Have you made it this far into the new year without thoughts about dieting and losing weight?
If you have, congratulations! My guess is you’re in the minority. This is the time of year when weight loss programmes and gyms make most of their money. Even if you’ve managed not to fall down the rabbit hole yourself, I’m pretty sure you’ll have heard people you know talking about losing weight, getting fitter, getting healthier and so on. You’ll have seen ads everywhere and had discounts and special offers waved in front of your nose.
If you have been toying with the idea of losing weight; if you’ve found yourself clicking on ads that make you that promise, I understand! I totally get it. We live in a world that uses size as a marker of health, worthiness, morality and attractiveness.
Do you want to know the irony? The intense focus on weight loss over the last 50 years or so hasn’t resulted in a global population of thinner people. Quite the opposite. So even if size truly were a measure of health, worthiness, morality or attractiveness (which it emphatically is not), focusing on weight loss would not be the way to achieve a smaller body.
Spoiler alert: I’m not going to show you how to achieve a smaller body without dieting. You can read why in this fully referenced and detailed blog Unpacking Weight Loss Without Dieting (it’s really worth reading if you haven’t already).
Here are 5 reasons why I suggest you don’t pursue weight loss this year…
1. The overwhelming evidence is that intentional weight loss is not sustainable for the vast majority of people.
A 2007 UCLA meta-analysis of 21 long-term studies into the effectiveness of diets concluded that the vast majority of people who have dieted would have been better off not having dieted in the first place. Several of the studies found that ‘dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.’
In addition, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council is so certain that any kind of lifestyle intervention in pursuit of weight loss will result in weight regain within 2-5 years, that they call it ‘Level A’ evidence. This is the same level of evidence for the statement that ‘smoking causes lung cancer.’ Yep. Read that again!
2. Focusing on weight loss will make you MORE obsessed with food, not less.
This is the nature of physical and psychological deprivation. It’s not rocket science. Even if you’re eating enough food to not be physically hungry, you will be making choices based on your desire to lose weight. If you want a jacket potato with butter and cheese, you might convince yourself to have a chicken salad instead because you believe the salad will lead to the weight loss result you’re after. But you’ll still crave that jacket potato – and you’ll think about it… a lot! You might even have it after the salad. Or you’ll have 10 pieces of toast with butter and cheese because you can’t wait for a potato to cook!
3. You’re much more likely to binge if you’re trying to lose weight.
Most binge eating is a result of physical or psychological deprivation. When I say psychological deprivation, I mean simply THINKING you shouldn’t have something you want. Not having unconditional permission to eat what you want DRIVES desire.
4. You’re at greater risk of an eating disorder or relapse of an eating disorder.
5. Pursuing weight loss takes you AWAY from connection with yourself.
Making peace with food, your body, yourself and indeed your life, requires you to CONNECT with yourself: your appetite, your likes and dislikes, your body and how it feels and your needs (physical, mental, emotional and spiritual). Trying to lose weight means you ignore some of these things. When we’re not connected with ourselves, we are probably not taking good care of ourselves. It’s a bit back to front isn’t it? We’re told by diet culture that losing weight is PROOF that we’re taking good care of ourselves, when actually that may not be the truth of it at all.
3 things you can do instead
1. Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want
This means you legalise all foods. You approach an apple with the same attitude as you approach confectionary. You allow yourself to eat whatever you want, without any conditions.
2. Listen to your body
Step one of this means making sure you don’t over-ride your hunger! It means eating regularly – not leaving long gaps. It can take time to be able to pick up on the cues of hunger and fullness, especially if you have a history of dieting or an eating disorder, so regulated eating in the absence of hunger cues is fine!
Listen to what your body needs: food, water, rest, touch, movement etc.
Work towards eating whatever you want with attunement to your body’s needs.
3. Practise self-compassion
I know this probably sounds a bit cheesy, but it can’t be under-estimated: be kind to yourself. Cut yourself some slack. Stop being so hard on yourself. Be gentle with yourself. I promise you self-judgement and self-loathing are bad for your health and your overall well-being and they don’t make you a better person. The practice of self-compassion is far more likely to lead to behaviours that are better for your mental and physical health. Truly.
Start with these and see how you go!
P.S. If you’re wondering whether these 3 things will lead to weight loss, I don’t know and neither do you! Just remember that focusing on it is likely to lead to poorer outcomes for you whichever way you cut it! Learn to eat and live with attunement to your body. and whatever weight your body settles at, that’s the weight/ size that will be sustainable for you, while also taking good care of your mental health.