“What’s the best diet for weight loss?”
This ^^^ question is undoubtedly the most common response I get when I tell people I am a dietitian. People really want to lose weight. Heck, just this week I saw a 7 year old wanting to lose weight and have also seen clients in their 90s thinking the same.
My own response to this question has changed dramatically over the 8 or so years I’ve been studying nutrition. For instance, when friends or acquaintances exclaimed, “I’m so fat! How do I lose weight?” I felt deeply uncomfortable and believed the kindest response was, “no, you’re not fat!” I’ve since come to learn that this sort of response only invalidates a person’s pain and reinforces the idea that being fat actually is a bad thing.
Desiring weight loss is usually a sign that something else is going on.
“Why do you want to lose weight?”
This ^^^ response is currently my go-to because I now understand that wanting to lose weight is a stand-in for something. People don’t want to lose weight just for the heck of it and it’s critically important to understand those reasonings – both for the clinician and for the person asking.
Some common responses I continue to receive include:
To be more confident
To be happier
To be healthier
To have more energy
To be the best version of myself
To be a good role model for my children
To end body preoccupation
To be more comfortable in my clothes
To be more attractive
Who wouldn’t want all these things? Many well-meaning healthcare professionals and coaches like to turn these desires into motivation to continue trying to lose weight, implying that weight loss is actually a solution to all these desires, but this is bull****. Weight loss is not a requirement to achieve all of the above and claiming otherwise is actually quite harmful.
Side note: I do recognize that I have a ton of privilege when it comes to being able to forego weight loss efforts because I’m not going to receive much pushback being in a thin body and I cannot know the experiences that you will have in a large body. I know that fatphobia is real and it makes logical sense that having a smaller body would provide you with certain privileges, protection, and feelings of belonging.
While losing weight can often lead to compliments and excitement, this thrill is short-lived because the attention is usually short-lived and those feelings of inadequacy can start to creep back in. When weight regain happens (which usually happens), we hear those compliments echoing in our heads of how good we looked – and feel ashamed. We might go through the whole dieting/lifestyle process again. And again. And yet again. Seeking those compliments and that brief moment of joy when we feel accepted and revered. We might even develop full on eating disorders that are life-threatening.
So, I’ve got a big ask of you – let’s stop complimenting weight loss. It’s reinforcing the idea that fat is bad AND that the “before” of that person who lost weight was bad.
Adopting an intuitive eating approach allows for major transformations to take place. Ones that can actually get you a lot closer to realizing those desires rather than focusing on weight loss and glossy-lifestyle changes that the weight loss industry continues to promote. While intuitive eating is a lifestyle change in the true sense of the word, it involves returning to our innate ability to eat and move our bodies without the requirement of weight loss or body transformations to demonstrate success.
Starting down the intuitive eating path often requires the upheaval of buried emotions and feelings you’ve been avoiding. Because when you no longer distract yourself with changing your body, figuring out what foods to eat, or what exercise you need to do, you end up fully participating in your life.
The next time the urge to change your body arises, I encourage you to take a step back and get curious about what’s really going on. I still get those urges to change my body, but I realize that I’m just using that focus on my weight/body as an out – a distraction from the hugely uncomfortable feelings of inadequacy and shame I am experiencing. It behooves me and my health to address those feelings head-on rather than wasting time and energy on fruitless weight loss plans that will only lead to disappointment and further feelings of inadequacy.
Long story long, the best diet for you is the one that you enjoy, that nourishes your body, and that makes you feel how you want to feel.
I’d love to know in the comments – what’s the biggest takeaway you got from this article? If you’ve ever wanted to lose weight, what were you hoping to achieve by it?
Looking for some more guidance? I offer virtual and in-person sessions in Austin, TX. Not quite there? Check out my free guide: Eating with Intention.