Okay guys, today we're talking about one of the most important steps in healing your relationship with food and your body- stop the obsession with the scale! I really debated about where to put this step since it is so important but I'm hoping that if you've been paying attention to your thoughts around food (see step 2 here), tried to stop thinking of foods as good and bad (step 3), and tried to be kind to yourself (step 1) that you've started to see how that focus on the scale isn't really serving you well.
I know many of you will probably want to stop reading here but please hear me out! I know many of you are just thinking that if you stop restricting yourself and stop focusing on your weight that you're going to gain weight. I get it, that focus on weight is reinforced by the media, your peers, and probably a lot of healthcare professionals. Here's the thing though: I want you to think about your thoughts around food and your body. Really look back at the observing you've been doing so far. How well is the dieting mindset and focusing on trying to control your body size working for you?
When we focus on the scale, we start being more concerned with restricting calories than caring for our bodies.
If you're reading this, it's probably because you're really struggling with your relationship with food and your body. I'm here to tell you that if you want to heal that relationship, that focus on the scale needs to stop. When we restrict our food, research has shown that our reward centres in our brain light up more in response to foods high in sugar and fat. The more you restrict, the more you are going to want those foods and the more you will have a love-hate relationship with them involving restricting and overeating. The more you restrict your food, the more you will feel out of control around food. It isn't something that's wrong with you, it's your biology trying to stop the restriction!
So I'm going to ask you to try something different: instead of focusing on the number on the scale, I want you to focus on treating your body well. Eat foods that make you feel good. Eat regularly instead of trying to skip meals. Move in a way that feels good to your body. Take care of yourself. Focus on how you feel instead of that number on the scale because you know what? Whatever you weigh, whatever the shape or size of your body, you deserve to feel good and be happy.
"I need to lose weight for my health"
From a health perspective, your behaviours are what you can control that can make a difference to your health. Generally when I talk about stopping trying to focus so much on weight, people often say they need to lose weight for their health. Here is the thing though: there is a growing amount of research showing that improving your healthy behaviours have a benefit to your health, regardless of your weight. One of the biggest prospective cohort studies for lifestyle and mortality, the NHANES III Mortality Study that followed over 11,000 people showed that individuals with all 4 healthy lifestyle factors including eating >5 servings of vegetables per day, not smoking, exercising at least 3 days per week, and drinking moderately were at almost the same risk of death, whether they were of 'healthy weight' (BMI 18.5-24.9kg/m2), 'overweight' (BMI 25-29.9kg/m2), or 'obese' (BMI >30kg/m2)!! Below I took the date from the study and put it into a chart for you guys:
Hazard ratio of death based on Weight and Healthy Habits
Data from Matheson, King, and Everett J Am Board Fam Med 25:9-15 (2012).
You'll notice that at higher body weights with no healthy habits, yes there was an increased risk of death. Notice though, that when individuals have all 4 healthy habits, the hazard ratio is almost the same?! Got that? Healthy habits matter more than your weight.
"But I can't be happy until my weight is XXX"
For many of you, you're probably thinking that at your current weight, you can't be happy. Maybe you think once you hit that magic number or clothing size that your life will be better. Maybe you're holding back from doing things until you hit that magic number because you don't think you're worthy of them right now. The thing is that you are worthy of those things! Instead of holding yourself back and being unhappy, what if you let yourself do the things on your list that you planned on doing when you hit that magic number?
I know that letting go of obsessing over the number on the scale is difficult. It takes a long time and you may require help from a psychologist and/or dietitian but it is so important for healing your relationship with food and your body! I'm not telling you to sit on the couch eating foods that don't provide a lot of nutrients (aka 'junk food') but I'm telling you that if you start approaching eating and moving your body from a place of self care and what makes you feel good instead of trying to become smaller, you will end up having a much healthier relationship with food and your body.
So this year, instead of making a New Year's Resolution to lose weight, why not try to take care of yourself, be kind to yourself, and stop putting a moral judgement on food! It isn't easy but it is worth it- both for your physical and mental health.