If you’re anything like the average person who makes a New Year’s Resolution, you’ll have already abandoned that weight loss attempt before the end of January. In this blog, counsellor Rachel Roberts discusses the truth about dieting.
Even if you’ve gone through the ‘New Year, New You’ diet merry-go-round a dozen times before, it’s hard to ignore the siren’s call that comes along every summer.
“Wouldn’t you feel healthier if you lost some weight?”
“Isn’t it time to feel like yourself again?”
“It’s really not that hard – it’s calories in, calories out. Don’t fail this time”
Oh boy, that siren’s call is strong. It’s not just a promise of feeling and looking ‘good’. There’s deeper roots to it.
Often our desire to make our bodies smaller, to be actively engaged in ‘losing weight’, is about acceptance. Acceptance is one of those deep, fundamental human needs. To be seen and accepted by those around us (particularly those we love) is a powerful motivator. And if you’ve ever spent time in a larger body, a body considered fat, you’ll know that it’s not just about wanting to cultivate acceptance from those around you. Striving for a smaller body can mean the difference between having a doctor actually listen to you when you go in with a health ailment or being able to find clothes that fit and feel like you’re truly expressing yourself. It can be about fitting into more furniture, experiencing fewer violations of your privacy and personhood from everyone from family to strangers on the street.
There’s plenty of scientific evidence, going as far back as the 1950’s, that shows us that long-term, intentional weight loss isn’t a reality for most people. In the two to five years since beginning a weight loss pursuit, 95% of dieters have gained back all the weight – and two-thirds of them have even gained more weight than they started with (1). We’re told that being above a ‘normal’ BMI range increases our risk of morbidity (sickness), mortality (death), and reduces our life expectancy. The popular message about pursuing weight loss is that it’s simple, easy, and the only way for larger bodied people to improve their health. But when you put aside the headlines and look critically at the growing body of evidence we have for weight-neutral health interventions (where changing your body weight isn’t a goal), a lot of the assumptions we make about weight and health start to fall apart (2).
Dieting (by which I mean altering the way you eat with the intention of weight loss or a narrow idea of health) disrupts our relationship with food and our bodies. We quickly lose trust, gain preoccupation with food, and blame ourselves whenever we ‘fail’.
What if, instead of looking back on your January weight loss attempt and feeling ashamed at your efforts, you said:
It’s likely I was always going to fail.
Not because I’m not good enough, but because pursuing weight loss was always likely to end up like this.
Maybe it’s time to try something else”
If you’re a serial dieter looking for an alternative to your next weight loss resolution, I highly recommend checking out some of the titles we have in the Rough Patch online store. Anti-Diet by Christy Harrison and Just Eat It by Laura Thomson break down the process and outcomes of dieting really well.
“But I can’t stand the thought of accepting my body the way it is…”
May I suggest exploring that further with some professional support? A mental health practitioner who is versed in non-diet approaches to health, the Health at Every Size paradigm and body acceptance will provide you a space to unpack your body story and explore what it might be like to stop fighting your body. They won’t be prescriptive and tell you off for still wanting to diet or lose weight – instead, it’s about figuring out where the deep roots of that desire to change your body go, and trying new ways to meet your needs if dieting isn’t cutting it anymore. It’s hard work, and you don’t have to do it alone.
Brody, Jane E. Panel Criticizes Weight-Loss Programs. New York Times. April 2, 1992.
Bacon, Linda, and Aphramor, Lucy. "Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift." Nutrition journal 10.1 (2011): 1-13. https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
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