Is it wrong to want to lose weight? It’s a loaded question that I’m going to tackle in this post, including some perspectives you may not have considered before.
There’s something about this time of year that brings about a renewed focus on weight loss. Maybe it’s the end of summer and back to school season, but there’s definitely a “hit the reset button” feeling in the air.
You may know by now that I run a pretty kickass free online group. (Or maybe not! Join here.) In it, the topic of wanting to lose weight has come up a ton recently.
What We’ve Been Taught About Weight Loss
We have been taught all our lives that there is a direct cause & effect relationship between weight loss and health.
It goes like this: Lose weight, get healthier.
For some people, that correlation exists. For others, it doesn’t.
And so, we – as a collective society – focus on and fret about reducing the number on the scale. Sometimes we achieve that through water loss, muscle loss, fat loss or a combination of those. (Water loss is the cause of short-term weight loss. Losing the other two take a bit longer. I don’t recommend losing muscle because of the impact on metabolism, amongst other things.)
But ultimately, the weight on the scale – how much gravity is pulling down on our meatsuits – becomes the primary focus.
For some of us, our days are dictated by what the number says. If it goes down, we’re thrilled. If it stays the same (or heaven forbid, goes UP), the day is ruined, we beat ourselves up, and start down the willpower path to eat perfectly and cut back on food once more.
Now, not everyone has this relationship with weight loss and the scale, but it’s very common.
We’ve also been taught that a lower weight automatically equals better health. It may be correlated, but it’s not always clearly causative. I’ve worked with plenty of women who were “normal weight” and anything but healthy inside based on how they felt, their blood work, their mental state, etc.
And, we’ve been taught by society that fatness and fat people are bad, lazy, and unhealthy while thinness and thin people are good, virtuous, and healthy…which really sucks when you think about it. It’s easy for people on both sides to internalize that message.
Flip the Script from Weight Loss to Health Gain
If you’ve been struggling with weight loss, I invite you to flip the script.
Weight loss (if it’s truly needed) happens when you address imbalances in the body and address the foundations of health. Truly, health from the inside-out.
In other words, weight loss is (sometimes) an outcome of better health, not the cause of it.
I know this isn’t what we’re taught. You may even be reading this and thinking, “Nope, that’s not how it works.” I get it. We’re told to focus on getting the weight down, down, down. Everything we’re told is to manage the amount of food that goes in (and sometimes how many calories we burn). Typically, the advice given is “eat less, move more.”
But often, that doesn’t work. There is deeper healing that needs to happen below the surface for unnecessary weight to be released. Digestion, blood sugar management, mineral balance, hydration, and fatty acid status all play into this, as well as food quality. Stress and lack of sleep are often lifestyle factors that aren’t addressed because the focus goes to diet and exercise.
What I teach in my Core 4 Program is to focus on adding small things that improve health (ex: fill half your plate with veggies). I’ll admit that this approach makes people skeptical because again, when it comes to weight loss, we’ve been taught that:
- We need to focus on removing things, cutting back, and restricting,
- It should happen fast, and
- We’ll probably hate what we have to do to get there.
All this means that by focusing on improving health, healing your body, and feeling better (more on that below), you keep your eyes on the habits you can most directly control.
You can’t easily control the rate of weight loss or the weight your body will come to when it’s healthy and you’re feeling good. SO many of us have unrealistic expectations when it comes to the weight we “should be” and quite frankly, it’s often never low enough. Or, the weight we think we should be was told to us by a practitioner or carried with us since we were teenagers. Seriously.
You May Not Even Need to Lose Weight
This is where I start to get unpopular:
Many people who want to lose weight don’t actually need to. I was a perfect example of this. I spent most of my life trapped by body dysmorphia, believing that I had to lose weight when I absolutely did not need to. (See my “then” photo here.)
I can thank Diet Culture (heh) for indoctrinating me into this belief. It took years of active unlearning to untangle the web of overt and covert messaging that led me there.
What I didn’t have was the language or viewpoint to express that inside, I felt like garbage. My moods, digestion, menstrual cycle, and my energy levels were all poor. But the only thing I knew was that if I didn’t feel comfortable, it must be because of my weight. So the answer, therefore, was to lose weight.
So Back to My Original Question: Is It Wrong to Want to Lose Weight?
Answer: Not necessarily, but the reality is very nuanced.
People who want to lose weight are often made to feel bad for wanting to do so. On the other hand, people who are totally comfortable with their weight – even if it’s higher than what’s socially accepted – are made to feel wrong for not going on a weight loss kick. It’s damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
With that in mind, I’m presenting some viewpoints to enrich the discussion.
1) It’s not inherently wrong to want to change your body.
You get to decide what happens with this body of yours. That’s called body autonomy. Want to get tattoos or piercings or release some extra weight or dye your hair or have a baby (or not), or, or, or…that’s your business.
2) Nobody else lives in your body. Nobody knows how you feel every day.
When you feel crummy in your body, life is miserable. Headaches, fatigue, poop problems, debilitating menstrual issues, uncontrollable moods, pain, constantly getting sick…these are just a few common issues you may suffer from. But it’s possible that you’ve experienced this for a long time, as long as you can remember. It’s possible you even feel like these are your “normal.” I know I did.
You may, then, default to weight loss as the focus because you can’t even conceptualize anything else as being problematic.
3) Be more mindful of judging others for their bodies or their goals.
Humans are always, ever judging. We judge ourselves and others. But really consider this:
You’re not a bad person for wanting to change something. We also have to be careful about associating choices that might not be ideal for someone with their goodness or badness as a person.
How often do we praise people for losing weight or going to the gym? (And we often have ZERO clue about how that person went about it. Do they have an eating disorder? Are they chronically ill? Are they an exercise addict? Is the stress of a divorce or loss of a loved one meaning they aren’t eating? Be careful what you praise unless you really know that person.)
How often do we silently judge ourselves or others for carrying extra weight above what we deem is acceptable? (What goes through your mind when you see someone who is fat? That they’re unhealthy? Lazy? A failure? A bad person for not getting their shit together already?)
If you’re a nutrition or fitness professional like me, your clients may have a goal of losing weight (remember: gaining health). It’s sticky for us because we may know something the client is doing isn’t necessarily health-promoting. But that still doesn’t make them an inherently bad person for doing it.
There’s also a layer that I want to mention here (and perhaps dive into deeper at another time): The “picture of health” that many of us have in our minds is a very narrow perspective that doesn’t take into consideration personal preferences, culture, race, and other social factors like resource availability.
How You Can Make Body Changes Work For You
Here’s the ugly truth that nobody wants to admit:
“Weight loss” as a goal is not very motivating to your brain.
Why? It’s a metric, something rational.
Numbers are not motivators because numbers are logical.
Us humans are really driven by emotion. A lot of that has to do with our limbic brain, often called the “lizard brain.” It’s the center of emotion, motivation, safety-seeking, memories, and fear.
Think of your favorite movie or song or a story that really affected you emotionally. Think about the last time you had a gut feeling about something. Think about a time you got super motivated to do something without even being able to explain why. Think about something you bought because you just wanted it or knew you had to have it. Chances are, those scenarios all involved your limbic brain. (Marketers know this well and often set you up to buy something because it pushes an emotional button.)
In other words, we need to connect to how we want to FEEL.
We need to connect to a feeling, a purpose, a why, something bigger than us if we want to stay motivated and ultimately be consistent.
It’s the difference between saying, “I want my weight to be XYZ” versus, “I want to climb the stairs pain-free, chase after my kids in the park without getting exhausted, and wake up with tons of energy every day.”
Which one do you connect to more?
I had a client who wanted to release some extra weight as part of building her health. When I asked her why, she told me that she wanted to complete a multi-day hiking trip with her son and hoped they could deepen their relationship. She decided to focus on what she could do to build her health and kept the ultimate why in the front of her mind. I couldn’t help but feel so connected and drawn in to her story.
Yes, she hoped that losing a little weight would make hiking on difficult trails feel easier. But ultimately, she made it about howshe wanted to feel and why it mattered.She was connected to something bigger than the number on the scale as motivation.
But I get it. Nobody teaches you these other things. Society tells us that focusing on the weight value on the scale is motivation enough (it’s not). And when you lose motivation (because, duh, you have no visceral connection to why you’re doing what you’re doing), then you blame yourself and the cycle of shame-diet-fail-shame keeps on turning. Diet culture wants to keep you on this sick hamster wheel because it’s profitable.
So, if you do have a weight loss goal, here’s how to make it work better for you.
Get clear about:
1) What, specifically, do I want to FEEL by making these changes?
Try to keep it focused on what you want:
- “I want to feel energized from the start of my day to the end.”
- “I want to eat a meal and have it digest normally.”
- “I want to have a sex drive again.”
- “I want to feel strong enough to lift my bodyweight.”
- “I want to run a 5k without stopping.”
- “I want to climb the stairs without getting winded.”
2) What am I fighting FOR? (Not against. Fighting against is unsustainable.)
- “I want to see my kids have children.”
- “I want to feel capable enough to travel the world on my own.”
- “I want to be stronger for myself and the people I care about.”
- “I want to make a difference in my community.”
3) What is something bigger than me that I’m connected to?
- Family / community / humanity
- Nature / the outdoors / Mother Earth
- God / The Universe / Source / Spirit
4) Why does making these changes matter?
- Is losing weight what you really want or what someone else told you to do?
- If you lose weight, what will it bring to your life? (If you answered “happiness,” have a read here.)
- What will this pursuit cost you? Is it worth what it will cost? (Everything has a cost, whether it’s time, energy, or resources.)
- What kind of a person am I even if I don’t lose weight?
- Where else does my self-worth lie other than on the scale?
5) What are one or two specific, simple habits I will add to my routine (and be consistent with) in order to stay focused on the process?
When I work with clients, I often observe they try to dive into complex diets and protocols too fast without mastering the basics or they’re simply not consistent enough to see change.
- Fill half my plate with veggies.
- Drink more water.
- Find a way to diffuse my stress every day.
- Take 15 minutes of “me time.”
- Go outside and get some sunlight.
- Get to bed 30 minutes earlier.
- Take a walk after dinner.
There are other things to consider in this discussion about wanting to lose weight, but hopefully this gave you a start.
If you’re someone who wants to release extra weight, I hope you have more tools to assess your pursuit. If you’re someone who doesn’t want to lose weight, hopefully you learn to see others with more compassion.
To Summarize (TL;DR):
- What we’re taught about weight and weight loss is often skewed or lacks multiple perspectives.
- We need to consider the possibility that when we gain health, weight loss is sometimes, not always, an outcome. Likewise, losing weight does not automatically confer better health.
- It’s not inherently wrong to want to change your body.
- To make health changes work for you, stay focused on how you want to feel and a why you can deeply connect to.