Recently I was chatting with a friend about weight, they are naturally lean but for various reasons they had recently gained a few pounds. They asked me for some professional insight on the best way to lose weight. As part of our discussion I talked about the long term ineffectiveness of dieting. I asked my friend why they thought that 95% of dieters regain weight. After several exchanges it boiled down to one thought.
People regain weight because they are undisciplined and lack the willpower to resist temptation.
Their argument was that weight management was not about choosing a “fad-diet”, it was about making lifestyle changes. My inexperience in navigating discussions like this led to a very clumsy response; what I wanted to say sounded like this:
Three habits have been observed in the minority that have maintained weight loss. They include participating in a high level of physical activity daily, consuming a low-fat diet and stepping on the scales regularly. The first two factors impact energy intake and expenditure and the scales provide regular feedback so that adjustments can be made. In other words it takes constant vigilance and effort to remain at a lower body weight.
Make no mistake about it, that is not a lifestyle change, that is a lifelong diet prison sentence. Instead of being shackled to a ball and chain, dieters are shackled to their scale.
If the end result of this hyper vigilance was a longer life span or increased happiness then perhaps we could have a discussion about whether it was worthwhile. This doesn’t appear to be the case, however.
Weight is just one of many factors that impact our health, lean people can (and do) have the same chronic conditions as heavier people. Lifestyle behaviours such as smoking, alcohol consumption and the amount of veggies you eat are far more likely to have negative health effects than eating dessert.
Perhaps what is really happening is that we are being presented with Cinderella’s glass slipper and being told that if we can squeeze ourselves into that mould that we will live happily ever after. Our motivation, which is used as both the tempting carrot and the punitive stick, is improved ‘health’.
If we take the illusion of improved health outcomes off the scales (pun intended); what then is the goal? Happiness? As a woman who has lived in a larger body my entire life, to live free of weight stigma does sound pretty enticing. To be able to wear whatever I want without fear of criticism, to be able to eat whatever I want without fear of judgment. That sounds pretty heavenly to me. Yet, shackling myself to my scale for the rest of my life is to live a life filled with shame and self-loathing.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that fat people are damned if we do and damned if we don’t. We can stay fat and be subject to external sources of shame and hatred or shackle ourselves to the scale which merely internalizes the shame and hatred.
Instead of the burden being placed on fat people to conform to a standardized beauty ideal; why isn’t the burden on the rest of society to call bullshit on institutions that profit from and perpetuate weight-bias?