitude can be summed up in one word: skinny. Skinny is good. Skinny is ideal. Skinny is healthy.
Of course, any qualified health professional can tell you that this is pure nonsense. Yes, being overweight can increase your risk of developing health problems. But being skinny is no guarantee of good health! Thin people can also suffer from a poor diet or chronic illness. As far as measurements of health go, “skinniness” tells us nothing.
The limitations of skinny:
When we focus on our weight, we often do so to the exclusion of all else. Instead of measuring our health by how far we can jog without getting out breath or how often we add fresh veggies to our meals, we become obsessed with the number on the scale.
But wellness isn’t about achieving or even maintaining a certain weight. A healthy diet isn’t measured by calories that have been cut or weight that has been lost. In fact, it’s possible to lose weight while eating a diet that is detrimental to your health. Millions of people do just that when they undergo ill-advised “cleanses” or crash diets.
Any diet that deprives your body of crucial nutrients is a diet that is hazardous to your health. You may lose a few pounds, but it will be at the expense of your overall well-being. Keep in mind that crash diets almost always result in the dieter gaining the weight back! When you’re obsessed with losing weight, your eating patterns will often become unhealthy. These dysfunctional eating patterns often lead to weight cycling or “yo-yo” dieting.
How to set healthy weight loss goals:
It’s OK to make it your goal to lose some weight, particularly if your doctor advises you to do so. If your weight puts you at risk of developing health complications shedding a few pounds may be a reasonable decision. But instead of focusing on numbers—how many calories you eat or what the scale tells you—focus on nutrition.
Eating fresh, unprocessed, nutrient-dense foods will give your body the nourishment it needs. The science on this issue is clear: a nutrient-rich diet can improve heart health, lower cholesterol, and clear up a variety of digestive issues. A healthy diet may or may not result in weight loss, but it will result in better health. Shouldn’t that be the ultimate goal?
The risks of “skinniness” and negative self-image:
When we focus on being “skinny” or limit ourselves to “guilt-free” foods, we tie our self-image to our weight and our diet. Our thinking becomes distorted. We tell ourselves that sticking to our diet means we are “being good.” If we indulge in a slice of cake at a birthday party, we have “been bad.” In time, we train ourselves to feel guilty and ashamed about what we eat. Instead of viewing food as fuel for our bodies, food becomes a measure of our worth as a human being.
With this extreme you-are-what-you-eat approach, food becomes a method of reward or punishment. Instead of nourishing our bodies, we treat food as a sign of our value as a person. Worse, our self-worth ends up being dependent upon superficial factors, like how our bodies look. It’s no surprise that so many people end up spiraling into depression, self-harm, and eating disorders after failed attempts at dieting!
Skinny vs. healthy:
It’s time to re-frame what it means to be healthy and leave the “skinny” label behind. Weight is only one potential indicator of our health. Rather than agonizing over our weight, we need to take a closer look at the factors that are true measurements of health.
Put your scale away and examine your lifestyle through fresh eyes. Ask yourself these questions:
- Does my diet provide me with the nourishment I need? Am I eating fresh, minimally-processed foods or do I eat a lot of fast-food?
- Do I get regular exercise? Am I participating in regular physical activities that I enjoy?
- Does my doctor have any concerns about my overall health? How are my blood pressure, my cholesterol, and my glucose levels?
Ditch the term skinny, and all its baggage.
Instead, focus on what matters: how your body feels and all the marvelous things it’s capable of!
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