“By choosing healthy over skinny you are choosing self-love over self-judgment.” ~Steve Maraboli
If we actually care about health, in 2020, we have to stop trying to lose weight.
I know, that’s the opposite of what we’ve been taught to believe, but stay with me while I explain why I say that.
Dieting and weight loss obsessions are actually causing weight gain and poorer overall health outcomes in our population.
Our culture has been obsessed with weight loss for generations. We’ve been constantly bombarded with ridiculous “lose fat fast” claims by more and more supposedly miraculous diets. It’s been going on for hundreds of years.
So, with all that obsessing, how’s it all working for us? Is our population getting smaller and healthier? Hardly. The opposite is true.
Sure, we think dieting works because often when we jump on another new plan, initial weight loss happens fairly easily. We get excited and tell everyone who will listen about the new miracle diet we found and how great we feel.
And when we gain the weight back? Well, that’s our fault, right?
We only gain it back because we’re stupid and “fall off track,” right?
That’s what the diet industry has cleverly programmed us to believe.
We’ve been taught that any and all weight gain is bad, that not only is it a mortal failure but also a sign of sloth, gluttony, and no self-control. So we’ve also been taught to be ashamed of it.
And weight loss? Well, that’s always the holy grail of winning at life, right? It’s an event worth celebrating!
So we diet to “fix the problem.”
But long-term diet studies show that dieting to lose weight makes most people gain even more weight over time.
Our obsession with weight loss is creating weight gain.
But we don’t even need studies to prove that—we know it already because we see it happening in real life, every single day.
Not only that, it’s contributing to disordered eating and even killing us by creating eating disorders.
We’re dying to be thin. Too often, literally.
And again, I ask, how’s it working for us? How many years have you (or someone you know) been trying to lose weight?
I routinely speak with women who started dieting in their teens (or younger), are now in their sixties and seventies, and have spent their entire lives desperately obsessed with losing weight—only to have never actually achieved lasting weight loss.
In fact, that’s significantly more common than anyone actually losing weight, keeping it off, and living happily ever after.
What’s really annoying is that we know this. The failure rate of weight loss attempts is so widely known that it’s become a joke. There are millions of memes and internet jokes floating around about it.
If someone tries to lose weight, they’re expected to fail before they even get started.
We know that weight loss efforts are not working for us, yet we soldier on… forever terrified of how much more we may gain if we ever give up the fight for weight control—without ever realizing it’s that very fight that’s causing a lot of problems.
I like to use my friend, who we’ll call Mary, as an example because Mary was me. She’s you. She’s your sister, daughter, mother, friend, and co-worker.
Mary loves food. Who doesn’t, am I right? But she often eats when she’s not physically hungry or keeps eating even when she’s well past full. After a while, it starts to create a little weight gain. Because she lives in a world that believes weight gain is a tragic fate she must avoid at all costs, she starts judging herself for it. Her body and her weight become problems that she must solve, at any and all costs.
The fixation on dieting and weight loss has become an obsession for our society thanks in large part to the inescapable weight stigma that has associated weight loss, by any means necessary, with health.
She becomes afraid of gaining more weight.
Because her brain has learned the habit of relying on food to solve every “problem” or sooth every emotion, fear sends an autopilot “eat” signal.
Because she starts a restrictive diet that eliminates a ton of food she’s used to eating (many of which her body actually needs to perform at its best), the survival instinct in her brain gets afraid of starvation and creates cravings and urges that cause her to “cave” on her diet. More “eat” signals.
More fear. Fear that she’ll never stick to anything. Fear that she’s going to keep gaining. Fear of judgment from others because of her growing body.
She feels guilt and shame for not being to get her weight or her eating habits “under control.”
Shame makes her feel like she’s a bad person. She hates her body and struggles to love herself.
She starts making more and more fear-based, unloving choices for her body because she’s stuck in that cycle, repeating the same self-sabotaging behaviors of “getting back on track” and “falling off track,” of dieting, losing weight, and regaining, over and over again.
And that’s where she stays, for her whole life. In that place of obsessing over her weight without ever really changing it, except maybe to slowly just keep gaining.
She stays stuck in that place of being “perfect” one week, meaning barely eating and cutting out a crap-ton of food only to “fall off track” and become a train wreck of self-destructive choices for weeks or months until she decides to “start again.”
That’s the reality. For the majority of the population, that’s the outcome of our fixation on weight loss.
It’s not making us skinnier and healthier; it’s making us heavier and destroying our mental and physical health.
Which brings me to my point: If we actually care about health, we have to break that association and stop focusing on weight loss. It’s that very obsession and association that’s making our population heavier, and less healthy.
If we actually care about health, we’ll stop focusing on weight loss and instead focus on how it feels to live in our bodies and how the choices we’re making that affects that.
The choices you make today will not affect your weight today, but they will affect how it feels to live in your body today.
When our focus is only on weight loss (as it so often is), we stay stuck in that self-destructive cycle I just spoke of and we don’t even try to make positive choices for ourselves unless we’re “on track” and trying to lose weight. The rest of the time, we ignore our health.
When we focus on weight loss and associate weight with health, we think, I feel like crap because I’m overweight, and I won’t feel better until I lose the weight… and since I’m already fat and feel like crap, why bother doing anything good for my body?
When the reality is, no matter what size we are, we can control the way it feels to live in our body today, and often it’s just one or two small choices away.
If your body feels stiff and immobile, it’s less likely to be because of your weight and more likely to be because it just needs a little stretching—but as long as you’re stuck obsessing over the fact that you need to lose weight to feel better, you’re far less likely to just give it the few minutes of stretching it’s begging for with the joint stiffness.
So, even if carrying extra body fat is unhealthy (I’m not saying it is because it’s absolutely not an automatic indicator of poor health any more than being underweight is), if we actually care about health, we’ll stop promoting weight loss.
That obsession is not working and more importantly, it’s making us less healthy.
Weight gain isn’t always bad. Sometimes, it’s the result of health and healing.
Weight loss isn’t always good. Sometimes it’s the result of sickness.
There isn’t one magic weight, or way to eat, that’s a guarantee of health for everyone, so we have to stop obsessing over those things.
Healthy living isn’t just about the choices we make for our bodies, and it definitely isn’t about deprivation, restriction, perfection, or punishment.
It’s not about the number on a scale or the size of our jeans. It’s not about step counters, detoxes, fat burning smoothies, or skinny Instagram models and their pretty pictures with recipes for organic, gluten-free, vegan, superfoods.
If we stopped obsessing over what we weigh, or whether or not we’re going to “be good or bad with food today” or when the next diet starts, our brain would no longer be full of those non-stop, all-consuming thoughts and obsessions and we could start focusing on the things that really matter for our health like connection, compassion, and self-trust.
Things like nurturing our bodies, our minds, our spirits, and our relationships (not just external but internal—our relationship with ourselves, with food, with our bodies).
We can start accepting where we are, figuring out where we’re going, and getting comfortable with being a little uncomfortable while working to get there.
We can start showing up for ourselves, day after day, one small choice at a time. We can focus on how we want to live, how we want to feel in our body, who we want to be, and the small daily choices required to get there.
That’s how we actually improve our health.