Visit any bookstore and you will be bombarded with cookbooks and diet books that promise weight loss results in no time flat. But the author of Body Kindness, Rebecca Scritchfield, MA, RDN, HFS, is trying to change all of that with one simple concept: being kind to your body. In her new book, Body Kindness, Scritchfield urges people to ditch the crazy fad diets and treat their body with the love and respect it deserves. I was lucky enough to chat with the author and dietitian, and to get the inside scoop about her new book and the message of body kindness.
What prompted you to write Body Kindness?
I can trace it all the way back to being a teenager and reading the glossy magazines about how to look good in a bikini. I developed a mindset that you congratulate yourself for the foods you don’t eat and the way you look. For most of my life, I believed that health was about being in the best shape of your life and keeping a low weight.
I genuinely became a dietitian because I wanted to help people get healthy. Deep down, I always thought that was about weight loss. When I had my clients on my weight loss program, it reminded me of my own experience growing up. We would congratulate when pounds were lost, but they weren’t learning how to make better choices or take care of their bodies. I got frustrated because I wasn’t really helping develop long-lasting habits. When I had the opportunity to write a book, I wanted to focus on relinquishing the idea of trying to control your body and adopting what you can control — your habits.
The part of the book that resonated the most with me is that “bad feelings are good for you.” How will this book teach people that all feelings have a purpose?
When we feel negative emotion, it gives a signal that we are not safe. We kick into this running mechanism and we don’t want to feel it. When we don’t embrace negative emotions, we implement some way of avoiding them. Some people will numb their pain by comfort eating. But all emotions are there to tell you that you care about something. If you see that negative emotion as a sign that this is something that needs more attention to resolve, then you don’t need to run away from that emotion. You can now engage your rational brain and tolerate that negative emotion. Just breathe a little bit, let the feeling linger and then remove it.
I love that Body Kindness shares actionable strategies for combatting emotional eating. Can you share some of those tactics with Healthy Eats readers?
Emotional eating is a behavior that we learn. We teach ourselves that this is something that will make us feel better and it actually does work, in a sense. When we feel these intense emotions, we crave carbs because they create serotonin that helps you relax. It’s a tough situation because carbs give this release that we seek. But in the long term, it doesn’t work because we beat ourselves up the next day.
The number one way to combat emotional eating is to be aware of the behavior. This means understanding that it’s a learned behavior and you can unlearn it. The second you become aware, you are acknowledging that it’s not real hunger and setting yourself up with another choice.
When you feel emotional eating coming on, start with 5 minutes of deep breathing. Our breath is one of the reactions we can control, and it lowers our heart rate and blood pressure. If the breathing doesn’t work, do something else like looking at photos of people you care about. I love this tactic because it reinforces why you want to be kind to your body. Or, try doing anything with your hands, like knitting or sudoku. Sit with that urge without giving in.
How does the concept of body kindness fit into a culture where 2 in 3 adults are considered overweight or obese?
The one thing we know not to do is to diet and follow something that isn’t workable for the rest of your life. Diet is associated with depression and weight gain, and it’s a societal sickness that we overemphasize the weight rather than emphasizing the behavior. I advise the focus and attention goes to habits rather than weight loss. If you get better sleep and exercise regularly, you may notice that you are losing weight because you are taking better care of your body. If you improve your eating habits, you’re going to be much more likely to reduce your disease risk and your body may respond with weight loss. I suggest reducing the importance of weight loss and focus on creating behavioral patterns that are in line with someone who cares about their health.
Natalie Rizzo, M.S., R.D., is a media dietitian, food and nutrition writer, spokesperson and blogger at Nutrition à la Natalie.
*This article was written and/or reviewed by an independent registered dietitian nutritionist.