Weight loss is highly sought after in our culture. And it is highly promoted. You probably can't go 5 minutes watching TV or driving past billboard before you see some advertisement related to "dropping weight " or "shedding pounds". After all, there are over 550,000 internet searches of "how to lose weight" every month. Everyone wants to know what the "magic formula" to weight loss is.
From the 1960s to the 1990s weight loss was all about achieving a certain aesthetic. People weren't concerned about health, they just wanted to be smaller no matter what it took (which was evident by all the questionable diet products on the market back then). In the early 2000s, the concept of weight loss shifted from being mostly about looks to being all about "health". The diet and even medical industry preach that in order to be healthy, you have to be a certain size and pursue diets and "lifestyles" to achieve this idea of optimal wellness.
I often encounter others asking for advice or coaching on weight loss. And many are shocked to hear that as a dietitian I don't promote weight loss. Rather, I promote health and health behaviors that empower people with the knowledge and ability to care for their own wellbeing.
After reading that are you thinking, "but don't you sometimes have to lose weight to be healthy? Isn't being 'overweight' unhealthy?"
If those questions are running through your head, I appreciate your curious mind. That is what we are taught to believe in our weight-obsessed, fat phobic society. But my answer to them is: absolutely not. And here's why.
BMI Is Flawed
Body Mass Index or "BMI" is a measurement that groups someone into a category based on their weight. Many health practitioners use this as a primary diagnostic tool to determine someone's health status, yet it is highly flawed. BMI is simply someone's weight relative to height, which physiologically makes no sense. Even the mathematician who created it in the 19th century said so. BMI categories aren't even based on scientific evidence but rather preference from large health associations and because certain numbers were easier to remember.
BMI can't distinguish between body fat, muscle, and bone and fails to take into account the many other parameters that indicate health. Someone who falls within a "normal" BMI may have health concerns that are being overlooked. And many people at high BMIs live healthy, long, and disease-free lives. High body weight and BMI does not equate poor health. Nor does "normal" weight and BMI indicate good health. Our wellbeing is far more nuanced than a flawed math equation.
Weight Loss Just Doesn't Work
Because BMI is used as a diagnostic tool, many people at higher weights are prescribed weight loss despite what their other health markers may indicate. In fact, many insurance providers require medical professionals to discuss weight loss with their patients who are above a certain body weight. Often this discussion and prescription looks like a restrictive diet in order to lose weight in the name of health. But research has shown that intentional weight loss efforts fail for 95% of the population and 60% of people end up regaining more weight than was lost after 5 years. Our focus on an outcome we can't control often leads to partaking in unsustainable behaviors. And obsession over the number on the scale often leads to a rollercoaster relationship. This yo-yo weight cycling tends to do more harm than good to our health taking into consideration the restrictive, extreme, and unsustainable relationship with food and stressed and obsessive mindset it causes.
Focusing on Weight is Stigmatizing
Diversity in body size exists just as race and gender diversity exist. And it is meant to exist. Hyperfocusing on weight and fatness marginalizes those living in larger bodies and creates a fear around body fat. Every day larger bodied individuals face weight discrimination, or weight stigma, whether through doctors telling them to lose weight, airplane and bus seats being too small, insurance companies refusing coverage, or lack of equality in the workplace (just to name a few). Weight stigma has become so prevalent in our society that most aren't even aware of the bias against weight they carry in their thoughts, attitudes, and comments. And the effects of weight stigma are crippling to overall health and wellbeing. It increases stress, weight cycling, chronic disease and eating disorders, negative body image, low self-esteem, and depression. All of these are much more detrimental to health than being at a higher weight.
Health is Not a Size
Our wellbeing goes far beyond the number on the scale. Changes in weight whether up or down can be an outcome of engaging in health behaviors. Weight is merely an outcome. And the deliberate focus and control of weight as the desired outcome rather than personal health is what can actually do more harm than good.
If weight loss isn't the answer to health, than what is? That is a very nuanced question that we don't have the exact answer to. What we do know based on scientific evidence is that weight is NOT an indicator of health nor does the obsession and control of weight make one healthy. Rather movement, sleep quality, stress load and management, social interactions, relationship to food, and mental health (and much more) are greater determinants of health. And by engaging in sustainable behaviors, your body will settle at a weight that's healthy for YOU.
If you're interested in working together on a weight-neutral approach to your health and wellbeing, please contact me. I would love to set up a free 15 minute discovery call to discuss your needs and how I can support you in your journey.