Let’s keep thinking about weight loss
As you can imagine, January is probably my least favourite month, simply because it is so rife with diet-culture toxicity. January has become a month of repent and self-punishment after December’s so-called “sinful” festivities. In the past few years, two of the top three New Year Resolutions in the US and U.K. have been weight loss and “healthy” eating (Com Res). And this trend continues in spite of the growing body of information about the ineffectiveness of dieting and the harms of weight stigma. It’s easy to see how some people believe that Health at Every Size (HAES)and Intuitive Eating (IE) are “anti” weight loss. Or that you aren’t doing them “right” if you still want to change your body or lose a few pounds. But this kind of shame-inducing narrative couldn’t be further from the ethos of HAES and IE - at least as I understand it. For me, HAES & IE are about expanding our understanding of health and well-being & making both more accessible, not shaming people for struggling to let go of the dominant (and fatphobic) narrative.
If you’re reading this and you’re struggling to let go of your desire to lose weight, I want you to know that it’s totally OK. Of course you want to lose weight, after all you live in a culture that perpetually tells you that you need to lose weight in order to be “healthy” or happy or attractive. This narrative is, sadly, inescapable and I don’t blame you for internalising it. Shame is not a healthy motivator, and this is why the last thing I want is for anyone reading this (or any of my work) to feel ashamed if they want to lose weight. We all experience enough shame already thanks to diet-culture, thank you. And this also applies if you are a part of the body positivity movement, or a feminist, or a HAES advocate. Thinking about weight loss or wanting to change your body doesn’t make you a “bad” activist or advocate. Again, nobody is immune to the socio-cultural narratives around food and bodies. To be totally honest, at this stage, I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be completely immune from thoughts about weight loss or changing their body - even if these thoughts are only fleeting and don’t result in action. So shaming people for having these thoughts feels a bit counterproductive. The reality is that we live in a fatphobic culture, and I think what we need more than anything — in addition to education, of course — is to develop some tools for navigating things a bit differently in order to help steer us away from shame. And personally, I think that driving force can be our curiosity. So I’m writing this to encourage you to try something different this New Year. If you are thinking about weight loss or trying to change your body, don’t try and banish those thoughts or beat yourself up for having them. Instead, I invite you to try something radical: Sit with those thoughts and reflect on them for a while. Really dig deeper on the matter, and ask yourself a few questions. Get curious. Don’t do this with the intention of trying to change your mind, but go in with a microscope and a notepad and try to understand your motivation a little bit better. You could try asking yourself:
Why do you feel you need to, or want to lose weight?
Where do you think the idea that you need to lose weight, or change your body, comes from? What do you think weight loss will add to your life? What kinds of things will it enable you to do that you can’t do right now? How will it improve your life? How will it make you feel better about yourself? Don’t stop here. Dig deeper. If you’ll feel better being in your body, how specifically will you feel better? What does “better” mean for you? What does “happier” mean for you? What really stops you from pursuing these things, is it specifically the size of your body? Or is it how you perceive the size of your body or what you think others might think about you? What else is going on for you right now? How do you feel about yourself and your life outside of your appearance? Is there anything else you’d like to change? What was happening for you before you started having these thoughts about weight loss? Were you feeling stressed or anxious? Is there a pattern for you whereby you tend to want to change your body after experiencing certain emotions or situations? When you’ve tried to pursue weight loss in the past, how has it worked out for you? How did it make you feel: physically, emotionally, spiritually, socially? These are some of the questions that I ask my clients. Again, not with the intention of changing their minds, but to encourage them to develop a level of reflexivity that isn’t present in the wider social-cultural narrative around bodies and food. We are all conditioned to believe that changing our bodies will change our lives and radically improve our health. But as HAES and IE have taught me, there are hundreds of other ways of improving our health and well-being that have nothing to do with weight loss or changing our bodily appearance. And when we start to shift our focus on to all of those other things, we begin to find our true power. So HAES and IE are not anti weight loss, at least not as I see it. Rather they are tools that deliver evidence based information and encourage a level of reflexivity that can help us to better understand our motivations and our choices, so that we can make informed and empowered decisions about food, health and our bodies. So this January, I encourage you to think about your desire for weight loss or your drive to change your body. Don’t push it away. Give yourself full permission to have these thoughts, but approach them with curiosity instead of shame. Dig deep and see what comes up. After all, knowledge really is power — especially when it comes to the knowledge gained through self-reflection.