Sunday, January 6, 2013

Why do you really want to lose weight?

Ask yourself honestly...why do you want to lose weight?  Some might say it's because they want to be "healthier," but is that really why?  This super interesting and revealing editorial in the LA Times exposes the truth...most people want to lose weight for cosmetic reasons, going so far as to say that they would be willing to die sooner if they were guaranteed to achieve their desired weight.   In fact, 91% said they would not take a pill that would extend their lives by five years if it meant they would have to stay overweight.  Isn't that sad?!

But is being overweight such a terrible thing?  Maybe not: As the article points out, the association between higher weights and health problems is not so cut and dry, and an increased weight has actually been shown to be protective in certain situations.  So why is reaching an ideal weight so important to so many people?  The author of this op-ed piece argues that attempts to lose weight are driven by a desire to avoid weight-based discrimination.  In other words, if our society would stop discriminating against overweight people and be more accepting of all shapes and sizes, then people wouldn't be so eager to lose weight.

This reminds me of the Health at Every Size movement.  As stated on their website, Health at Every Size (HAES) "is based on the simple premise that the best way to improve health is to honor your body.  It supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being (rather than weight control)."  

Might sound a little "fluffy" to some people, but there's actual research to back this stuff up!  I read an extremely interesting article while researching for my thesis that shows the promise that living this philosophy may have in improving one's health without necessarily having to lose weight.  (Here's a link to the abstract.  If you're interested in reading the whole article, send me an email and I'll forward you the pdf file).  In this study, obese women with histories of chronic dieting received either a HAES intervention, or a traditional diet intervention.  While those in the diet group lost a significant amount of weight and the HAES group lost no weight, by two-year follow-up the diet group had essentially gained all the weight back, while the HAES participants continued to maintain.  What was particularly interesting is that even though the HAES women didn't lose any weight, they did see improvements in certain health markers, including lower blood pressure, improved cholesterol profiles, and increased activity levels, and all of these improvements were sustained at two-year follow-up.  Furthermore, those in the HAES group saw a significant improvement in their self-esteem, while those in the diet group had significantly lower self-esteem.

In other's possible to be overweight and healthy!  So, is it really so important to focus so heavily on weight loss?  As the author of the LA Times editorial says: 

"This year, before embarking on yet another diet, ask yourself why you want to lose weight. If it is to improve your health, perhaps you should focus on health-enhancing behaviors that are more directly linked to health: pledge, for example, to get more sleep, eat more fruits and vegetables, get regular physical activity, or spend more time with friends.

But if you are trying to change your body to shield against discrimination and stigma, consider making a different kind of New Year's resolution: to stand up to intolerance and bigotry in all its various forms, whether racism, sexism or fatphobia."
I'm not necessarily saying that you should just resign yourself to being your current size forever without any hope of ever changing your shape.  The truth is, if you focus on health-promoting behaviors, respect your body, and trust your internal hunger and satiety cues, then you very well might lose weight.  On the other hand, focussing on weight and committing to a traditional diet will not only make you miserable, but will very likely not lead to long term results in terms of weight loss or health improvement, so it might be time to consider a different approach.
What do you think?  Is it possible to be overweight and healthy?  Do you think you, personally would be able to simply accept your body as it is and focus more on health than size or a number on a scale?  Please comment below!  I'd love to hear what you think about this!

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