SALT LAKE CITY — Summer is easily the season that people hate as much as they love.
Summer means a break for students, it means warm weather and sunnier conditions, it means summer parties and holidays, and it means lots of outdoor activities.
Wellness culture these days tells us that well-being is an outcome of eating right and exercising hard, the more you do these, the better you’ll be and the better your body will look. It points to giving yourself a break … on cheat day. Deep down, it tells us that our worth lies in how our bodies look and how physically healthy our bodies are.
We’re missing the mark here. Our well-being lies in our ability to try, to learn, to do things that bring us joy as well as those around us. Our well-being is affected by our stress levels and, unfortunately, eating right and exercising hard all the time, in the ways that we’re told only adds to that stress. You can read more about stress and our well-being in an article I wrote for KSL last year.
Instead of the expected article that outlines the foods you need to eat, the ones you need to avoid, and how you can alter your body to look as we’ve been told is good and healthy, here is a list of ways to feel more comfortable and enjoy a day at the beach or any other summer activity you have coming up.
These ten tips are rooted in self-care and are about improving your well-being, not about the miserable ways to manipulate your body to be acceptable. This is because your body is already acceptable. Just as it is.
1. Find a comfortable swimsuit
"Buy a swimsuit that fits your needs. Supportive tops if you like to be active at the beach/pool or are curvy on top. Adjustable bottoms for curvier hips. Full coverage bottoms stay put better for water/beach sports. That way you’ll be able to focus on what you’re doing, not how your suit is looking." —Emily Dongvillo, registered dietitian
"Instead of focusing on toning up for swimsuit season, think of moving in ways that energize you, that are enjoyable, or that help you prepare for the summer activities that you enjoy. These could include swimming, hiking, surfing, kayaking, whatever else.
Get your body used to participating in these activities by doing them and strengthening the muscles that you use. This can help you enjoy these activities more and enjoy the process vs thinking of it as being miserable.
Also, consider that you have a right to take up space, show off your love of water and strut your stuff. That’s all regardless of what your body looks like." —Adina Pearson, registered dietitian
3. Think critically about ‘diet’ foods
Think about quality vs. quantity. Many times, we eat certain foods because we’re told that’s what we should eat, or because it’s the "better for you" version of one of your favorites.
Low-calorie, low-sugar, or low-fat foods may seem better for you, but often when these macronutrients are removed satisfaction is lost as well. Satisfaction is one of the cues that tell us we’ve had enough and that we’re OK with that.
Who says you have to eat a whole pint of "healthy" ice cream to feel satisfied? That’s just great marketing to sell more ice cream, and to get you to eat more of that ice cream.
I will add a caveat, there are some people who truly like the taste of these foods, that’s fine. One helpful test to see if you fall into this category is to have someone get you two similarly flavored foods — one diet food and one regular food — and do a blind taste test. Then you’ll be able to look at them without being biased by nutrition information or marketing.
4. Plan out summer reading lists
Relaxation is so great for everybody says registered dietitian Sumner Brooks. Other than playing in the water, I love sitting down with a great book at the beach or in my backyard. Get lost in the stories in front of you.
5. Think critically about the media you consume
Messages that say you’re not enough, or that your body or that your health are most important are not helpful.
Pay careful attention to the music you listen to, to the social media accounts you follow and other media sources that affect how you feel about yourself. Stop following, listening, or paying attention to the ones that don’t build you up.
What we see and hear does affect how we feel about ourselves, especially if we see/hear a message frequently. You deserve better. Here’s how you can start thinking critically about the media you consume.
6. Put on rose-colored sunglasses
"See yourself as others see you: perfect as is!" —Diane Norwood, registered dietitian. Remind yourself that your body is an instrument, not an object to be looked at. Consider all the things and activities your body allows — or can allow — you to do. It’s pretty cool.
7. Be an example
"The young people in your life watch what you do and know how you feel about your body. Show them fun is not reserved for perfect bodies. Rock your swimsuit, take compliments, and most of all, forget about yourself in a swimsuit and enjoy time with the people you love most." — Liz Nielsen Jenkins, Salt Lake City-based body-positive registered dietitian nutritionist
Wearing a bathing suit to the beach or pool can be far from what you usually do. It can be scary and intimidating, and those feelings are totally valid. But it also can be empowering and allow you to get in the water or enjoy the summer activities that you like.
First of all, know that people are probably paying more attention to how they look than how you look, and that there’s no right or wrong way to dress in the summer. Wear what is appropriate for you for the activity you’re participating in, experiment with different clothing items. Wear something that is comfortable (on all levels) enough that you can direct your focus from what you’re wearing to what you’re doing or who you’re with.
Again, this may look different for everyone and that’s OK. Try it out, even for one minute, and see how you feel and what happens.
9. Find a few refreshing drinks
Hydration is important when you’re outside in the heat. Even if you’re not sweating, you’re losing water. Plain old water can get boring. Don’t let that happen and try out sparkling waters, flavored waters or other drinks to keep up hydration. I particularly love cold flavored sparkling waters and lemonades during the summer. They’re refreshing, delicious and quench my thirst better than plain water does.
10. Brainstorm summer activities
Come up with a list of activities you’d like to try — write down whatever comes to mind. Hold back from censoring your responses and see what comes out. You can reach out to a couple people to work through the list with and see what you learn about yourself along the process.
So instead of trying to alter your body, try altering how you view it. This is not an easy process, but it’s a simple one. Find a Health At Every Size dietitian or check out Beauty Redefined.