Working in the fitness industry, I’m constantly hearing comments like “if only I could lose 10 more pounds” and “I need to work off the pizza I ate last weekend.” It saddens me how hyper-focused our culture has become about weight. Think about how much time and energy you spend thinking about your weight. If you’re anything like I was 10 years ago, it’s a lot of time. I might add that, sadly, it’s a lot of time wasted.
There is so much current research concluding that diets simply do not work. According to a study of 20,000 women who maintained a low-fat diet, reduced their calorie intake by an average of 360 calories per day and significantly increased their activity, there was no change in weight from the starting point and waist circumference actually increased slightly.
Further, a panel of experts from the National Institutes of Health determined that “one third to two thirds of the weight is regained within one year after weight loss, and almost all is regained within five years.” There’s even some case studies that mention an increase in weight after extreme dieting due to a huge decrease in metabolism that’s difficult to recover.
What Diets Do Cause
The most common result of engaging in diets is weight cycling and weight regain. Weight cycling is frequent increases and decreases in weight and is associated with an increase in morbidity and mortality risk. You might ask, then why is there so much research on “obesity” causing disease? A lot of the research on “weight-related diseases” that started the “War on Obesity” was missing this confounding variable (weight cycling), among other flaws. Further, weight focus and diet efforts have other consequences such as an obsession with food and body image, distraction from other personal health goals, reduced self-esteem, eating disorders, and weight stigmatization..
Weight does not equal health
This was a huge shock to me. In my kinesiology program at Penn State University, we learned all about how “obesity” increases risks of morbidity and mortality. What I’m now realizing eight years later is that there is more to the story. Extra fat on your body is the not problem, weight cycling and weight stigma are. Lifestyle behaviors also contribute to decreased health such as eating processed foods with excess sugar and being physically inactive. On the contrary, intuitive eating and an active lifestyle greatly increases our overall health, regardless of how much you weigh.
Let me break this down even more.
You can be:
-skinny and be active/eat healthy
-skinny and be inactive/eat poorly
-fat* and be active/eat healthy
-fat* and be inactive/eat poorly
*I’m using “fat” as part of the fat acceptance movement, not as a derogatory term.
So then, why are we still dieting?
The diet industry is an estimated 70.3 billion dollar industry. Why is this so profitable, yet extremely ineffective and harmful? The “War on Obesity” has a lot to do with it. Americans are either extremely fearful of becoming fat* or are consistently striving to lose weight. In addition to fear, here are other variables that lead us to buy into diet culture:
- Weight stigma and discrimination
- The thin ideal/ struggles with body image
- Pursuing what we think is a healthier life
- Other psychological factors (shame, blame, guilt)
- Pursuit of other goals that are unconnected to weight loss (love, happiness, acceptance, etc)
Worse yet, when the diet product or service we purchase doesn’t work, we blame ourselves. I’m here to tell you to be kind to yourself because it’s not your fault. We have been fed incorrect information and have a ton of work to do to deliver a new message: Health at Every Size.
Health at Every Size
Health at Every Size (HAES) is a complete paradigm shift. It’s slightly confusing because we can’t truly be healthy at every size, but we can be healthy at a lot of sizes! For example, the goal isn’t to promote weighing 400 pounds. The goal is to promote letting go of the number on the scale, while respecting your body size and shape. Weight focus is unhealthy, so the HAES movement is here to promote different behaviors for your physical, mental and emotional health.
And research says, the HAES mindset works! According to a study by Bacon and Aphramor, “HAES approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in physiological measures (e.g., blood pressure, blood lipids), health behaviors (e.g., eating and activity habits, dietary quality), and psychosocial outcomes (such as self-esteem and body image), and that HAES achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the contraindications associated with a weight focus.”
Health at Every Size is a huge paradigm shift that is going to take time to sink in. My ultimate hope for everyone struggling is to begin a new wellness journey that does not involve the pursuit of weight loss. I’m not trying to change your mind if you are happy with your current lifestyle, BUT if you are unhappy and the number on the scale is stressing you out, this can be your way out.
For now, my recommendation is to become more aware of how often you are focusing on weight loss and when these feelings might be triggered (i.e. gyms, social media, with family or friends, etc). You can also head over to the HAES website or purchase the book here to learn more. I also have a ton of other body acceptance and HAES books and websites over at my Resources page. Please reach out with your questions and I hope to talk soon!
With good intentions,