Summer is coming! Here in our coastal community that means getting ready for the beach. But before you run off to the gym, clean all the carbs out of your pantry, or start a juice cleanse, let’s pause and take a long hard look at why and how we perceive body image standards the way we do.
“People feel like they can’t enjoy the beach unless they’ve met a certain criteria with their body,” says Jenna Braddock, a nutrition expert, personal trainer and Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics (among other things). “That’s the lie that we really need to start calling the bluff on: that you don’t deserve to enjoy your life unless you look a certain way. Give yourself permission to enjoy your life no matter what you look like.”
Braddock’s website MakeHealthyEasy.com offers real-life strategies for better health. Her mission is to empower people with science-based information on fitness, wellness and nutrition, and to help normalize the struggles people deal with in their attempts to lead healthier lives.
When gearing up for beach season, Braddock advises against extremes in favor of moderation and incremental lifestyle changes that help make healthy living a sustainable behavior rather than a mode you switch on when things get out of hand. Here is her practical advice for making healthy living sustainable not just in preparation for the beach, but all year round.
Eat More Veggies
The first step according to Braddock is to get more fruits and vegetables in your diet. While she acknowledges that this can be difficult for some people who have yet to acquire a taste for them, she has some simple solutions. The first is to change the way you think about them. “People have some story about vegetables that plays over and over in their minds,” she explains. Perhaps you’ve never experienced vegetables in a positive way if you grew up eating them out of cans for example. Her advice? “Be open to trying them again and find ones you like. Ask yourself if those stories are still true.” If you still can’t stomach them, try smoothies packed with as many dark greens as berries as you can fit into your blender.
Prioritize Your Indulgences
When it comes to resisting your favorite temptations, Braddock believes that, “Willpower is overrated.” She suggests figuring out what your favorite indulgences are, deciding which ones are important to you and only partaking in the very best versions of them. Like hamburgers? Cool. Treat yourself to a really amazing one occasionally and pass on the drive-through imitations. You’ll get more satisfaction out of it and experience less guilt.
Whether it’s physical stress from a workout or the emotional stress that comes with living in the 21st century, our bodies go through the ringer every day of our lives. “We have stress but we can’t live in a constant state of that or our bodies will go haywire,” Braddock says. “Our brain tells us that the easiest way is with food when sometimes what we really need is a nap or to go for a walk, unplug our devices or simply engage with a loved one.” The bottom line is don’t immediately jump to food for recovery. Recognize when you are prone to doing so and try something else.
It’s no secret that exercising is an important part of making positive changes in your health but today’s extreme workout routines (read CrossFit, P90X and the like) aren’t for everyone and can in many cases do more harm than good. “You need to work with your body, not against it,” Braddock advises. She suggests honoring your body as you push it, while making moving continuously throughout the day your real goal. And if you’re looking for the most bang for your buck, try weight training. “Cardio is important but you’ll see the greatest change in your body [through] weight training,” she says. “Having muscle on your body will dramatically change your metabolism and your body composition; and by default, having more muscle means you burn more calories doing nothing.”
Mindfulness is the wellness buzzword of the day but the science behind it is getting stronger every day. Forget the Buddhist chants or transcendental meditations for now, just spend some time “looking inward” as Braddock calls it. Her solution is as simple as taking a few minutes each night to record three things she’s thankful for in a journal. But other forms of mindfulness can have even more powerful results. “Simple deep breathing for as little as ten minutes can be a powerful regulator of emotions,” she explains. If you’re looking to for a primer on mindfulness, try an app like Headspace that provides free introductory guided meditations with the option to subscribe for more advanced sessions.
We all crave quick results but as Braddock puts it, “drastic changes create drastic results, but when the drastic changes stop happening, so do the results.” In other words, yes, going extra hard will get you where you want to be sooner but chances are you’ll end up right back in the same place soon after you’ve met you goal. Beyond that, there are serious physical and mental dangers to so-called yo-yo dieting. Opt instead to practice making small lifestyle changes that reinforce the behavior changes necessary to create new mental pathways. Making healthy choices may never get easier per se, but by changing your behavior, it can become more natural.
Sorry to burst your bubble but there’s simply no quick fix to being healthier and feeling good about the way you look long-term. It takes practice and dedication just like anything worth attaining. The results however, will pay dividends for the rest of your life and give you more time on this earth to enjoy it.