I want to tell you all a story today. Years ago, when I first became a dietitian, I had the most amazing 86 year old woman come in to see me. She was independent, sharp as a tack, and had no major health issues- so why did she come to see me? This amazing, independent woman wanted to lose weight. At 86 years old, this was a focus for her, even though her body size would be considered 'acceptable' and 'normal' by most.
As we talked more, she told me about how she had always struggled with her weight. She told me about all the things she didn't do over her lifetime like not going to the beach because she was worried about how she would look in a bathing suit and trips she didn't take that involved the beach. She told me about how she never wore a sleeveless shirt no matter how hot it was because she was concerned about how her arms looked.
This was before I started practicing from a weight neutral, Health At Every Size approach but it broke my heart none the less. For those of you wondering, we didn't end up working on weight loss but the fact that this woman was at a stage in life where time is especially precious and she wanted to focus on restricting her food to change her body shows just how messed up our society is about food and bodies.
It wasn't her fault she was focused on weight and it isn't yours either!
This wasn't this woman's fault by any means, she was a victim of the dieting mentality and the message we're sold that unless we look a certain way, we're not worthy of happiness and acceptance. It was not her fault just like it isn't anyone's fault who feels they want to lose weight. Our society's message is that if you are slender and fit, or at least working towards that by dieting, you are more deserving of being accepted and loved. Considering what most of us truly want is love and acceptance, it makes perfect sense that we pursue weight loss. We're shown images of happy, slender people and images of individuals in larger bodies looking miserable.
It's the message sold to us by the 60 BILLION dollar dieting industry- your life will be better once you finally lose the weight. It's a message many of us take to heart- one report showed the average woman spends 31 years on a diet and the average man spends 28 years on a diet. That's one third of a lifetime!! Even if you did increase your lifespan with dieting (which the research doesn't really back up,) think of how much time we're wasting fixating on our food and exercise!
I've heard from so many people over the years of the things they would do if only they could lose the weight. Parents talk about going to the beach with their children. People talk about travelling, applying for a promotion, or dancing with friends. "Once I've lost xxx pounds, then I'll ______."
Take a moment and ask yourself: What am I holding myself back from doing because of my body? The follow-up question is this- could you do it now instead of waiting? Often, the answer is yes. So what is truly holding you back?
The truth is that diets (or 'lifestyle changes' or whatever you decide to call food restriction) don't just sell us weight loss. They sell us a feeling. They sell that feeling that you are FINALLY going to be happy because your weight is what has really stood in your way of being happy all those years.
That message that you'll finally be happy once you lose the weight isn't true.
So let's say for a moment that you were able to lose the weight. You wouldn't face discrimination from others based on your weight anymore (weight bias is one of the major factors in why some people have worse health in larger bodies BTW) but what about the other things in your life you're not happy with? Would they all disappear? Probably not.
The idea we have in our head of weight loss leading to only rainbows and butterflies isn't true. No one is happy all the time and even if you were able to lose the weight and keep it off, the other problems in your life won't simply fix themselves.
When I worked with clients on weight, I had many who lost weight (at least in the short-term) and were still unhappy. The truth is for many people, focusing on weight is easier than focusing on other issues in our lives. It's easier to focus on restricting calories and exercising more than it is to face other issues like relationships or careers that you're not happy with, for example.
If losing weight won't make you happy, then what?
Take a step back and as what you're unhappy with that you're blaming your body for. Do you need to work on your self-confidence? Being compassionate to yourself? Is there a relationship in your life you need to re-examine? Take some of that time and money you would spend on yet another diet book or weight loss group and use it to find a therapist that can help you work on those issues!
Think about the things you're waiting on and start doing some of them! Think about what you really want out of life and make decisions based on that. When a voice tells you to say no to doing something because of your size like going to the beach with loved ones, take a moment to think about what really matters to you and how you want to live your life. Do you want to look back on your life regretting all the things you didn't do because of your size?
Instead of spending years restricting your eating, which research shows leads to weight regain 95% of the time, and one to two-thirds of the time leads to you gaining more weight than you lost, why not take that time and use it on what makes you happy?
Leaving dieting and weight-focused eating behind is really difficult and takes time. It isn't as simple as 'ditching the diet'- it starts with learning to pay attention to your hunger and listening to those cues and how your body feels when you eat different foods. It involves stopping restriction since that's what leads to overeating in the first place for most of us!
If you're ready to try something other dieting and you want to work on having a good relationship with food, you can find more about my services here. If you're not in Yellowknife, I offer phone and virtual counselling too! Contact me for more information.