Here we go. 1000+ words on weight loss, weight loss goals, why weight loss is such a huge focus in our culture, and how to actually LET GO of that as your goal to find freedom with food. Letting go has been such a theme in my life (and with clients) lately, which is perfect for fall, as the trees are letting go of their leaves. With that, you can choose to LET GO of mindsets or goals that may not serve you in the moment - like an exclusive focus on weight. I have a lot of clients that come to me interested in coaching who ask "Will I lose weight while working with you?" or along the lines of "I really want to practice intuitive eating, but I also need/want to lose weight." In my experience, those two goals - working on a healthy relationship with food and weight loss - can be very conflicting.
I always focus on mindsets around food and body image before even talking about what nourishing your body may look or feel like.
Why Weight Loss is Often a Goal
When it comes to weight loss, it's quite glamorized in our society. We get a message that we should lose weight or should be thin/fit from a young age from media, peers, family, or even health care practitioners. Weight loss has become so normalized in our culture that our language around it is so casual.
By now, I'm so tuned out to it because I don't engage in those conversations (and luckily, most of my friends/family don't either), but I'm always so shocked to hear casual comments of "I need to lose 5 lbs" or "I'm going on another juice cleanse. Want to join?"
Weight loss is viewed as a compliment in our culture. If people lose weight, everyone notices and says "You look great!" or "You look so healthy!" While this attention often feels good, you may also get the message that you look "better" in a thinner body, so you should continue to restrict to stay thin.
Many of my clients who are naturally thinner, or who are working on recovery, actually despise these comments because they're trying to take the focus off their weight. It can be pretty awkward of a compliment as well. Personally, when I was in college, I lost weight and when I came home, I received a lot of these 'compliments.' I barely noticed that I had lost a ton of weight because I was going through a hard time and dealing with a lot of anxiety (well, not really knowing how to deal with it). Back then, my body image was more fragile, so I didn't really know how to deal with those comments, and I definitely went through a period of trying to eat perfectly.
How "Weight Loss" Gets Complicated
In my first sessions with clients, I love to hear their stories. It can be so therapeutic to share your story and simply speak it out loud, and it helps both of us get an idea of their thoughts, emotions, or associations with weight loss, eating behaviors and food, and their body.
Weight loss sounds simple on paper - the old "Eat Less, Move More" saying. Yet, in reality, there's a whole lot more going on. A lot of people take it to the extreme of restricting their calories significantly or cutting out whole food groups or doing cleanses. The body really doesn't like massive changes like that and will try to compensate by decreasing your metabolism or making you think (obsess) about food as a way to get you to seek out food and eat.
Not only that, but with more and more diets or nutrition plans, your mind starts to rebel against them. A few months or weeks or days (or hours!) later, the hunger shows up and leads to a binge! This isn't a lack of willpower on your part - it's a physiological and psychological response to restriction (either physical or mental restriction).
This is exactly why people try diets over and over again, and they may be successful at first. Yet, they are less able to make a diet last over time, and they 'give in' days in instead of weeks or months. Your body is trying to protect you by staying in a weight range that is normal and healthy for you.
This is exactly why I love Health at Every Size - it takes the focus away from weight, busts a ton of weight-related and weight loss myths, and focuses on healthy behaviors from a holistic perspective (physical, emotional, mental health) rather than only weight.
With these patterns, there's often so much shame associated. People are ashamed that they can't lose weight, that their body is heavier or different than it was in the past, or that they can't seem to control food or even eat normally. There's constant food thoughts or guilt or shame, and many people feel hopeless by the time they work with me.
Weight loss can seem so appealing because there's an ideal that "If I only lose weight, then...." Then, I'll feel comfortable in my body. Then, I'll eat normally. Then, I'll be happier/find a relationship/etc. Yet, over time, clients realize that feeling comfortable or confident in their body or developing 'normal' eating patterns have nothing to do with their body shape and size.
A Different Approach
This is why the weight loss goal really has to be set aside while you're working on your relationship with food.
You have to ultimately re-learn how to eat and connect back to your natural intuitive eater to:
- Get comfortable eating more
- Start to notice your body's hunger and fullness cues
- Add variety to your diet - challenge yourself to eat carbs or fat!
- Allow yourself to eat all foods - even pasta or ice cream without needing to hide the evidence or binge
- Eating out at a restaurant without ordering only a salad
- Learn what normal eating looks like and feels like for you
- Eat not only to fuel your body but also to enjoy food
- Let go of the scale or calorie counting or food rules
- Accept your body as it is now and if it changes
- Stop googling new diets or weight loss plans
- Trust your food decisions...instead of obsessing all day about them & much more
You'll start to free up mind space to think about other things besides food or exercise and actually want to read non-health related books or go out with friends.
That said, your weight may change during this process. Some clients have gained weight (and needed to). Some clients have lost weight. Some have gained, then lost weight. Yet, they realize it really doesn't matter, and their body was finding a place that is healthy for them. By that point, they've usually given up the scale and don't even care or notice any weight changes!
Weight loss or gain is not a bad thing, itself. It's simply a change in your body and could be related to a number of things - food intake, hormonal changes or imbalance, exercise, or more. It doesn't affect who you as a person at all. Ultimately, you can't control your weight, but you can work towards taking care of your body through general healthy habits. What happens to your body when you do that is out of your control, but trust that it's finding a healthy place for your unique, wonderful body!
It's normal for your body to fluctuate a little, and your body will change during your life. By creating an identity outside of food or weight, fluctuations won't mean much. You can trust that you are capable to taking care of yourself and your body, no matter what your weight is.
**Not everyone who wants to lose weight has a problem with their relationship with food. Many people may go about it in a healthy way, and it ends up being sustainable. That's great, but in this post, I am talking to those of you who have a more disordered relationship with food.