I’m not here for everyone. I’m not trying to change everyone’s mind or to reach out to everyone. I have a specific audience in mind – one’s that need to here this message that nutrition and health doesn’t have to be black and white and that they shouldn’t feel bad about their health and weight loss goals while raising a family in an already stressful environment. It is more comfortable to live in black & white. But true growth and change comes from learning within the gray areas of life.
Here are just a few statements that address my stance on weight and diets to clear up before we continue:
· Choosing to lose weight for health is not to say that health is determined exclusively by weight.
· Weight is not everything.
· Weight is not ultimately a health indicator.
· We cannot tell someone’s health solely on their weight.
· Just because you want to lose weight doesn’t mean people at a higher weight are devalued.
· Weight does not determine self-worth.
· Weight loss itself is not a behavior. Weight loss is the outcome of many behaviors – some healthy, some not. I work with the healthy behaviors rather than the normal “diet-y”, surface-level behaviors.
· Restrictive diets aren’t sustainable for the vast majority of people.
· Physical health is one piece of the big picture of overall health.
Now let’s continue…
I help military wives lose weight. There. I said it! I’ve been silent for too long. Scared of what the dietitians who are against any form of intentional weight loss will think and say. I gotta tell you, it’s pretty terrifying putting myself out here. Some people will criticize me and my message, but “criticism is something we can avoid easily by saying nothing, doing nothing, and being nothing.” I’m not going to be silent because my current and future clients deserve better. They are the reason I need to be bold.
One of the reasons I hear people tell me why they want to lose weight isn’t necessarily because they feel societal pressures to look a certain way (which I wholeheartedly believe is a shitty thing that society has done for many), but because they enjoyed living life at a lower weight – they moved better, lived better, felt better overall at that previous weight. Their lived experience, that’s what matters.
We need to look at health from a holistic view - energy levels, mental health, stress management, joyful movement, adequate sleep, and self-care among others. Do you need to lose weight to be happy? Not necessarily, but there are so many factors surrounding that which could very well increase quality of life, which has a direct impact on overall health.
For some people, pursuing weight loss does not lead to good self care practices if
· There is an increase in emotional distress around food
· Food restriction leads to guilt when food is eaten
· They are not eating enough and ending up over-hungry then over-eating or binging
· Exercise is seen as a form of punishment or penance for food eaten
· Exercise is done mainly to burn calories or fat rather than because it feels good physically and mentally
· Not being able to achieve the goal weight worsens how you feel about your body, which leads to comfort eating or giving up being more active
The thing is that these are often the result of bad diet and nutrition advice, likely from fad diet rules, nutrition gurus, and NOT by the work of quality nutrition coaching.
These are usually the outcome when we shift our focus to weight and standard dieting rather than dealing with the deeper issues keeping us away from healthy habits. It’s easier to deal with a fancy diet than with loneliness, transitioning to a new duty station, depression and anxiety, relationship issues, etc. but without doing the work, diets will ultimately fail.
I emphasize the important health indicators like how you feel, levels of stress, self-care routines, etc. Your pant size or even total weight lost is not a health indicator. And weight change on a follow up appointment does not make or break success. Again, these can be health outcomes, but they are NOT synonymous with health. I am way more concerned about controllable behaviors and how you’re feeling about implementing them than your weight. I never push a specific weight loss goal on a client as that is none of my business. I’m here to support personal weight loss goals in a realistic way by healthy behaviors while sometimes needing to modify body expectations where certain body goals might not be healthy or attainable in a healthy way.
One reason why some anti-diet dietitians refuse to support intentional weight is because of the honestly terrifying results of dieting in published journal articles. Basically, there is an 80-90% failure rate of diets and regain of previous weight, (plus more) within the dieting industry. If you look at these studies, they aren’t doing the work with a holistic approach. The interventions are weak and don’t address underlying stress management, sleep conditions, and other basic human needs and issues that sabotage. They look at dietary habits, maybe incorporate some simple nutrition counseling and call it good. I was even part of a similar study as a student! Of course, if there are underlying issues that don’t get addressed, a diet will fail. I have seen enough success from nutrition professionals doing what I do to know those study frameworks are inherently flawed. I cannot ethically deny intentional weight loss when done in a healthy way, by addressing whole health and controllable, healthy behaviors. I am the first one to agree with supporting evidence-based practices, like not practicing diets similar to the ones in the studies, but there are quality research articles to support health benefits of even minimal weight loss in a healthy way. As a health professional, we also practice based on experience (anecdotes) and professional judgment. We need to be able to take evidence, experience, and professional judgment to practice to the best of our abilities because we are working with humans. Taking only one and cherry picking information is consistent with dichotomous thinking and can be dangerous at worst, unhelpful at best for clients.
Again, if someone truly feels better overall at a lighter weight, it’s not my job to deny them help in their health goals. To deny them would be against my ethics as a health professional.
Remember, (1) You are here for so much more than a life full of chronic dieting and (2) intentionally losing weight is not synonymous with unhealthy behaviors and a life of chronic dieting. It’s time to make actual changes and stop the cycling of dieting for healthy weight loss.