Summer can be a bit of a mental minefield for those of us who are planning on spending sun-drenched days in bikini or swimsuit. On one hand – thanks to unrealistic and incredibly narrow beauty standards – there is increasing pressure to look a certain way. And on the other, it’s the season to indulge in trifle, cocktails, champagne, barbecues – you name it. As a result, it’s very often a season that can be fraught with anxiety and self-loathing for those who struggle with body image issues.
Fashion Quarterly asked nutritionist Danijela Unkovich to share her advice on how to maintain a sense of balance and a healthy approach to our bodies over the summer months. Read her advice below.
Food goes far beyond being a means of fuel and nutrition.
It’s an anchor that brings us together to socialise and connect; with deep cultural ties, nostalgia and pleasure tied to what we eat. Overindulging in a grazing platter or having one too many glasses of rosé while laughing with girlfriends can be food for the soul!
Practise listening to hunger cues.
Aim to eat until you feel satisfied, rather than stuffed. If food is losing its appeal or eating becomes mechanical, it’s a good time to pause. Explore mindful eating. What happens if you eat more slowly? Put your fork down between mouthfuls? Really chew your food? We may notice a greater appreciation for food, more satisfaction and less overeating.
Be mindful of diet culture language.
Notice how much negative and virtuous language is attached to food and eating around us. Avoid using the words ‘should’ and ‘shouldn’t’.
Be mindful of the language you use around impressionable people in your life.
Ultimately, perception towards food can be incredibly complex, with our narrative impacted from conversations or watching significant figures in our lives. Being mindful of our influence can be empowering – education around how healthy eating as a lifestyle choice may positively impact their health for a lifetime ahead. On the other hand, a diet-focused approach may more exhibit a temporary fix that’s not always beneficial for health and may lead to weight instability.
Stop associating guilt with food.
Avoiding using food as a reward or punishment (i.e. you won’t get ice cream if you don’t finish your veggies) can be helpful too, as this can otherwise start to frame foods as being ‘good’ or ‘bad’. Food is just food, and while some options might be more nutritious than others, we still get nutrients from a big bowl of ice cream! We must work to remove guilt and judgement associated with many foods.
Christmas is just one day – and it’s meant to be enjoyed.
We want to look forward to festive celebrations with excitement and joy, rather than dreading excess calories or food guilt. Christmas doesn’t have to equate to overindulgence – but if we do overindulge, that’s okay too. If you’re feeling anxious or have guilt brewing, take time to reflect why. Will a change in body composition due to overindulging make you any less valuable as a human? Absolutely not.
Let’s remember Christmas itself is only one day and a day to be enjoyed, not feared. If we overdo it and need a nap on the couch after – hey that’s great! We need to focus more on the bigger picture, rather than specific days or meals.