Lessons I learned about body love while working with the elderly.
I have some super exciting news to share with you today! Many of you probably don’t know that for the past year, I’ve been working part-time at as the dietitian for an elderly day care and in-house health care program. While it’s a great job that offers me flexibility to work on building the blog and a private practice on the side, the patients I serve just aren’t my dream clients. Prescribing diets to people who either have no interest in changing, or frankly, no longer have the cognitive ability to follow a nutrition plan, just isn’t fulfilling to me. Which is why I’m super excited to announce…
I have put in my notice that I will be leaving! I will now be able to focus my efforts entirely on helping people make peace with food and their bodies as an intuitive eating dietitian. I will be helping people who actually want my help. And most importantly, I will be practicing in an area that I am passionate about and truly believe in. And of course, I’ll have more time to make more healthy, delicious recipes for you!
Working with an elderly population did give me a new perspective when it comes to body image and health, and these are some of the lessons I learned along the way about body love:
1. Negative body image and the diet mentality don’t discriminate. Our program is funded by Medicare and Medicaid, so the majority of our population is poor. We also have a high number of patients with mental disability, dementia or both. And since we are in an agricultural area in Texas, we also have a large Hispanic population. So we don’t serve rich young white women. Yet, the number one thing patients want my help with is weight loss. Most of my patients don’t care about their failing hearts and kidneys or sky-high blood sugar. They are worried about the way their bodies look at 60, 70 and 80 years old. Which leads me to…
2. Dieting and body shame can be a life-long struggle. I have patients who have been dieting for 50 years or more. I have some who are so terrified of gaining weight that they hardly eat anything at all despite being frail and weak. I have one that refuses to eat more than 1 frozen dinner all day long because she doesn’t want to gain weight. These are not teenagers with anorexia nervosa I’m talking about. (See point 1.) Years of chronic dieting on top of old age have destroyed many of my patients’ metabolisms so that no matter how little they eat, they still struggle with their weight. And it’s so hard for me to convince any of them that eating too little might actually be the problem.
3. Bodies are amazing. There’s nothing like being around very old, very sick people every day to make you appreciate your own health. I am so thankful that my body gives me the ability to walk without a walker and see and breathe without an oxygen tank and eat delicious food! All things that we tend to take for granted but that not everyone has the ability to do. I want to take care of my body and be kind to it so that it keeps making these little joys possible for me, not beat it up and deprive it.
4. Bodies change. If I had $5 for every time someone said “I used to be skinny like you” to me at this job, I could have quit a long time ago. Our bodies change as we age. Less muscle tone, more weight, some wrinkles. It’s all part of life and getting older. And some of my patients would get very mad at me when I told them this truth. They just didn’t understand why they don’t weigh what they did in their 20s. Bodies change and adapt and do what they are going to do. I’d rather accept that and age gracefully than make myself miserable trying to fight it. Which brings me to my last point about body love.
5. There is so much more to life than the way your body looks. This one hit me like a ton of bricks one day at work. When I am 80 years old, I want to still be enjoying a full and wonderful life. To have had experiences and relationships and memories that I can be thankful for. I don’t want to have spent my life worrying about a little extra fluff around the middle or a number on a scale. That seems like such a waste of time compared to all of the amazing things life has in store! I don’t think that my grandkids will care about how much I weigh or what size pants I wear. I want them to remember me for who I was as a person and my accomplishments and I how I made them feel. That’s what really matters.
You don’t have to love your body today. But you can start to change the way you think about it. Body love takes time. If you want to join me in making peace with your body and loving your healthiest self at whatever size, contact me about nutrition coaching!