Why have weight loss on your to-do list when you could be learning Spanish? Or fall in love with a firefighter?
actress Lena Dunham on the red carpet
Credit: Getty Images/Mike Coppola

Over the last year, COVID-19 has changed our perspective on a lot of things. With the lack of social events and increased time at home, many devoted their extra time to cooking or "getting back into X, Y and Z." Remember making sourdough bread? And how seemingly everyone started gardening or doing home renovations (or just tried to survive homeschooling)? There were also plenty of jokes about the "Quarantine 15" and gaining weight (here's why we think you shouldn't worry about weight gain during a pandemic). Lena Dunham, star of the HBO show Girls, shares that thinking of her body in not the most positive ways snuck in during this time of reflection—and she is not alone. We talked with dietitian and founder of Your Latina Nutritionist, Dalina Soto, M.A. R.D. L.D.N. to learn more.

The pandemic has manifested itself in different ways for different people. Some people have revamped their eating patterns or are sharing their body transformations, while others call it a win to get out of bed. For many others (myself included), it can vary from day to day. Let me be very clear: there's no right or wrong way to cope with an unforeseen global pandemic. Focusing on health and wellness is not wrong. Prioritizing rest and self-compassion is absolutely not wrong either. But shaming others about their bodies or claiming that every body should look one specific way is (and always has been) wrong. 

"Health is personal and everyone has different goals. Instead of tying them to a number on the scale, let's focus on what you are trying to achieve and reduce the stress of constantly trying to lose weight," Soto says (she uses these strategies to work with clients on developing a healthful relationship with food).

Dunham's words resonated with many, considering the post accrued over 104,000 likes and 4,200 comments in less than a day. How ingrained is diet culture in every one of us? Turns out, pretty ingrained. "I think diet culture makes us believe we need to control life and everything we put in our mouths like we are some sort of robots. We are not, we are humans and ever evolving," explains Soto. "We do not need the same amount of energy daily. It varies based on your body's needs. We do not need to control it. We need to listen to it."

Dunham shared that there is so much space taken up thinking about our bodies and weight loss that could be taken up by something else. She writes, "Why, after all these years spent fostering self love, do I still feel like weight loss is an item for my to-do? When I could be adding 'learn Spanish?' or 'fall in love with a firefighter?'"

We are led to think that being healthy means daily exercise, weight loss, meal planning and a squeaky clean diet with no "junk" foods. In reality, health doesn't look like rigid structure and restricting things you like. That can mean cooking and eating nutritious meals that give you a boost of energy. It could also mean moving your body to help us reduce your stress and put your brain on hold for a bit. It can also mean resting and watching three holiday movies in a row with a plate of cookies. At its core, being healthy means respecting and cherishing our super-capable bodies in a way that is sustainable for us.

One way to step away from a diet mentality when it comes to food is to explore a philosophy called intuitive eating. Contrary to dieting, intuitive eating hinges on the unconditional permission to eat all foods. It focuses on being present while you eat, respecting your hunger and fullness, and discovering satisfaction in foods. This can be a big shift in thinking, so start small. Learn more about the 10 principles of intuitive eating and acknowledge it can be scary to start. Keeping a journal of you thoughts and feelings around food (or in general) can be helpful.

Beyond what is on your plate, focus on doing things you enjoy and can look forward to. Don't like running? Skip it! Turn on your favorite playlist and dance instead, or try a practice like yoga that focuses on the connection of mind and body. Move in ways that you enjoy because they make you feel good, not as a punishment or a chore. There are also several other ways to quantify health that are not related to the scale and aren't visible in the mirror. Things like sleep, hydration and being aware and honest about your mental health all lead to a more well-rounded picture of what it means to be "healthy". 

The next time you are feeling guilty for not doing exercise that you don't even enjoy or have the energy for, or are feeling shame for eating "too much" or the "wrong" thing, check those thoughts. Are they rooted in respect for your body? Or rather in unrealistic, non-inclusive standards of what a "healthy" person should do or look like? If this resonates with you, let's agree to permanently check weight loss off the never-ending to-do list, as Dunham puts it. Replace it with ways to love and respect the body that has gotten you through this crazy year and much much more. Soto puts it best by saying, "nutrition and wellness are individual. Find what works for you."

For more from Soto, follow along on Instagram @your.latina.nutritionist.