The media is peppered with stories about the o-word* – in fact – it’s often referred to as the o-word epidemic – as if it’s a fast spreading virus! We’re bombarded with statistics about it – how many of us ‘have’ it (as if it was a contracted disease), the higher risk of diseases that higher weight people face, how much it’s drawing on our nation’s health and social care budgets, and the doom and gloom about where we’re headed in the next 20 years. You can barely turn a page in a newspaper or magazine without being assaulted with new weight loss methods. And yet, I want to suggest, that if you think you have a weight problem, you reconsider and redefine what the problem actually is.
If you haven’t yet read Dr. Lindo Bacon’s Health At Every Size, I strongly recommend it. It will re-educate you about the relationship between health and weight and the science of weight control. I’m not going to go into it in any depth here, but wanted to share a few myths she dispels about weight:
‘Fat kills’ – in actual fact, Bacon says the science shows that on average ‘overweight’* people live longer than ‘normal’* weight people.
‘Thin people live longer’ – there are no studies that prove weight loss prolongs life.
‘You just have to try harder to lose weight and keep it off’ – biology and evolution dictate that most people regain the weight they’ve lost through dieting. Dieters are some of the most self-disciplined people around!
People at lower weights get diseases too (even diabetes)! People at higher weights can live perfectly healthy and long lives. To spell it out: being at a higher weight does not guarantee you’ll be diseased. Being in a thinner body does not guarantee your health.
If your body size is stopping you from tying your shoelaces and enjoying a reasonably active life, then perhaps your weight is directly getting in your way. But that is not the case for many many people who are trying desperately to lose weight. However, regardless of your reasons for wanting to lose weight (whether it’s health, mobility, or to fit better into the current cultural beauty ideal), the outcome is the same for almost all people who intentionally attempt it, no matter what their methods are – and that is weight regain, and for many, a regain to a higher weight. So even if your size genuinely does limit you, dieting isn’t going to help.
If weight is not the problem, what is?
The pursuit of thinness is a problem
Our media and medical establishment demonise fatness and celebrate thinness. While the media is jam-packed with scary stories about being in a higher weight body, it’s also heaving with very thin people and people showcasing how they changed the way their bodies look through plastic surgery, faddish dieting and excessive exercise.
Such a strong cultural focus on thinness promotes dissatisfaction with your body the way it is. And when you’re dissatisfied with it, you will try to change it.
Trying to change your body takes you away from your inner wisdom: how hungry you are; how much will satisfy your hunger; what you feel like eating at that moment; what foods feel good in your body etc. Instead, you’ll be plagued by obsessive thinking about good versus bad foods and you’ll be embroiled in an internal fight about what, when or how much to eat.
And it’s hard, if not impossible to win a fight with yourself.
The language around food is a problem
If you’ve been on and off diets, you’ll likely have internalised the Food Police. The Food Police are thoughts about what you should or should not eat. Diets/ detoxes/ fasts etc. embellish this language with words like ‘syns,’ ‘cheats,’ ‘naughties,’ ‘evil,’ ‘toxic,’ ‘poison,’ ‘guilty pleasures’ and so on.
When foods are seen as either good or bad two problems arise:
- If you eat the ‘bad’ foods, then it’s really common to tell yourself you’ve ‘been bad,’ or ‘naughty’ – in other words judging yourself as bad for having eaten the food. If you’ve only eaten what is considered ‘good’ food, you may then judge yourself as ‘good,’ ‘worthy’ or ‘doing well.’ This kind of thinking just sets you up for overeating or binge eating because you’ll either feel guilty if you’ve ‘been bad’, and believe you’ve ‘blown it, so what the hell,’ or feel compelled to punish yourself; or you may decide since you’ve been ‘so good,’ you ‘deserve a reward.’
- The other issue is that when something has a sense of being forbidden (because it’s bad), it becomes all the more enticing! Tell any kid they can’t have something and that’s exactly what they want! If you make things forbidden, as the Food Police do with ‘bad’ foods, they will become all the more desirable.
The problem is with eating rather than with weight
What’s needed is a different relationship to food and eating from the one that is offered through dieting (which is all about the food, rather than about the relationship with food, and why you’re eating).
The way to revolutionise your relationship to eating and food is to learn how to:
- eat when you’re hungry
- stop when you’re satisfied
- give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want, when you want it
- legalise all foods
- eat mindfully
- recognise why you’re eating when you’re not hungry
- understand which needs you habitually meet with food that have nothing to do with hunger
- develop new emotional resources so that food isn’t the only way to cope with big feelings
- take radically good care of yourself
- respect and accept your body
Focusing on weight as the problem keeps you locked into a fight with yourself, your body and food. Putting your focus onto taking really good care of your body, mind and spirit is what will lead you out of your dysfunction with food and hating your body into a lasting and peaceful relationship with yourself, your body and food.
*I took the decision a while ago to stop using the BMI descriptors ‘obese’ ‘overweight’ and ‘normal’ when describing body size. This is because these terms are pathologising of bodies and exacerbate stigma relating to size. I prefer to say ‘o-word’ for ‘obesity.’ Sometimes I may use the words in quotation marks for ease and flow.
Need help from an expert?
If you’ve had enough of being on and off a diet, feeling ashamed of your body and how you eat, binge eating or emotional overeating — you’ve come to the right place.
I’ll help you discover how to let go of all the food rules, trust your own body and reclaim your innate worthiness — so you can live your life unapologetically and focus on what really matters to you.