Every woman deserves to feel her best—and to do that, she needs a body that can support her hectic lifestyle and carry her through the struggles and triumphs that come with being female.
But for women focused on empowerment, trying to lose a few pounds (even if it’s for health reasons) can feel like selling out and conforming to society’s preferred look for women: Fit, thin and picture-perfect.
Of course, depending on your situation, losing weight can also be the first step toward putting your best, most confident and most body-positive self out there. So we consulted with experts to get strategies for how you can approach the process of losing weight (if you want to) without feeling like you’ve compromised your values.
Frame it in an uplifting light
Forget the stereotypical narrative of losing weight as a way to fit into a certain jean size. Instead, focus on your specific reasons for wanting to change your habits, suggests Dr. Katie Rickel, a clinical psychologist at Structure House, a residential weight loss facility. Do you want to drop pounds so that you can keep up with your kids? So you can go on that trip to Ireland and have the energy to walk the countryside? So you can fly comfortably to that job interview? These are all motivations that will open you up to more opportunity every day.
“The difference is whether the focus is on appearance and pleasing others or on being healthy and pleasing yourself,” says Dr. Traci Mann, a professor of social and health psychology at the University of Minnesota.
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Focus on making choices that feel good—not the scale
Mann points out that feeling your best may not actually require losing much weight (if any). “You can be in the ballpark of healthy at almost any weight as long as you eat a healthy, balanced diet and exercise regularly,” she says.
In fact, incorporating both exercise and healthy eating into your lifestyle are great ways to improve your health—even if your actual weight remains unchanged. “People tend to think exercise makes you healthy because it leads to weight loss, but it makes you healthy before you lose weight,” she says.
So start with health-promoting habits you enjoy—like jogging or using your spiralizer as much as possible—and don’t worry so much about what the scale says. That way, you can get to a place where you’re healthy and happy—and still prioritize other goals that matter more to you than your weight.
Find a support system
Research from the University of Illinois suggests that, for women in particular, a support system is key in both weight loss and weight management. And of course, the process of trying to make healthier choices will be much more uplifting if you stay connected to others who you can lean on throughout the process.
Rickel suggests seeking out community walking groups or vegetable-focused cooking classes, which prioritize the habits that are in line with a healthy lifestyle, rather than reaching a target weight.
Open up to your friends
Discussing your motivations with your friends can help make clear that your lifestyle changes aren’t coming at the expense of your values. Rickel recommends explaining that you’re making healthy changes because feeling energized, clear-headed and empowered—which come hand-in-hand with self-care behaviors—allow you to pursue goals and activities that are important to you.
Reassure your friends that you’re not making these changes because you feel pressured to, but that you’re deciding to make them because you feel more empowered when you’re walking around in a healthy, fully-functioning body, says Rickel.
“It is important to make clear that healthy weight management and your empowering ideals are not mutually exclusive and that they exist in two different ‘categories’ in your mind,” she says. “One has to do with your self-care and well-being; the other has to do with your social viewpoints.”