Weight loss. It’s a popular topic. We can’t go anywhere without seeing all the tips, tricks, hacks and new diets geared to FINALLY crack the code on weight loss. It’s exhausting.
And it’s addicting. When the desire for thinness becomes unshakable, it can be hard to hear the cold hard truth about weight loss.
I hear this a lot. And I mean A LOT a lot.
But if you knew what I know about weight loss, you’d be as frustrated and angry with it as I am (1).
Weight loss sells
I used to get all excited when I would hear someone say they were looking for help with losing weight. I would think, “Oh, awesome, I can help them with that!” and immediately anticipate a potential new client and the income that would bring. Yes, it was as greedy as it sounds. 🤦♀️
The weight loss industry is not in this for your health.
The act of forcibly making the body lose weight is a form of punishment not only to your physical self, but to your mental and emotional self too (1, 2, 3 to name only a few). Weight loss grounds itself in the belief that there’s something wrong with you. Despite what you’ve been told and seen in popular media, recent science doesn’t support weight loss as a means to a “healthier” end.
Weight loss is not fun.
The last time you were in the throes of an unshakable desire for weight loss and found yourself restricting calories (or exercising to work off calories), were you truly enjoying yourself? Do you recall being relaxed and feeling happy with life? Were you able to do what you wanted to do, including eat the foods you wanted to eat?
Or did it feel more like boot camp? Were you so engrossed in the fomo (fear of missing out) of it all that you heard yourself saying things like, “When I lose this 20 pounds…”? Do you recall having episodes of “hanger” (the hunger-anger that comes with calorie restriction) and feeling like you couldn’t get your act together? That’s what happens when hormones are shifting trying to get you to eat. They put all your attention on survival rather than enjoying your day.
Speaking of survival…
Our bodies are designed to survive. When we restrict calories (whether that comes in the form of eating less or exercising more), our natural instincts kick in to drive us to find more food and take in more calories. This shows up as hunger and an inability to focus on anything other than our hunger. I like to think the anger or grumpy moods that can come with more advanced hunger stages is to send the message to others to get out of the way between us and food. That last part isn’t very scientific, but it makes sense doesn’t it? God is truly a genius.
But wait, there’s more…
When we don’t listen and instead continue to restrict calories, the next natural survival process kicks in. This is the process of slowing your metabolism down. When this inadequate caloric state goes on for long enough, it tells your body to slow down the calorie burn and become as efficient as possible. It can even begin to use what it has on board (aka breaking down your muscle and body tissues for calories).
Yes, that means those muscles you’re working so hard to build for that toned body will actually be consumed by your body if you don’t eat enough food. This then contributes to a lower metabolism (not as much muscle mass burning calories) which makes it harder and harder as you go to actually lose weight.
Weight loss comes with side effects too.
Some additional physical symptoms that can arise during weight loss efforts and calorie restricted states include:
- Lethargy (low energy related to hormonal disruption and lack of proper nutrients)
- Body temperature dysregulation (often you will feel cold)
- Mental instability (things like the lack of focus already discussed but also can be more severe like anxiety and depression)
So why do we still act on this desire for weight loss?
All this glamorous talk about the inherent problems of intentional weight loss begs the question then of why. Why, when you understand about the havoc weight loss wreaks on the body, mind, and soul, why would you want to do this to yourself?”
Introducing diet culture
The answer lies in diet culture and our societies desire to be thin. Diet culture is the set of beliefs in which thinness, dieting, and over exercising are normalized. It is a culture that thrives on our desire to fit in and be like others. It is a culture that supports and promotes a desire for a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves.
Being different can be hard, lonely, and scary.
But the big business of weight loss thrives on this idea that enough people have either a desire to be like everyone else or are turned off enough by being different. There’s something like $17+ billion wrapped up in the health and wellness industry with weight loss products and services leading the field.
Unfortunately the people and financial webs that are woven together in the weight loss industry are mostly hidden from the public eye unless you purposefully seek it out. But as with anything, we see what we want to see.
This is a telling part of the story.
This business has capitalized on our desires to fit in. It’s a big big business. And the way gravity works, the bigger something is, the stronger the pull. Society gets pulled into this because, “everyone’s doing it!”
Diet culture makes people big and God small.
It is outlined very clearly more than 40 times in the bible that we are not to idolize things or entities. Yahweh is our one and only God. He is and should always remain bigger in our life than everything else. But diet culture seems to want to compete with that. Diet culture tells us to worship a thin size body and restrictive eating practices. In diet culture, these things rule our days and invade our nights. When you follow diet culture by jumping from diet to diet with the goal of some thin ideal body, and restrict your food so much that it interferes with your ability to enjoy your family and friends at holidays and gatherings, you have succeeded in making diet culture bigger than God in your life.
Okay, so that’s a lot for me to throw at you. It’s a lot for you to absorb if this is your first exposure to the concept of diet culture and the big business of weight loss. I encourage you to sit with all of this and pray about its meaning in your life. Ask God to show you where diet culture and weight loss big business has shown up for you, where it’s maybe falsely lifted you up, and/or where it’s let you down. Share any stories you feel moved to share in the comments. Remember it’s our stories that help others. And when you’re ready, head over to the next part of this post where I will give you three steps you can take to begin your process of letting go of the reins of diet culture and starting down your own road of un-dieting.