2019 is around the corner and so it begins…evidence in all types of media that diet culture is alive and well. It’s typical, but honestly a little surprising to me as an RD–because it’s never been more clear that diets don’t work in the long run.
But, as you know, thin is in. In general, our society overvalues thinness and discriminates against people who are not seen as thin. We don’t have to look far to see this weight bias everywhere–in Hollywood, magazines, and sadly, even health care settings. (Has your doctor ever told you to lose weight and failed to fully address the reason you made the appointment?)
The main reason this has become socially acceptable is because the assumption has always been that thin people are healthier. And while there are statistics that link obesity to certain diseases, such as diabetes, it is definitely not that simple.
Maintaining Weight Loss is the Exception
Odds are good that you know first hand how hard weight loss is. Even if you don’t, consider that the U.S. weight loss industry is worth $66 billion because this is a very complex problem…with not much of a solution.
Losing weight and keeping it off forever is rare. (There is a national weight control registry to study these exceptional people.) Most people lose weight only to yo-yo up and down throughout their lives. Recent research confirms that restrictive weight-loss diets don’t work in the long-term and diets may actually predict weight gain. AND, even more importantly, recent research reveals that yo-yo dieting appears to lower your metabolism in the long run (the Biggest Loser follow up study).
What does this mean?
Odds are very good that after dieting you will not be able to sustain the restrictions, you will return to your original weight or exceed it, AND now you need to eat less and/or exercise more to maintain your weight. (Although maybe the nutrient profile matters…a brand new randomized controlled trial, the gold standard, suggests following a lower-carbohydrate diet may maintain energy expenditure to help maintain weight loss.)
In summary: you are worse off when you focus on weight loss.
And of course, many people develop disordered eating or eating disorders along the way. Keep in mind this post doesn’t even touch on the many psychological ramifications of failed weight-loss attempts…
If Diets Don’t Work,Then What Does?
Well, first it’s important–albeit difficult–to come to terms with the fact that we are all different and our bodies are all different. I’m very sorry, but no amount of dieting (or exercising) is going to change this.
I love this Poodle Science video! It makes a really good point–you wouldn’t expect a Mastiff to look like a Poodle, even if it ate more like a poodle.
Now, of course, it’s a little different for people, but the idea is that we all have varied genetic make up and have far less control over our size than was once thought. And that’s okay–we are who we are meant to be.
Avoiding diet culture often requires a continual redirection of your thoughts to overcome occasional relative comparisons and prevent them from becoming part of who you are. The struggle is indeed real to prevent negative thoughts or societal influences from penetrating your sense of self worth…and even worse, affecting your behaviors.
Keep in mind, sometimes a lot of soul searching and often therapy is necessary to help us get to this point. But it’s a journey–I’m hoping you start today, if you haven’t already, and let it lead you to a healthier frame of mind regardless of your weight.
Now, I’m not saying we should give up on our bodies or the pursuit of health. I believe we need to focus on forming healthy behaviors irrespective of weight in order to better our physical and mental health.
Lose the Pressure Instead of the Weight
How many times have you avoided doing anything at all to improve your health, because you’re fixated on and frustrated by your inability to lose weight? However, if you don’t start a diet, you won’t be able to “quit” and then feel guilty and ashamed.
Diets don’t work because they fail you. You don’t fail them.
There’s no need for guilt and shame. Simply take the pressure off yourself! If you don’t focus on weight as your end goal, I believe you would feel more empowered about making changes for your health because your goals will be much more attainable and sustainable.
These are examples of far more immediately achievable, and therefore, likely more sustainable goals:
- add 1 cup of vegetables to 3 meals a day, or
- exercise 30 minutes 3 times a week, or
- check your blood sugar 2 times a day (if you have diabetes), or
- go to bed/wake up at the same time each day (for a regular pattern of 8 hrs of sleep), or
- meditate for 10 minutes each day.
Notice we’re staying positive in our goals. Adding, not taking away. If not these, what healthy habit would you like to add to your daily routine?
If you happen to lose weight implementing a sustainable healthy behavior, then of course, that’s okay.
But when you focus on realistic goals rather than weight loss, you have more importantly created a sustainable behavior that carries with it proven lasting health benefits, such as improvements in the following:
- blood sugar control,
- blood pressure control,
- body composition, etc.
What Do You Think?
Is it surprising I’m telling you not to focus on weight or losing weight? Is it liberating? Or are you doubtful this approach is healthy?
Honestly, as a health professional I have long known restrictive diets don’t work, but I was at first reluctant to let go of focusing on weight as a measurement of health risk–but then again, maybe that just shows you how deep weight bias runs.
But I truly believe we can make more progress toward better health if we can let go of our obsession with weight and instead focus on creating healthy behaviors one at a time. Please leave a comment or question to further the discussion!
Happy New Year!