Why we keep getting weight loss all wrong
Detox, Keto, Intermittent Fasting, VLCD (Very low calorie diet), Paleo, Low Carb, Alkaline diet... you name it - January always comes with its injunctions to lose weight through restriction and rigid rules.
And there is always someone selling us the schpiel, saying "look at me, I was fat and now I am thin. If this worked for me, it will work for you... if you really apply yourself"
So here we are again, with this same old ideas that:
Weight loss is simple: you just need to follow a formula
If you fail, it is because of you - you probably didn't do it right, you lacked of willpower, you don't have the right attitude
What really matters is to lose weight no matter what (food is just calories, a variable to lose or put on weight)
And once the weight loss it reached, this is it. Who cares of what happens next.
WRONG! And it's about time to call out all those lies - so let's take them one by one.
No, weight loss it isn't simple
Weight management is very complicated and unique to all of us: what worked for one, might not work for others - even when an approach is backed up by science. This is because what defines our weight is super complex: so many factors come into play, factors that all interact with each others - genetics, environment, type of birth, gut microbiome, culture, food availabilities, psychology, beliefs, socio-economics, health, medication, etc...
The Foresight Obesity System map , put it out very clearly!
In short: since the reasons of our weight are so personal and unique to us, the best strategies to manage it are going to be very unique, as well. And since our weight is complex, the weight management approach is likely to be complex too.
No, if it doesn't work, it is not your fault
Many of the forces at play are out of one's control (genetics and appetite signals, for a start). So putting the onus on a person for their weight (this idea of 'personal responsibility' or lack of willpower) is obviously wrong. Yet weight stigma is still thriving in a society that equates thinness with personal achievement and success.
But, even worse: weight stigma is actually toxic. Many people with obesity internalise this idea that maybe this is their fault, that maybe they are not trying hard enough . We now have loads of evidence that weight stigma is causing more health damage : it just promotes risky eating behaviours (highly restrictive), yoyo dieting, poor mental health, and it even prevents from getting the right health care.
I am not saying that weight shouldn't be addressed, but I am saying that how much we weight is certainly not a choice! And I think that our expectations in weight management interventions (aka, diet or weight loss programme) need to be of curiosity and patience, rather than chasing a specific number on the scales (and receiving it as a sign of failure if not attained).
No, weight loss should not be pursued at all cost
The body is a complex machine: not only does it need energy, but it also requires a wide range of nutrients to function optimally. Would you remove airbags, seatbelts, seats, and keep an empty tank in your car to make it lighter and faster on the motorway? When you go onto a very restrictive diet, this is exactly the same thing: you are focusing only on one aspect of health (weight and lightness) at the cost of undermining your main objective: to live a healthy life. So if you decide to take action to lose weight, consider how respectful to your body your approach is. And how sustainable it is.
No, having reached your weight goal is not the end
More often than not, after a restrictive diet, people put the weight back on (and a little extra). This is because the diet was not sustained (a 'one-off'), because not sustainable long term.
And so, once the holly grail of weight loss has been reached - at the cost of restriction, sheer willpower, putting your social life on hold, avoiding favourite foods, etc. - the mental and physical pull to go back to your old weight is irresistible. You might be a bit 'careful' at first but, without support and knowledge on how to care for your body and mind, it is going to be really hard not to slowly drift back to your old habits, because that is what your body is programmed to do. The truth is, unless you manage to sustainably change the way you feed yourself and relate to food, no matter how good you are at losing weight when needed, the weight will always come back.
That is why knowing how to maintain weight loss is essential , and yet, it is always forgotten by fad diet.
So, is weight management all doomed? Absolutely not. But it requires to operate a paradigm shift away from restriction, by focusing on sustainable health habits that work for you instead. And to focus more on what you do (the means), rather than the number on the scales (the ends).
Here is my top tips for weight management:
Manage your hunger: identify which foods and meal patterns help you the best at keeping you nourished, full and satisfied.
Consider other lifestyle habits: bring more physical activity into your daily routine and notice its effects on your wellbeing. Pay attention to sleep and stress, and how they affect your weight.
Gain awareness and compassion: know what you like and why; identify your tricky situations; investigate what works with you; don't be critical, just curious; and aim for consistency over perfection.
Prevent overeating situations: pay attention to what you eat and your portions; be mindful of alcohol; practice mindful eating; anticipate and control what you can (environment, hunger, triggers) while accepting what is out of control.
By focusing on exploring new sustainable health habits that work for you for the long ride, over time you will be able to find your set weight, i.e., your genetically-programmed lowest weight which is maintainable long term.
Could you do with some help with your eating habits?
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 Pearl RL, Puhl RM, Himmelstein MS, Pinto AM, Foster GD. Weight Stigma and Weight-Related Health: Associations of Self-Report Measures Among Adults in Weight Management, Annals of Behavioral Medicine, Volume 54, Issue 11, November 2020, Pages 904–914, https://doi.org/10.1093/abm/kaaa026
 Hall KD, Kahan S. Maintenance of Lost Weight and Long-Term Management of Obesity. Med Clin North Am. 2018;102(1):183-197. https://doi:10.1016/j.mcna.2017.08.012