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April 26, 2017

How to Practice True Kindness to our Bodies.

“There is a lot at stake in the world, wars are raging, unimaginable evil is occurring to innocent people, social media is filled with cruel words and we are all wondering, what can we do? Here is what I think: I have gone to enough therapy to learn that changing anyone or anything starts with changing myself. So perhaps the resurgence of kindness that we want to see begins with a resurgence of kindness toward ourselves, then toward the person we wake up next to and the children we get to nurture.” ~ Mandy Ariosto

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I recently read the book Wonder by R.J. Palacio to my children.

The main character is a sixth grade boy with visible disabilities who is reentering the school system after many surgeries and years of homeschooling.

It is an excellent book, and it came to mind again when I read the above quote about kindness.

Palacio ends the novel with a speech by the school’s principal who urges all his listeners to be “kinder than is necessary.”

We are all kind some of the time, courteous most of the time, and generally appropriate nearly all of the time. But how often are we kinder than is necessary? The ending of this book encourages us to do a little more. Do it for the disadvantaged, for the outcast, and for the ones who look totally normal, but may be suffering quietly. I will also add here, fervently, to do it for ourselves.

I have been in the field of nutrition and health promotion for over a decade and I have seen dieting from all angles—crazy restrictive diets, surgical reconfiguration of our organs, powders, eating plans, shakes, and cleanses. This can’t be kindness. If we’re honest, dieting is often not about kindness. We use strict words, criticisms, and sacrificial determination. This kind of dieting means telling our body it doesn’t know what it wants or what it is doing, and forcing it to be something it is not.

Many registered dietitians and professionals now believe that our weight is, after all, not something we can control. Studies show one third to two third of dieters regain more weight than they lost on a diet. That leaves many who, after berating their intuitive hunger and satiation cues, blowing tons of money, emerge heavier than they were. They feel guilty, ashamed, and generally disappointed with themselves and their inner dialog is far from kinder than is necessary.

It is easier to be kind to and accept others, but so many of us are unkind and intolerant toward many parts of ourselves. I am not blasting any of us who diet—millions of us do! Ultimately, I care about our inner welfare, which never involves judgement or criticism.

Dieting has, until now, been viewed as a fundamental part of my professional life. But with new research proving dieting to be ineffective and more harmful in the long run and seeing my clients dismayed and less confident for it, I have to reconsider it all. One registered dietitian, Rebecca Scritchfield, recently released a book perfectly titled, Body Kindness: Transform Your Health From the Inside Out—And Never Say Diet Again. Its content may do more wonders for us than the newest diet craze.

We must all step out of the socially normal “diet culture” for just this minute to see it for what it is, and understand why we’re pushing for it. Dieting is a huge industry designed to make money. Many products rise from multi-tiered marketing structured companies. The thin ideal is heavily marketed. We are given a reason to believe juicing some kale, eating steamed chicken and lettuce, or inducing a cleansing diarrhea is absolutely important.

Are we being kind to ourselves when we do these things?

The messages we give our kids about our bodies and our relationship with food is also extremely important. Let’s ask ourselves how our mom felt about her weight. Did she enjoy food? Restrict food? What messages did she give us? I have heard a deep fear from many mothers and I wonder how, with everything else in the world, having a fat child seems to be the worst thing we could have.

I have a dog, and he adores me. He doesn’t care what I look like. Fat, skinny, make-up, smelly—he doesn’t care. He cares only that I can get out and walk with him. It doesn’t make him feel better about himself because his owner is hot—he just wants me to take him out.

There’s one line that we can draw in the sand for weight and health: Does our weight impair our ability to be active in the world? Is it painful to move around? And because we humans like to take things to an extreme, I must add—does our activity make us feel alive, or is it forced and draining? Are we doing it for the wrong reasons?

There is a reason that so many of us diet. There is a deeper dissatisfaction and fear that drives our compulsion to be thinner. It is cultural, societal, and pressure-driven. It is pervasive. But that is what we need to investigate. That is the hard work.

It’s the voice inside us that we need to retrain to be kind. It’s that person inside who is the first one we need to be kinder than necessary to.

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Author: Melanie Di Stante
Image: Megan Jaybe Crabbe aka @bodyposipanda & Casey Muir-Taylor/ Flickr
Editor: Khara-Jade Warren

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Melanie Di Stante