While advocates for body acceptance can't promise you six inches off your waist by drinking meal replacement shakes or following a 30-day workout guide, they offer something better: freedom from the vicious dieting cycle and the energy to pursue optimal health instead a number on a scale.
Yo-yo dieting is associated with reduced health whether you are overweight or not, according to research from the American Heart Association, as it can increase your mortality risk. One 2018 study even found engaging in yo-yo dieting can make one 40 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke than someone who doesn't experience weight cycling.
Dieting can also cause you to regain the lost weight and more, as it can be difficult to maintain and leaves you unsatisfied more times than not. Consuming too few calories than what your body has become accustomed to triggers the brain to think you are starving, causing it to signal for increased fat storage and a slowed metabolism.
Related: Is Dieting a Brain Drain?
"When we put our focus on the scale, our decisions are often not in support of our health and well-being," Alissa Rumsey, MS, RD, nutrition therapist and owner of Alissa Rumsey Nutrition & Wellness, says.
Taking drastic measures to lose weight via restrictive diets often does more harm than good in the long run. Unfortunately, most of us are so focused on the short-term goal of seeing a certain number on a scale that we unknowingly put our health in jeopardy. Looking at health as a way of life instead of the result of weight loss is better for our well-being and longevity.
Practicing body acceptance means stepping away from the scale and BMI charts—which Rumsey says are flawed indicators of health. She says when you focus on your well-being rather than making yourself smaller, you are empowered to be free from societal pressures of beauty, obsessions with food, and restricting yourself out of guilt or fear.
"Body acceptance means you can at least feel neutral about your body, accepting it for what it is," Rumsey says. "It allows us to ask 'how can I take care of and respect the body I have now?' and live out of a mindset of self-care instead of self-hatred."
Related: 30-Day Self-Care Challenge
Body acceptance is more about practicing healthy lifestyle habits rather than attempting to follow an intense set of eating and exercising rules until you reach your goal weight. Instead of focusing on what you can or can't eat, you listen to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Instead of restricting yourself to only a few foods, you try a wide variety of foods to determine which are most satisfying for you. Instead of waking up to workout at 6 a.m. to workout every day until you achieve weight loss, you allow yourself a rest day on days when your body is achy or you haven't gotten enough sleep.
You should know up front that body acceptance isn't achieved overnight (but you probably knew that anyways). Rumsey offers two important questions to ask yourself when starting this journey:
Rumsey says achieving a goal weight often comes with more anxiety and obsessive tendencies with food or exercise. Happiness will never be defined with a number but rather from a state of contentment and broader horizons for where your worth comes from.
This question is mostly in regards to the media you consume. Rumsey advises shifting the content you currently consume if you are unhappy with the way you look or are struggling with yo-yo dieting. She suggests going through the social media accounts, blogs, and other health and wellness-related sites you may follow and try to decipher which ones make you feel worse about yourself or promote a "diet mentality." Then she says it's important to diversity the accounts you follow and sites you read, seeking those that promote body positivity and different shapes and sizes.
"Studies have shown [that spending] just two minutes a day on social media can affect how you feel," Rumsey said. "It doesn't have to make you feel bad!"
From there, it's important to start listening to your body—employing intuitive eating to guide you in how and what to eat instead of a diet. Instead of punishing your body for straying from an eating or exercise regimen you can trust your body is on your side and listen to its needs. This may take time, but eating without distractions—learning how to tell when you're truly hungry and full—can make a huge difference.
"Body acceptance doesn't mean you necessarily love every part of your body," Rumsey said. "You'll have bad body image days just like you have bad hair days. But body acceptance allows you to move on—remembering you are more than just a body and your value is not determined by your feelings about it."