Updated: Sep 7
This post was adapted from episode 2 of the Nourished & Free podcast.
Click here to listen to the full episode.
The question I propose in this post may seem counterintuitive for most of you. You may feel as though the answer is obvious. “weight loss is always a good thing, unless someone is underweight and/or anorexic. Duh.” But in reality, the problem with weight loss is that while it may seem like a pursuit of health, it is often anything but.
I’m choosing to write on this topic because I want to set a different tone, or rather open up a new narrative for you to consider.
My hope is not to convince you to think exactly as me. Rather, to start considering that there may perhaps be another layer to the pursuit of weight loss that we need to examine before jumping in.
To begin exploring the problem with weight loss, I want to examine the angle of: when is pursuing weight loss a good thing?
The answer is never.
Read on for evidence to why that is.
Top Problems with Weight Loss
The pursuit of weight loss is rife with challenges and negative health impacts. Not sure how to determine when weight loss is a concern? Keep reading for some of the biggest issues with weight loss.
Weight Loss Pursuits May Be the Result of Weight Stigmatization and/or Fat Phobia
Let’s talk about weight bias, weight stigma, and fat phobia. Weight bias is defined by the World Health Organization as, “negative attitudes towards, and beliefs about, others because of their weight. These negative attitudes are manifested by stereotypes and/or prejudice towards people with overweight and obesity.”
In a study done by a researcher from Nottingham University, it was found that 98.6% of doctors, nurses, dietitians and nutritionists had a negative attitude about fat people. Therefore, if I may be so bold, we can almost expect our healthcare workers to be judging fat people based on size alone.
I don’t know about you, but I would not want someone in charge of my life that judges me just because of how I look.
Providers with negative views towards fat people spend less time with their patients and give them fewer treatment options with less access to treatment. They even characterize their fat patients as lazy, stupid, and worthless. This is exactly the same as purposefully putting less effort into caring for someone because of their race, gender, religion, etc.
Because of weight bias and stigmatization, we see:
· Poor body image and body dissatisfaction
· Low self-esteem and self-confidence
· Feelings of worthlessness and loneliness
· Suicidal thoughts and acts
· Depression, anxiety, and other psychological disorders
· Disordered eating/eating disorders
· Avoidance of physical activity
· Stress induced increases in inflammation
· Avoidance of medical care.
Another way to put it is the diseases we so often assume are caused by fat might actually be related to fat phobia and bias from healthcare providers, not just by having a larger body. This is a major problem with weight loss and diet culture that can have significant impacts on health.
I won’t go any further into the effects of fat phobia at this time, but I encourage you to take some time looking into the domino effects it can have on our neighbors. Pursuing weight loss as a result of receiving weight stigmatization is totally and completely unfair.
Weight Loss Pursuits May Lead to an Eating Disorder
The potential of developing an eating disorder is another significant problem with weight loss. In fact, one of the leading predictors of developing an eating disorder is dieting. Dieting, of course, is utilized in the pursuit of weight loss.
Many of us are taught at a frighteningly young age that smaller bodies are better and encouraged to diet if we get too large. Children as young as 5 y.o. have been reported as exhibiting signs of an eating disorder, with the change of dieting to lose weight increasing to alarming rates in pre-teens and teenagers.
In a large study of 14– and 15-year-olds, dieting was the most important predictor of a developing eating disorder. Those who dieted moderately were 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder, and those who practiced extreme restriction were 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet.
Situations like this are one of the biggest dangers of weight loss pursuits.
Dieting and attempts to lose weight can be the final push to develop an eating disorder for those who are predisposed. Just to remind you of how serious this is, eating disorders have the second highest mortality rate of all mental health disorders, surpassed only by opioid addiction.
Weight Loss Pursuits May Not Solve Underlying Behaviors
A big problem with weight loss is that a lot of times we just assume that weight loss = healthier. However, we need to consider the lifestyle behaviors before we decide if we’re being ‘healthy’ or not.
Certainly, there are many reports stating that weight loss is associated with better health, but we can’t exactly tie the two together as a direct cause-and-effect. After all, is the better health because of just weight loss, or because of better nutrition and exercise habits?
In order to decide if just weight loss causes better health, we need to look at it without behavior change. This is a tricky thing to do, but one way of testing this is look at those who have undergone liposuction. These individuals, in most cases, lose the weight but don’t change their behaviors.
These studies are typically showing us that the sole removal of subcutaneous fat without behavior change is not associated with improvements in things like insulin sensitivity, total cholesterol, and triglycerides – which are more accurate biomarkers of health. On the flip side, we do have reports of behavior change benefitting our health without a change in weight taking place.
An issue I see a lot is those with the sole motivation of weight loss without the desire for enjoying the behavior change. For example, “I just need to lose these last 5, 10, 20 lbs etc” and they don’t care what they have to do to get there.
They will follow any advice that says they can lose the weight, and they can lose it fast.
A prime example is going on a diet like Slimfast. It’s all about getting the weight off, not about why we typically chose to behave in the way we do when it comes to matters of our health.
We shouldn’t be asking, “why do I weigh what I weigh?”. Rather, “why do I eat how I do, choose to exercise/not exercise, have sleeping habits like I do, fail to do self-care, lack self-compassion”, etc.
We have to get to the root of how we live. Weight is merely a symptom of that.
Weight Loss Pursuits May Lead to Weight Gain
One problem with weight loss is that dieters often regain their lost weight within 1-5 years.
A part of this is because our biology fights to hang out to what’s called it’s set point: a range of weight that our body is genetically blueprinted to hang out at. When we threaten that range by dipping below it, our body will slow down it’s metabolism to burn less.
For example, it’s estimated that those who have lost 10% of their body weight burn 300-400 calories less than they did to begin with. This suppression in metabolism causes the weight rebound, and typically we end up gaining even more weight than we lost.
So when we go to a doctor’s office and they say “you need to lose weight” then slap a referral to a weight loss clinic on your chart or suggest that you try intermittent fasting, keto, Optavia, etc, it’s almost as if you were to go to the doctor’s office and say, “I’m struggling with dizziness”, and he says “okay. I have a pill I can prescribe that has a high failure rate and may even make your dizziness worse. Want me to write you a 'script?”.
Would you take that pill?
Weight Loss Pursuits May Be Entirely Unwarranted
I want to speak directly to the woman who lives a perfectly balanced and healthy lifestyle: if you are not restricting food groups, not bingeing, regularly moving your body for fun and joy, getting enough sleep, managing stress, not using food to pacify emotions, spending time with people you enjoy, mostly eating according to hunger & fullness, and eating food that makes you feel good… there is no reason for you to think you need to lose weight.
I don’t care what the BMI chart says. There are no weight loss benefits worth the potential side effects of trying to lose weight. If all of the above is true, then you’re done. You’ve made it. You are officially at your optimal state of health and the weight you have reflects that, so embrace it.
Is Losing Weight Dangerous?
So far we’ve talked about some common problems with weight loss. But is losing weight actually dangerous? It can be.
Have you ever gone a crash diet to lose weight fast? A liquid diet? Fasting challenge? Intense exercise with little nutrition regimen? Taken a sketchy pill that promised results? These things can be dangerous and land us in the hospital, or worse.
I feel like this is common sense, so I won’t go too much into it… but any lose-weight-fast method is bound to cause harm, and we need to run far away.
So… When Is It Worth Losing Weight?
Weight loss, in my opinion, is a good thing when it happens as a result of adopting self-compassion, awareness, and caring for the body. It has to be gradual and it shouldn’t be the primary intention (because once it is the primary intention, we tend to be adopt unhealthy behaviors). It cannot be the result of restriction, excessive exercise, or white-knuckling.
Another way to put this is that weight loss is a good thing when it’s not being pursued (with the exception of times of illness and/or stress).
For more on this subject,
And if you want to learn even more about embracing an anti-diet lifestyle, then explore my virtual dietitian services. From an online course and group coaching to one-on-one support, I can help you ditch the diet culture and find true food freedom.