March is National Nutrition Month, when the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics reminds everyone to return to the basics of healthy eating. It is also the time of year when the Academy celebrates expertise of registered dietitian nutritionists as the food and nutrition experts.
Young women can fall into the trap of wanting to look like super-thin models or television personalities. These unrealistic goals can lead to an unhealthy body image and low self-esteem, not to mention disordered eating behaviors. This may involve eating too little, eating too much or following a restricted diet of only "healthy" foods. Some early warning signs of disordered eating are rapid weight loss, overly picky eating and the desire to eat alone. (See Eating Disorders.)
Since food and body image are closely linked, having a healthy body image may take the help of a registered dietitian nutritionist and a psychologist. The overall goal of any treatment is to accept your body and learn how to balance food and emotions. If used the right way, food can be a source of pleasure, nourishment and self love.
A healthy diet is essential to overcoming poor body image issues. Embracing a variety foods with balance is key. A healthy eating plan includes:
- Lean red meat
- Beans and peas
- Vegetable oils
- Whole grains
- Fat-free or low-fat milk, yogurt and cheese.
There is room for a moderate serving of a sweet or salty food such as chips, chocolate or ice cream to satisfy sweet or salty cravings. This allows you to indulge without the guilt.
A vegetarian diet can be a part of a healthy eating plan as long as it includes a variety of foods including whole grains, fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, seeds and fat-free or low-fat dairy or non-dairy substitutes.
Physical activity helps boost body image and alleviate stress, but when working out becomes obsessive or out of control, it may become unhealthy. If you feel guilty, depressed or overweight if you miss a work out, it may be time for help.
Young women should get a minimum of 30 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise such as walking, jogging, biking or dancing most days of the week. In addition, do resistance training at least two days a week. This will help keep your muscles and bones strong. Resistance training includes free weights, wrist and ankle weights and rubber resistance bands.
A healthy social life helps with body image. People who surround themselves with positive, happy and uplifting friends tend to be more confident and accepting of their own unique body and mind. Encouragement and social support go a long way toward a positive self image.