We tackle the ultimate body positivity question: Can you love your shape and want to change it?

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Credit: Carole Henaff

When it comes to weight and body image, the American public is on the receiving end of a lot of mixed messages. The body positivity movement urges us to accept ourselves as we are and to reject the tired, old beauty norms that value thinness and perfection. But at the same time, we're told it's important to maintain a healthy weight—given that overweight and obesity are linked to many of the leading causes of death in the U.S., including heart disease and cancer.

It's a confusing landscape, and Rebecca Scritchfield, R.D.N., author of Body Kindness: Transform Your Health from the Inside Out—and Never Say Diet Again (buy it: from $13.99, Amazon.com), has personally traveled through it. Her teens and 20s were spent restricting calories and berating her thighs. She became a registered dietitian to help people "get healthy," which at the time, she says, was code for dieting. And some of her clients did lose weight—only to regain it. Early on, Scritchfield discovered the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement, which celebrates body diversity, "life-enhancing movement" and flexible, pleasurable eating. Now the owner of a well-being practice in Washington, D.C., she says that one question she's often asked is: "Can I love my body and still want to change it?" The answer, Scritchfield explains, is yes. But it's complicated. Here's some advice from her and other experts on navigating weight concerns.

1. Know your way

If your weight is high enough to cause health issues—whether it's a condition like diabetes or nagging joint pain that's holding you back from activities you love—then losing even a few pounds can help, says Scott Kahan, M.D., M.P.H., director of the National Center for Weight and Wellness in Washington, D.C. Just make sure you're doing it for the right reasons—overall health and feeling comfortable in your own skin, suggests Kahan. And be realistic about the changes you want to make. "We're not all supposed to be skinny, just like we're not all supposed to be tall, have small feet or excel at math," says Michelle V. Scott, M.S.W., a health and wellness social worker in Buffalo, New York, who hosts The F.A.T. (Fulfilled, Actualized and Transcendent) Life podcast.

2. Focus on self-care, not the scale

This approach puts the emphasis on wellness-promoting behaviors that will get you toward your goal, rather than the outcome itself. And Kahan says that's what helps people stay on the path of body positivity. So ditch the restrictive diet mindset and instead think about what you can add to your life, rather than take away. That might mean eating more produce, moving your body in ways that feel good, tuning in to your hunger cues, eating mindfully, and banning the food police that deem celery more virtuous than chocolate. As you make these healthy changes, Scritchfield encourages you to think about how you can care for your body and create more joy in these experiences. For example, maybe that's taking a moment to appreciate your surroundings on a walk, or adding some upbeat music to a dance session.

3. Be more compassionate

Body shame is linked with low self-esteem, depression, disordered eating and other mental health issues—and has no place in your life. Abandon the all-or-nothing mentality that you're either skinny and healthy or overweight and sick. Mute your inner critic by asking yourself: "Would I say these things to the people I love most?" And lean into your inner caregiver, suggests Scritchfield. Showing your- self compassion can take the form of simply doing something nice for yourself (bubble bath?), surrounding yourself with positive people and appreciating all of the amazing things that your body can do for you, instead of the way it looks.

EatingWell, Jan/Feb 2021