Turning my back on diets and weight loss

Ah January, the month when we all take a look at how much we ate and drank over Christmas and resolve to do something about that. The month when previously empty gyms are crammed with miserable-looking people, half the office is bemoaning having slipped up on their diets already, and you can’t turn on the telly or pick up a magazine without being beaten around the head with adverts telling you how their product will help you lose weight.

I’ve always said I’d never diet in January – it’s a depressing month as it is, no need to compound it by forbidding yourself comforting food! But lately, I’ve started to wonder about the wisdom of dieting at all. Whenever I’ve tried going on a diet, it just makes me think about food all the time. I like food, I enjoy eating – but dieting just makes eating into a chore. And I never seem to lose weight: my health drives have always combined dieting with exercising more, which actually makes me gain weight. The more I talk to other people about this, the more I wonder: has anyone ever successfully lost weight, long-term, through dieting? And is that even a meaningful goal?

I’ve been reading a lot recently about the concept of Health At Every Size (HAES). What HAES says, basically, is that everyone has a size that they naturally “level out” at; that long-term weight loss is not an achievable goal; and that weight is not actually a reliable indicator of health or fitness. It is possible to be “overweight” and healthy, just as it is possible to be skinny and unhealthy. The latter is certainly true for me: my experiments with dieting are a fairly recent development, as until my early 20s I pretty much ate what I wanted, never exercised, and didn’t gain weight. Sure, I couldn’t climb a flight of stairs without getting out of breath, but so what – I wasn’t fat, so obviously wasn’t unhealthy. That was how I thought of it, and that attitude was backed up by literally everyone around me.

I’m still not what most people would call fat, but as I get older I am getting heavier. My pot belly, big bum and wobbly thighs are getting more obvious. However, I’m also fitter than I’ve ever been. I walk regularly, have been learning to swim, and even go to the gym from time to time! Although I’m still not as fit as I could be, I’m much more active and feel much healthier than ever before. So does it really matter how much I weigh? And is dieting really going to do me any good?

I’ve decided that the answer to that is a resounding “no”! Dieting is not good for you. By all means eat well, cook using fresh ingredients and eat plenty of fruit and veg, but trying to lose weight by cutting down calories and/or cutting out certain food types will not do you any good. There’s more on this on a recent article in the Huffington Post, but in a nutshell: dieting doesn’t work, fat people are no more likely to be unhealthy than thin people, and our society’s prejudice against fatness does more harm than fatness itself.

Because long-term weight loss is impossible for most people, all that dieting does is lead you into a cycle of diet -> lose weight -> put weight back on -> diet again -> repeat. This is referred to as “yo-yo dieting”, it is what happens to most people, and it is phenomenally bad for you. Among other effects, yo-yo dieting puts you at greater risk from heart attacks. The more I read about this, the more I am sure that the years of yo-yo dieting contributed to my sister’s death from a heart attack, aged 41, last year.

So: no more diets for me. Instead, I’m going to keep up my more active lifestyle, eat well but not worry about it if I feel like scoffing a pizza followed by a chocolate cake of a friday night, and learn to love my body the way it is. And I’m throwing away my scales 🙂

I am aware that all of the above will actually be pretty easy for me. After all, I have a naturally slim build, so am a recipient of what is known as thin privilege. Because I am perceived as thin, people will most likely applaud me for not “obsessing” about diets and weight loss. People won’t look concerned, and say “but haven’t you thought about the health risks of staying so overweight?” People won’t question my meal choices, and criticise me for eating something unhealthy. And that isn’t fair. It’s not fair that I can make the decision to stop worrying about my weight without really facing any negative consequences, when so many other people (particularly women) can’t. So, as well as deciding for myself to stop worrying about weight, I am also making the following pledges:

  1. I will stop saying, about myself, “I feel fat” or “OMG, I’m such a fatty” (particularly when eating), or “Do I look fat in this?”
  2. I will refrain from commenting on other people’s food choices, either positively (e.g. “Aren’t you good, having a salad!”) or negatively (which I hope I didn’t do anyway, but will make more of a conscious effort to avoid in future!)
  3. I will call out other people for making negative assumptions about fat people, or assuming that fat=unhealthy

Anyone else decided to ditch the diets? Anything you’d add to the above?

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5 Comments

  1. EstherArens

     /  January 12, 2013

    APPLAUSE!!! I agree with almost everything you’re saying. Although I’ve had slightly different experiences and reasons I’ve come to the same conclusions. Dieting (as in cutting calories or types of food), obession with weight, looks and/or exercise isn’t good for you. What’s good for you is what makes you feel good! (That’s why I sometimes manage to not comfort eat but exercise instead…) And yes, I started learning that and feeling better about myself after I threw away the scales.
    Thanks for this post & best wishes,
    Esther

    Reply
  2. Zanjabil

     /  January 24, 2013

    I agree with and appreciate this post. I am new to not dieting. I just decide to stop for good last week. This is after 20 years of dieting (minus the pregnant years).So I am reading everything I can to help myself work through this. I even boxed up all my diet books.But it is hard! I am not thin, but I have lost a considerable amount of weight from dieting. I am learning to let it go. One day at a time.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Zanjabil – and good for you! I know what you mean, it’s hard to let go of all the guilt around food if you’ve spent years dieting and worrying about your body shape. Totally worth it though – I’m starting to just enjoy food more – am cooking more from scratch, and discovering I really love cooking! – and focusing on keeping active rather than fretting about calories.

      Reply
  3. I met a friend recently who had lost weight, and asked what his secret was.

    “Eat less” came the instant response.

    Sometimes the answer is too easy for our brains to handle.

    I’ve tried it, and it works for me.

    Reply
    • Thanks for the comment Neil (and sorry for taking so long to approve/reply to it – I’ve really been neglecting my blog recently!). I think you might have missed the point of what I was saying though. My point is that weight loss itself shouldn’t be a goal: it’s usually unsustainable in the long term (I found an open access study recently that found that 95% of people that managed substantial weight loss through dieting had regained the weight within 2 years – lost the link I’m afraid else I’d post it here!), and may actually have negative health consequences. Your weight is not necessarily an indicator of health (as I discussed, I’ve always been skinny but very unhealthy – I’m now heavier than I’ve ever been but also much healthier), so focusing on weight loss is counterproductive. Far better to aim for an active, healthy life, and not worry about the numbers on the scales. Make sense?

      Reply

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