submitted by: Danielle Labonte, RD, MPH, MAN, Public Health Nutritionist with the Leeds, Grenville, and Lanark District Health Unit
The New Year is here and often with this comes messaging around resolutions focused on changing our eating habits. There are certainly times where changing our eating habits can be helpful and improve our health; for example, increasing our vegetable and fruit intake or drinking more water are excellent goals to set. However, in our society it is often normalized to talk and think about food in a way that can lead to people having a negative relationship with it and with our bodies. It is common for weight and food to be linked together, specifically when we think about “dieting” as a way to change our bodies. This can lead to disordered eating and eating disorders, among other negative outcomes. Disordered eating is a term that includes a wide range of harmful eating behaviors that may not warrant an eating disorder diagnosis, and eating disorders are illnesses with specific and narrow criteria that health care practitioners would use to diagnose individuals.
Some red flags to keep in mind include messaging around leaving out an entire food group (i.e., vegetables and fruit, whole grains, and protein foods), ignoring hunger cues (e.g., through intermittent fasting, calorie restriction), villainizing certain foods (i.e., labeling them as good or bad, healthy or unhealthy, calling certain foods “junk” food), and feeling guilt around eating certain foods. These are all signs that something might be leading you down the wrong path.
To combat this, it is helpful to be mindful of these red flags. Consider your language used around food and strive for neutral language; call foods by their names – for example, cookie, apple, chips, broccoli, etc. Check your self-talk related to your own body image and relationship with food, and avoid judging yourself based on what you eat. This can be challenging to get used to, but the more often you are able to reflect on this, the easier it becomes. It is also helpful to be aware of the mindset of those around you and surround yourself with those who will support you through the process. You may need to set boundaries with individuals who might be more triggering – certain topics might be “off limits”, or you might delay seeing them until you are in a better place.
Increasing physical activity is another area that people often want to change in the New Year. Similar to eating, this is usually linked to wanting to change how our bodies look. Let’s start off by acknowledging that most people do not get enough physical activity in general, but what we want to avoid is linking physical activity to changing the way our bodies look. Research shows that this can actually demotivate people and create a negative relationship with being active. Instead, think about being active for reasons aside from how we look. For example, our mental health, stress management, blood sugar control, heart and bone health, as well as building and maintaining strength, flexibility, mobility and independence as we age. Creating goals for ourselves to increase our activity is beneficial as it can lead to healthy habits to include more movement throughout our week, and including a variety of activities helps to improve our strength, flexibility, endurance, and mental health. It is recommended that adults get two and a half hours of moderate to vigorous physical activity each week. This can be in smaller chunks of ten minutes or more throughout the week, or in larger chunks, less often. Whatever works for you! It is also recommended that we do strength activities for our muscles and bones at least twice a week.
Some tips to help you make this a habit include:
- Scheduling it into your day – maybe you do something every morning, or certain days of the week
- Being active with others – you could join a class or find a workout buddy
- Setting small, achievable goals to work towards; for example walking longer, further, or faster each week
For more information, visit our Health Unit website at healthunit.org, follow us on Facebook and Twitter, or give us a call at 1-800-660-5853.