By Caitlin Peiris
It’s common for people who learn they have any (or all) of these conditions to be advised to lose weight. As though it were simple. As though we haven’t heard this, time and time again, for decades. News flash: It’s not helping!
A growing body of evidence shows that other options are likely going to be much more helpful in the long term. Here are a few reasons why it’s time to stop trying to improve your health with weight loss.
Those benefits of weight loss? They don’t last.
When your doctor tells you that evidence shows that losing weight will lower your blood sugar (or pressure, or cholesterol), they’re not wrong. The problem is that the evidence is based on short term studies. So yes, if you lose some weight, your bloodwork will likely improve to some degree. But these benefits last only until the diet ends and your weight goes back up. And it probably will; studies following dieters over time show that most people who diet will gain any lost weight back… and more! And then where does that leave you?
Oh – but what’s that? You say you’re not on a diet, it’s a lifestyle? Let’s talk about that.
Research tells us that when we focus on weight loss as our main goal, we don’t keep up our positive behaviours for the long term. Many of us have heard or have first-hand experience of, “Well, I was [exercising more/eating more veggies/switching to whole wheat] but I didn’t lose any weight. So I gave up. Because what’s the point?”
Healthy behaviours benefit your blood sugar/pressure/cholesterol. Period.
THIS is the point. Adding body movement and nutritious food into your life can directly and positively impact your health. Even if your weight doesn’t change.
So go ahead, incorporate more fibre. Walk around the block. Dance around your living room (yes, joyful movement counts!) Don’t do it because it’s going to burn more calories or stop you from eating some other thing later, do it because you are now already making a difference in managing your health. Great job!
Being healthy doesn’t mean giving up foods you enjoy.
Having diabetes does not mean no more sugar and high blood pressure does not mean no more chips. Abstinence messages do not work. They trap us in a cycle of ”get it while we can” and “cheat days” “bad weeks” and “I blew it. I’ll start again on Monday,”. Let’s get real; when we deprive ourselves, we quickly find ourselves feeling obsessed with and stressing out about that very thing we’ve forbidden.
(Relevant side note: stress has a significant impact on our health. Stressing over your weight or food choices can actually contribute to higher blood sugar/cholesterol/pressure.)
Feeling preoccupied with off-limits food isn’t about a lack of willpower, it’s biology and human nature. It’s okay to have foods we crave. More than okay, it’s important.
Allowing ourselves to eat the foods we like, without judging or shaming ourselves, means not only are we able to have them, it allows us to move on to other things. Think about that for a minute. No more guilt, no more shame, no more cheat days!
There is great value – and benefit to health – from learning to stop judging food and yourself, and learning to enjoy the amazing food (and life) in front of you. Many of us fear that no rules will mean utter chaos and eating everything in sight! You will be relieved to know that research does not support this, backed by my own professional experience and that of other non-diet dietitians who support our clients to make peace with food and their bodies.
I recommend that in addition to challenging food rules, you will also feel better about food if you eat regularly throughout the day. Not only will it give you the energy and nutrients you need, it will help you feel calmer and less preoccupied with food. I know these are not easy changes to make, but there are many incredible resources out there. And if you live in Winnipeg, you can join my group Eat Your Heart Out and I will help you tackle this very thing.
Body acceptance, body neutrality, Health At Every Size®® – whatever you want to call it – is for EVERY BODY. I often hear people say things like, “This makes sense, but I actually need to lose weight because of my diabetes/health/knees/etc./etc./etc.” Nope. There are no loopholes or asterisks attached to this simple truth:
You, right here, right now, deserve to have a peaceful relationship with your body based on nurturing, nourishing, permission, respect, and getting enough.
Diets challenge us to give up something “bad” in order to be well. What would happen if we changed the challenge? What if we gave ourselves permission to ADD IN more good stuff for our health; adding in foods and nutrients that support health, adding in pleasure and calmness to eating all kinds of foods, adding in enough food to satisfy our hunger, and adding some joyful movement – emphasis on the joyful?
And what if we tried to stick with these ideas, regardless of whether our body changes in shape or size?
So this week, here’s a new challenge: what is one small thing you could add in to take care of yourself?
Caitlin Peiris is a General Dietitian at Women’s Health Clinic. She is currently running a 6-week group program that covers the basics of nutrition using a weight neutral, non-dieting approach to promote health called Eat Your Heart Out: A Refreshing Perspective on Food and Wellness. More information can be found here.