So you think you want to lose weight. Maybe I should say you feel at your core that you NEED to lose weight. It seems like your only option. When the desire for weight loss is unshakable, it can be hard to focus on anything else.
I hear this a lot. A lot a lot.
I actually have turned potential clients away because they were simply not willing to put weight loss on the back burner. It’s a MUST if you want to learn intuitive eating.
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.
Okay so that may sound a bit greedy, but hang in there with me so I can explain.
When you know what I know about weight loss, you’d be as frustrated and angry with it as I am.
Weight loss is big business and it thrives on this idea that enough people have a desire for weight loss that is unshakable. There’s something like $17 billion wrapped up in the health and wellness industry with weight loss products and services leading the field. It’s an easy in for anyone wanting to coach or “teach” nutrition. And the people and financial webs that are woven in the weight loss big business are mostly hidden (unless you’re seeking it out) from public eye but is a telling part of the story. Basically it’s more about making money and less about actually helping anyone to be healthier.
And another thing wrong with weight loss…
Weight loss essentially is a punishment to the body because it’s acting on the belief that there’s something wrong with you. Despite what you’ve been told and seen in popular media (and even from doctors), the science simply doesn’t support weight loss as a means to a “healthier” end.
If you have a seemingly insatiable desire for weight loss, here are a few facts for you to ponder:
- Per the CDC as published in JAMA in 2005 found that in the US, people in the overweight BMI category lived longer than those in a normal BMI weight category and people in a mild or moderately obese BMI category lived as long as normal BMI category people. It’s really too bad they issued statements after these publishings telling people to basically ignore them…diet culture, money, and politics at work here.
- Upon examination of the BMI data that was used to establish the BMI tables, health decline didn’t actually occur until a BMI of 40. So why then is a BMI of 25 considered overweight and 30 obesity, and why do doctors begin pushing weight loss when we reach the overweight category? The answer lies in the primary funding source for all of this…the pharmaceutical companies that were selling weight loss drugs at the time.
- Looking at weight alone as a risk factor in many diseases fails to take into account those overweight and obese people who are healthy…there is simply too muhc missing…the traits and behaviors involved in a persons lifestyle like air quality, chemical exposures, food quality and variety/choices, physical conditioning and strength, and genetics to name a few….all play a larger role in disease determinants.
And don’t forget about the mental health aspects…
- Linda Bacon writes in her book Body Respect that as reported by the Cooper Institute in Dallas TX, when you look at the data across all BMI categories and chronic diseases, unfit individuals have higher death rates.
- Being unhappy with your weight has more negative health effects than actually being overweight. An article in the American Journal of Public Health showed more than 170,000 people who were surveyed about their thoughts about their weight was a better indicator of their physical and mental health than their actual weight was. Weight stigma (aka discrimination) can add and enormous amount of stress…stress is an independant risk factor in diseases often associated with obesity.
Things that make you go “Hmmmm…???”
A question to think about…if fatness and overweight are so heavily pointed to as detrimental to our health, when looking at the diseases that list overweight/obesity/fatness as their largest risk factor, why do we see thin or normal weight people with these diseases too?
Weight loss is not fun. The last time you were in the throws of an unshakable desire for weight loss and find yourself restricting (calories, food, and/or exercising like you were being chased by a bear!), were you truly enjoying yourself? Do you recall being relaxed and feeling happy and content with life? Were you able to do all the things you wanted to do, including eat the foods you wanted to eat?
Or did it feel more like boot camp, like you missed out on some of life? Did you focus on the end? Did you hear 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 will happen when the hormones are shifting trying to get you to eat and putting all your attention on survival rather than your to do list for the 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 is the hunger we feel, the lack of ability to focus on anything other than our hunger, and 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?
But wait, there’s more…
And the things that happen in our body when we don’t listen and we continue to restrict lead to the next natural survival process of slowing things down. Our body will slow down the calorie burn and become as efficient as possible, it will 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. 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.
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 do still act on this desire for weight loss?
All this talk about the inherent problems of weight and weight loss begs the question then of why. When you understand more about weight loss and dieting behaviors and the havoc they wreak on the body and mind and soul, you naturally find yourself asking, “why would anyone want to do this to themselves?”
The answer lies in diet culture and our societies desire to be thin. It lies in wanting to fit in and be like others. It lies in a sense of belonging to something bigger than ourselves. Being different can be hard, lonely, and scary. And big money has capitalized on both our desires to fit in as well as our desires to avoid being different. And unfortunately diet culture and diet business is big. Really big. The way gravity works, the bigger something is, the stronger the pull. Society gets pulled into this because, “everyone’s doing it!”
The elusive thin ideal…
But let’s jump back to this idea of fitting in with the thin ideal. What really is the “thin ideal” and where does it come from? Diet culture is the simple answer. You can read more about that here. But essentially it’s an idea that there is a range of body sizes and shapes that everyone needs to aspire to. It is falsely based on the notion that if you achieve this body size or shape then you will be “healthy”. But the truth is that there isn’t a one size fits all solution and diet culture has its roots in politics and money. The problem is that diet culture has been spewing this thin ideal at us for so long (all our lives) that it feels hard to believe and impossible to escape.
Escape from the desire for weight loss
Escaping diet culture opens the doors to accepting your current size (which opens the doors to lower stress, more happiness, and improved health). So to help you better accept your current size, I want to talk about a couple things. First up is size diversity. Size diversity is based on the same principles as all diversity in humans. It’s as real and valid as diversity of skin color because it’s about our genetics. Just like our skin color varies and is similar to our parents and ancestors, so is our size. Our genetics to a great extent determine how tall we will be, how wide our shoulders will be, how round or oval or big or small our heads will be.
Let’s also address this from a health aspect. It’s an accepted fact that in order for body processes to function ideally, there needs to be balance. Your genes dictate how much fat you will carry and where so that your metabolism stays where your body needs it to be so that your hormones are in balance for you to be happy and think straight and so your organs function the way they were designed, etc. etc. etc. I hope you are grasping the concept that you are YOU. You are not supposed to be someone else. You are never going to have the same size and shape body as anyone else.
I want you to take a few minutes and think about that. Sit and noodle on it a little while. It’s perhaps one of the coolest things ever.
It also is the reason you have found yourself at plateaus in your desire for weight loss and the reason you struggle to lose weight in certain areas of your body has more to do with genetics than any amount of weight loss effort you could launch against yourself.
Set point weights
This brings me to the idea of a set point weight…the weight at which your body functions it’s best. It’s the weight you will naturally settle into when you are eating intuitively (ie. honoring your hunger and fullness and allowing all foods without restrictive mindsets and not trying to lose weight and you are honoring your health through your body movement and nutrition and you handle your emotions more often without food, etc.).
Messing with the set point weight has consequences
That insatiable desire for weight loss that leads to dieting behaviors and restrictive practices can and will mess with this set point weight. These practices may cause your set point weight to increase when repeated chronically. It’s actually a part of your body’s programming to keep you alive. If you regularly restrict calories, your body will bump up your set point weight to account for those restrictions….It’s trying to help you hold on to the weight it needs for healthy functioning. Weight loss then, when understood from this perspective, is a losing battle.
The desire for weight loss though can be an extremely strong pull. As we learned on day 2, diet culture is prevalent and pervasive in our society and so is our need and want to be a part of the norm, aka the thin ideal.
When the “norm” is telling us that being in a larger body is bad or unhealthy (this is called weight stigma), our security feels at risk and so we try to adjust to remove the risk. It’s as though our intuition is at war with itself. We will naturally do what is necessary to self-preserve, but what is more important, fitting in or honoring our natural abilities to stay healthy. There is another problem. Guilt and shame most often accompany weight stigma (as well as the rest of diet culture). These are two powerful weapons diet culture uses to keep you repeating the cycle. Sometimes I get dizzy thinking about it.
Messed up messages
The problem is that diet culture sends us messages supporting this unshakable desire to lose weight. It sends us messages about fitting in and feeling like we are a part of the group and preys on some pretty vulnerable parts of our psyche. It’s wrong and those messages are messed up. Messages from diet culture tell us we need to feel shame for our size and shape are messed up. The messages we get leading us to feel guilty for eating something we enjoy is messed up. They are incorrect messages. Diet culture is messing things up for us.
So what do we do? How do we stop this cycle?
You raise your awareness. You raise your awareness about your desire for weight loss and diet culture and all the impacts these things have on you. When you’re aware, it’s hard to not be aware anymore. It’s hard to unlearn something. Things like this tend to stick with you. Raising your awareness means that you’ll start to notice diet culture and weight stigma showing up in the world around you. The more you notice, the more opportunities you have to slow down and make a conscious choice about moving forward.
So what will YOU do? Will you continue to buy into diet culture or will you shake your head no and choose to believe differently? Choose to believe the truth?