The question that seemingly everyone wants an answer to.
Say you’ve rejected the idea of fad diets but surely there’s a “sensible” diet plan to lose weight right? Maybe one where you eat smaller meals, exercise more and/or restrict certain types of foods? What could be the harm?
I want you to consider something right now.
What makes you think that you need to lose weight? Have you been told to? Or rather shamed to? Have you possibly always felt this way because it’s forever spoken about around you? Surely the smaller you are = the healthier you are? Perhaps you feel you will look better? Be more liked? Be happier?
A smaller body and lower weight does not equate to health and it is no guarantee of anything, including happiness. Health can exist in all sized bodies, as can disease. And let’s remember that ‘unhealthy’ does not refer to a behaviour i.e. eating certain foods over others and rather it refers to the absence of health. Body dissatisfaction can occur in all sized bodies and does not discriminate. Nor does losing weight resolve the dissatisfaction. Rather the focus on such in and of itself, brings about more dissatisfaction.
Everything around us in society supports the idea of perpetual weight loss, of diets, ideas, products and people that promote it. It’s a multi-billion dollar industry. And it is underpinned by our societal reverence for the thin ideal.
A smaller body and lower weight does not equate to health and it is no guarantee of anything, including happiness. Health can exist in all sized bodies, as can disease.
You may not need to lose weight and still want to (normal in our culture). Or you may weigh more than your healthy natural weight and want to lose weight.
So what is a healthy natural weight?
Healthy natural weight level = your weight without intentional manipulation and hyper-management.
So this is eating in response to your preferences and needs. It is neither intentionally under or over-exercising and is not about intentional restriction of food.
Dieting undermines all of this though, even the “sensible kind” because there’s no such thing. It all interferes directly with you having a positive relationship with food and your body because it continually sets you up to distrust your own body. Consider experiencing biological hunger signals and ignoring them because “eating now is not in my plan” only to over-eat later as a completely human physiological response to ignored hunger cues. This is called compensatory behaviour and its at the core of why dieting doesn’t work. All dieting interferes with your connection to your body, where you are grateful for, and respectful of your body. These are in fact health-promoting outlooks as opposed to the vicious cycle of calorie-counting, macro-tracking and restricting the food you eat to your own detriment.
Your natural healthy weight level can shift with time and life changes such as pregnancy, menopause, illness and injuries. We are not however taught to believe this nor that it is highly individual and not necessarily causative of ill-health whether than weight change is up or down.
So before considering another weight loss attempt; because likely this is not your first rodeo; ask yourself these questions:
1. Is there actually a requirement?
Desire is not a requirement. Rather, has your weight been increasing above your natural healthy weight level consistently in a shorter time period and/or do you tend to fluctuate in your weight which is very likely in dieting? Arbitrary mathematical equations such as Body Mass Index (BMI) are not necessarily indicative of a requirement to lose weight and should not be solely relied upon for verification. There may also be medical and/or pharmaceutical interventions that have contributed to a change in your weight and need specialised consideration.
2. How many times have you gone on a diet and it hasn’t worked for you?
And when I say “worked,” I mean long term. Because if you’re saying that “x diet worked until….” then it by nature didn’t work because is the goal not long-term? There’s no sound, long-term evidence to support intentional dieting for weight loss. So how many times are you prepared to keep doing it? How has dieting interfered with your life so far? What have you lost to it? I talk about the vicious and negative cycle that is dieting in this post.
3. When was the last time you were happy with your body or your weight?
Maybe as a child before you were taught otherwise? Our culture idealises thin bodies and we see them everywhere. Women especially are held to unrealistic standards of beauty in our culture and equally receive an undue amount of attention and focus on their appearance over aspects of their character. All of this can push you to feel unhappy and constantly play the comparison game which allows you to believe that losing weight = happiness even though that isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship.
4. What else can you be doing with your time and life?
And what is it that you’re really seeking? Are you waiting for your life to start when you lose x amount of weight and missing out on life in the meantime? The desire to lose weight (whether you are a candidate or not) is rooted deeply in diet culture and the idea that this = better when that’s not the case.
5. What behaviours do you really need to consider?
Which do you think is going to be more successful – going on a diet and restricting food intake and food groups, or first considering your relationship to food and your body? What would learning to cultivate your body’s innate signals be like? How different would that feel when considering what to eat, when and how much? How would a positive outlook on food and your body impact your food choices and other healthful behaviours too? What if all of this contributes to positive dietary patterns and behaviours that work for you rather than against you; without the restriction and deprivation of diets?
How do you lose weight healthily then?
If you feel that you are a candidate for healthy weight loss then it’s about moving this idea away from a primary goal.
Through the lens of Intuituve Eating, I do not promote or promise intentional weight loss. And that’s because this idea directly undermines a positive relationship with food and your body. It holds up the idea that a smaller body is always better (not true) and takes you away from the direct experience of noticing what your body is telling you it needs/likes/dislikes. Additionally, the framework of Intuitive Eating can not know the outcome of your weight through the process of becoming an Intuitive Eater.
Some individuals may lose weight, others (where there has been restriction) may gain weight and others may see no shift.
Rather than weight loss as a main priority, the focus is on adopting positive habits and relationship with food/yourself
This is essentially connecting to your own body and needs which is impossible when the focus remains on the exterior – on body weight and dieting. Intuitive Eating is not a diet and rather, promotes respecting your body and honouring your needs in a weight that’s healthy for you. Because how can obsessing, manipulating and counting every calorie you eat to be a particular weight be your healthy weight?
There may be a mourning process
Especially if the desire to lose weight is aesthetic-based (completely understandable), there can be a need to mourn this loss of a body that you will not ever have. Which is perfectly OK though can require processing to let go of. Consider this however, what could you gain by letting this fantasy go? What else could you bring into your life? How much more joy and enriched quality of life could you experience?
This is a journey
Give yourself the gift of self-compassion and know that support is here to help guide you. Whilst Intuitive Eating is your default state and what you were as a young child, it can be your natural state again. This is exactly why I developed my online program Live More, Obsess Less. To help guide you step-by-step along the path to becoming the expert of your own body and making peace with food. Learn more about it here and it makes for a more affordable option than working with me 1:1. You can also listen to Monica and I discuss this very topic on our podcast – What The Hell Do I Eat.