Unfortunately these days there’s quite some emphasis on weight being the main predictor of optimal health. Too often do I see in clinic clients who are upset or disgusted with their weight and this unfortunately reflects on the way they view themselves as a whole.
During study at University, we were taught to use Body Mass Index (BMI) as a predictor of healthy weight. It looks at your weight compared to your height, taking into account your age. It then places you along a spectrum from an unhealthy weight to an obese category. There are flaws to using BMI, such as not differentiating between body fat, muscle mass and bone density.
However, the biggest flaw I have seen over the time I’ve been practising as a Dietitian, is the way it can make someone feel. We were taught at University to calculate BMI and explain to the patient what it means to them. I even remember having to sit a practical exam with a mock patient and do this! How easy do you think it is to tell someone they fit into the obese category? When I’m sure they are well aware of the fact they are carrying more than the “healthy” weight.
Don’t get me wrong, I still use BMI in practice. It is indicated in the care of my acutely unwell patients who may have experienced weight loss and a poor appetite to eat adequately. In this instance, BMI is helpful to set weight goals for the patient. But it isn’t helpful for every case, and my clinical judgement is important to protect the emotional well-being of clients.
You see, there’s more to being healthy than that number on the scales.
I feel the number one predictor of optimal health is self-worth. How does one expect to be healthy if they don’t perceive themselves as worthy?
When someone values and cares for themselves, other aspects of health fall into place. There’s positive body image, fitness, social health, recognition of appetite and positive acceptance of food and eating. This is referred to as a “Non-Diet Approach” and the direction many Accredited Practising Dietitians are heading in order to make successful changes among their clients.
Because yo-yo diets are yet another topic I see too often in clinic. Low carb, no carb, high protein, paleo, “I quit sugar”, shake diets, super foods and meeting all your fruit and vegetable requirements in one big “magical” pill. Unfortunately many of these are promoted and distributed by those lacking a qualification in nutrition and therefore can be quite dangerous. But mostly, evidence highlights that weight loss in the long term is not sustainable and more often than not we see weight regain down the track.
Once again, some of the diets listed above I currently do use in practice where indicated and the “Non-Diet Approach” is certainly not for everyone. But it does aim to enhance self-compassion and teach people positive food practices where perhaps the weight and other predictors of health will come later on.
Just for a little insight, the “Non-Diet approach” focuses on mindful eating. It explores food cues and triggers for eating. It helps people to become more conscious with their body’s hunger cues and eating behaviours. It’s about exploring these and making small steps to enhance self-compassion to make the best change possible.
Personally, I am guided by the Australian Dietary Guidelines and participating in physical activity most days, to ensure I keep as healthy and happy as I can be. This is something I practice for me and also for my family. Modelling of positive behaviours- starting with self-compassion- gives my family the best opportunity to also being the healthiest they can be. If there’s one memory I have from my childhood, it was that my parents never once commented on my weight or eating practices. There was never ever negative talk and for this I will be forever grateful. This is now what I want to pass onto my own children.
This Australian Dietary Guidelines are not something I dive into with all my clients, particularly with those I may be utilising the “Non- Diet Approach” with. Because these may be seen as “rules” and that can negatively fuel the situation. However, I do see the Australian Dietary guidelines as safe food practices to follow for life. They are achievable and realistic, and allow us to enjoy ALL foods. They guide us to include a wide variety of foods from vegetables and fruits to grains, meats and dairy products. For more information, check out the following website https://www.eatforhealth.gov.au/guidelines
There are guidelines for infants, toddlers, children, adults, pregnant and breastfeeding women. These are only a guide and factors such as activity level, age and other circumstances may increase or decrease your requirements.
This is where Accredited Practising Dietitians can further assist with your goals.
Remember, be sceptical of all the confusing nutritional and health advice out there. Learn to love yourself and the rest of the healthy practices will follow.