In this series we’re talking about the biggest myths surrounding weight-loss dieting. Today’s topic is one I come across ALL the time. Not just with my clients but with women in general, and increasingly men as well.
Skinny = Happy
I will be healthier and happier when I lose 10/20/50 kilos. Life will be better.
This is certainly what the diet industry wants us to believe. What our social media feeds imply. What well-meaning doctors, friends and family waste no time in telling us. But most importantly, what we tell ourselves. How many times have you put something off because you want to wait til you’ve lost a bit of weight? Have you told yourself “I’ll just wait a month or two til I feel better about myself”? That you’ll buy some nice clothes that make you feel good once you “look good in them again” – and until then you don’t deserve anything nice and just dress in clothes that make you feel frumpy and blah?
Are you putting your life on hold?
Perhaps you want to start running once you’ve lost a bit of weight. Or swimming. Or perhaps you don’t exercise at all because you don’t want to buy exercise clothes until you’ve lost a bit of weight. Maybe you hate your job, but won’t apply for a new one until you’ve lost a bit of weight. Maybe you skipped your school reunion, postponed your overseas holiday or turned down a dinner invitation.
Putting your life on hold until you lose a bit of weight – waiting until some undefined time in the future when your life will suddenly be bright again, when you’ll be able to un-pause yourself and jump back into the fray – I’m telling you, people, it’s a trick!! It doesn’t work! All it does is waste precious precious months (or years) of your life. Time that you’ll NEVER get back. Countless missed opportunities, unmade memories, moments you’ll never capture. Happiness isn’t dependent on the results of your skin-fold test or the numbers on the scale. Happiness is yours for the taking – right now. No diets required.
This is probably a good time to mention that recent research shows women on average spend between SEVEN and EIGHTEEN YEARS of their lives dieting. Seriously – that’s a lot of your life to expend your energy on dieting. Imagine what else you could be focusing on if you were free of constantly thinking about food, weight, calories and exercise?
Skinny = Healthy
So what about the idea that we’ll all be healthier when we lose weight? That it’s not healthy to be classified as overweight, that it’s not possible to be healthy unless you lose weight? That when you finally drop into your “healthy” weight range, you’ll suddenly shift from being unhealthy to healthy, like some little indicator light on your health dashboard suddenly flipping from orange to green:
Ding! You have arrived at Health!
So is this really true? Nope. Now before you start arguing with me, it is true that there are very clear correlations between markers of disease/ill-health and increasing body mass & waist circumference. However – it is also quite possible, and not as uncommon as you might think, for a person to be above their “healthy” BMI (body mass index) range and yet still be in excellent health. It is ALSO just as common for people at the lower end of their BMI, who we would consider “thin” and therefore “healthy”, to exhibit advanced disease markers and be at much higher risk of chronic lifestyle diseases than their heavier counterparts.
I can see how this would be confusing. As our industrialised societies have driven the changes in our diets associated with our increasing ill-health, the main physiological marker we’ve seen is the gradual increase in overweight & obesity. So it makes sense to associate overweight with ill-health and normal or under-weight with good health. But if a lean person lives an unhealthy lifestyle and just happens to possess a metabolic makeup that keeps them from gaining body fat, they are still going to exhibit the signs of disease that their lifestyle puts them at risk for. High blood pressure, high cholesterol, poor blood sugar control, fatty liver, increased inflammation – all the hallmarks of poor metabolic health can be just as common in people we might consider as healthy if we judged a person’s health purely by their body mass.
If you think you will be happier when you lose weight
try this: give yourself some space & time to think, and write down the top 5 things that are making you unhappy right now. Be specific – e.g. “my job is making me unhappy because I feel trapped”. How many of these will change when you weigh less? Be honest with yourself. You might be surprised.
If you think you will be healthier when you lose weight
try this: get yourself to your friendly GP and ask them to do a health assessment on you. Blood pressure, blood & urine tests will give you a pretty good idea of your current state of health. Does something need fixing? Then find appropriate support and work on fixing it. If weight loss is a part of the prescription, you’d be surprised how *little* weight you often need to lose to start seeing an improvement in your health. But if you really do need to improve your health, you’ll find that focusing on those areas that need improvement is much more productive (and you may even experience incidental weight loss as a side effect).
There are some pretty complex concepts in here that can take time to apply to your own life. Don’t hesitate to seek out some gentle, supportive healthcare practitioners to help you on your journey. If you’d like to talk more about how to shift your focus from weightloss to health, click here to get in touch – I’d love to help.