By: Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD
The temperature is rising and for many, that means anxiety or stress about summer is rising, too.
If you feel the urge to start working on your “summer body” you’re not alone. But the pursuit of weight loss or restrictive dieting doesn’t actually improve health. As a registered dietitian, here’s what I recommend trying instead.
Detox Your Social Media
While I typically would not endorse a detox or cleanse of any kind, the one form I can get behind is a social media detox. Images on social media platforms frequently focus on appearance and restrictive eating. A recent 2018 study among 321 college women published in the Journal of Eating Disorders analyzed fitspiration and thinspiration posts on three popular social networking sites resulting in problematic attitudes towards fitness, body image, and restrictive eating in pursuit of a fit-and-thin body ideal. 
Repeatedly seeing images that focus on appearance contributes to higher degrees of body dissatisfaction and may inhibit positive body image. This study had a few limitations including lack of variety of image selection from the use of six hashtags, posts drawn from just four days in total, which makes the study duration very short. Further research is warranted regarding the effects of social media content on the mental health of viewers.
Start by unfollowing or muting accounts that send you into a comparison trap. Next, start filling your feed with images and accounts that showcase more body diversity, food variety, and self-care practices.
Another option? Take a break from social media altogether, even if it’s only temporary. It might be just what you need to start reducing negative feelings towards food and your body.
Ditch the Scale
As much as we might want to step on the scale and control the number we see, the reality is that we can’t. Most of us are conditioned to hopping on the scale on a regular basis, but what does it really tell you about your health?
As it turns out, not nearly as much as we’ve been led to believe. It’s normal for body weight to fluctuate throughout the day, which is just one reason why we can’t rely on our weight to tell us everything about our health.
Frequently stepping on the scale is one form of body checking, or the overvaluation of body shape and size. Simply knowing our weight doesn’t lead to sustainable behavior change that in turn leads to health benefits.
Instead, try measuring or monitoring your health and happiness in other ways. For example, track your energy level or mood to see patterns.  Insight into how you feel, rather than how you look, is a much better indicator that your healthful habits are paying off.
Control What You Can
Since we can’t control the number on the scale, what should we focus on instead? Well, there are a number of healthful and life-enhancing behaviors that we actually have a lot of control over. These are likely not new to you, but I want to encourage you to rethink how you approach them if you focused on the benefits that don’t make weight loss a priority.
- Eating nourishing foods. How can you enjoy meals and snacks that provide the energy and nutrition your body needs? When is the last time you enjoyed a food without guilt, shame, or regret? Though it sounds counterintuitive, getting in tune with our appetite and food preferences does not result in an endless, chaotic free-for-all, but rather a more peaceful and sustainable pattern of eating a wide variety of foods.
- Engage in joyful movement., Exercising without the goal of changing your appearance can actually be a boost to positive body image.
- What types of activities, classes, sports, or games would you love to try if your goal was to have fun (not burn the most calories)? Summer is a prime opportunity to discover new ways to move that leave you feeling energized and invigorated.
- Find an outlet for stress. Practicing self-care is more than just bubble baths and spa days. How can you take care of your body and your mind?
In addition to these, consider the ways you can get restful sleep, nurture positive relationship with friends, family or your community, or devote time to personal or professional goals. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, keep in mind there are resources like registered dietitians, therapists, or fitness professionals who can support you when you’re ready to get started.
Being “healthy” is much more than achieving good physical health. And you don’t have to wait until summertime to start redefining what your version of health looks like!
Need some ideas for summer-ready recipes to enjoy outdoors? Check out a few of my favorites:
Cara Harbstreet, MS RD LD is a nationally recognized food & nutrition expert based in Kansas City. She owns and operates Street Smart Nutrition, where she specializes in creating fearlessly nourishing meals and inspiring clients to become more empowered and informed about their food choices. In addition to her private practice, she is a cookbook author, speaker, and media consultant. Follow Street Smart Nutrition on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest to stay connected and learn more about a non-diet approach for health and happiness.
1. Alberga AS, Withnell SJ, von Ranson KM. Fitspiration and thinspiration: a comparison across three social networking sites. J Eat Disord. 2018; 6:39. Published 2018 Nov 26. doi:10.1186/s40337-018-0227x https://jeatdisord.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s40337-018-0227-x
2. Caldeira, C., Chen, Y., Chan, L., Pham, V., Chen, Y., & Zheng, K. (2018). Mobile apps for mood tracking: an analysis of features and user reviews. AMIA ... Annual Symposium proceedings. AMIA Symposium, 2017, 495–504.