Thin and healthy are not synonyms
Why do I, someone with a public health and health coaching background, encourage people to stop trying to lose weight?
Focusing on weight loss rarely makes people healthier and happier.
Focusing on lifestyle does.
For far too long, the $20+ billion weight loss industry and the medical and public health communities have been communicating the message that thinness and health are one and the same. Even if it was true that body mass index must be within a particular range to be healthy (it doesn't), and that losing weight is the best way for "overweight" people to live longer (it isn't), here's what's often left out:
Long term weight loss is rare. In fact, the vast majority of people (95%) who lose weight gain it back in 2 years, even if they maintain the program that helped them lose weight.
So we try again. The weight comes off again! And predictably, the weight creeps back. For many, more weight than they initially lost.
Rinse and repeat, ad nauseam.
The cycle of weight loss and regain not only increases risk of heart disease and stroke, it triggers some serious self-critical inner dialogue. "I've failed again." We feel more depressed and more anxious.
It's exhausting fighting a rigged game. But we don't have to fight our bodies like this.
Humans naturally come in a wide variety of sizes and shapes. Of course you can be thin and healthy! But we don't all have to be thin to be healthy. There's no one size fits all when it comes to wellbeing. Here's why:
When it comes to health, how we live matters more than what we weigh.
When we offer our bodies behaviors and self care habits that make us feel well (rather than trying to reach an artificial "ideal"), our bodies tend to find a happy, healthy size on their own.
Isn't that a little bit liberating?
If working on weight loss happens to make you feel happy, then that's completely fine! But if you want to take some steps toward a health at every size approach, here are a few ways to start:
Practice peaceful movement in your body. When you're moving in a way you enjoy, catch yourself when you're feeling drawn into a weight loss mentality. Exhale deeply and say something kind to your body. "You're doing a good job." "I love you." "Thank you."
Pay attention to how food makes you feel. Rather than focusing on whether a food is good or bad, notice how you feel before you eat it, while you're eating, and after eating. What's calling you to that food? What's the texture of the food? How does it affect your energy? Your mood? This is the essence of mindful eating.
Appreciate body diversity. Seeing a single body type as "ideal" can get in the way of accepting your own wonderful, capable body as is. Make an effort to see and appreciate a wide variety of bodies. Right now I'm loving the Love the Mirror project for this purpose. Share your favorite spots for appreciating body diversity in the comments!
If you, like many Americans, have spent the majority of your life yearning to reach a particular weight, shifting to body acceptance isn't going to happen overnight. Finding support can help a lot. Here are a few recommendations:
Body Positivity workshop series in Hillsborough, NC in February 2015.
One-on-one self care coaching and yoga lessons.
So, tell me:
PS: Here are a few of my favorite well-researched and easy-to-read resources on why making peace with your body is better than focusing on weight loss.