Every year, as January approaches, the siren song of the dieting and cosmetic fitness industries are at their loudest. People working to heal their relationship with food and body can feel tempted by all of these hope-filled commercials that say, “it can be different this time.” Few of us are immune. So we thought we’d share 10 reasons NOT to focus on your weight this year:
- It likely won’t be different this time, and this is not your fault. Diets fail because they do not work sustainably over time. You may be thinking that you aren’t going to diet (I’m just going to watch what I eat and be healthy), but if weight loss is the goal you seek, you will likely approach change with a dieting mindset. This mindset, by design, gives rise to perfectionism and promotes superhuman expectations. Participating in dieting culture supports the illusion that weight loss leads to happiness and health. Honestly, for most people, weight loss just tends to lead to more worry about weight re-gain. We love what Anne Lamott says about her experience with this: “We have to talk. I know you are planning to start a diet next Thursday. I used to start diets, too. I hated to mention this to my then-therapist. She would say cheerfully, “Oh, that’s great, honey. How much weight are you hoping to gain?”
- When your diet fails and disappoints, you can end up in a cycle of self-blame, comparison and disconnection from yourself. The personal stress generated from a lack of self-love can seep into every part of your life and affect your overall sense of competence. It’s insidious. The dieting mind causes stress, cruel inner dialogue, and pain. Let’s vow to blame the diets this time, yes?
- Your body is not a problem to be solved. It is your home and regarding it as separate, problematic, or disgusting can result in a type of detachment that interferes with your ability to hear its valuable messages to you. You need your body. It does not lie. You inhabit it for this lifetime, and we believe body trust is your birthright.
- The most consistent effect of weight loss at two years is weight gain (Mann et al, 2007). Really. Most dieters regain what they lose plus more. It’s not just you. And it might be helpful to know that weight cycling is far more harmful to your health than weight stability, even if your stable weight is a higher body weight (Tylka et al., 2014).
- The diet mentality disregards our emotional well-being in order to reach a goal of becoming smaller in size. We don’t often notice that when we believe “thinner is better,” we are disparaging the beauty, worth and inherent human value that comes in people of all sizes. Hating on our bodies and only conditionally loving ourselves inadvertently supports a limited set of acceptable ideals that have been established by industries that want to sell you stuff. Until we shift our focus, we will continue to pass on the harm, disregard, and limited living dieting promotes to those who come after us. We are the ones who can change this.
- Dieting follows a predictable cycle of initial enthusiasm and excitement (the honeymoon phase), followed by hunger, cravings, worry and fear, backlash eating (falling off the program), getting mad at yourself and trying again. (We love this clip from the show “Modern Family” about the phases of Cam’s diets.) This cycle will not be broken or finished when weight loss is achieved. In fact, rarely does any amount of weight loss feel like “enough”. The only way out of the dieting cycle is to approach yourself with the kindness and respect you would for anyone who has struggled and incurred harm as a result. It is from this place of acknowledgement that you can heal and move forward.
- The weight-loss struggle is not a way to “take care of yourself.” Chronic stress and weight dissatisfaction influence your health. Feeling dissatisfied with your body supports a state of being that is not holistically health-promoting. The fat shaming rampant in our culture places blame on people and their health behaviors as the primary cause of having a larger body size, while leaving out all the other factors that influence weight and health. It seems likely that the internalization of negligent body shaming could play a role here too, don’t you think?
- Watching your calories and restricting food is not equated with the pursuit of health either, but is commonly associated with disordered eating. (And this occurs in people of all sizes.) Our bodies are powerful regulators and clear communicators when we are accustomed to listening. We can learn to trust our true hunger and fullness as a guide so we can get out of our own way. Reclaiming trust in our body returns us to sheer appreciation and respect for all the ways our bodies show up for us every day, regardless of how we treat them. Can you allow yourself to take in the solemn and beautiful truth that your heart is beating just for you?
- Many health concerns can be improved without a change in BMI. All bodies benefit from good self-care, and weight stigmatization harms ALL of us. Makes sense, doesn’t it? A simple change in focus from dieting for weight loss to compassionate, weight neutral self-care is powerfully healing.
- Close to 40% of New Year’s resolutions pertain to weight loss, which means a whole lot of money (billions) is going to an industry that has no data to support it! In fact, this industry depends on repeat customers. And you know the definition of insanity, right? Doing the same thing over and over again expecting different results! So this year, we encourage you to try different instead of harder, because we’re pretty sure you’ve tried harder at this than almost anything in your life. There is a way out, and you won’t find it in the weight loss and cosmetic fitness industries. You’ll find it when you give up the scale and come home to yourself.
This year, take care of your body from the inside out instead of the outside in. You will feel better and your body will, too. Put thoughts about your weight on the back burner and focus on living the life you want to be living. It is radical to think you can move towards health by being weight-neutral and compassionate with your body, but doesn’t it make the most sense?
Wishing you a New Year filled with peace, kindness and self-compassion,