How to stay strong in your commitment to food and body freedom, even when you KNOW weight loss would make your life easier.
Hi friend! Please enjoy this month’s guest article (below) by Intuitive Eating, body image, & self-trust coach Naomi Katz, of Happy Shapes Coaching, on how to stay strong in your commitment to food and body freedom, even when you know losing weight would make your life easier.
And feel free to hit reply to share your thoughts!
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “What if weight loss could actually help my situation?”
If you have, you’re not alone. As an intuitive eating and body image coach, this is a question that comes up often for folks I work with, and it was one of the hardest things for me to wrap my head around in my personal journey, as well.
“Intuitive eating” is a framework created by registered dietitians Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch to support people in breaking free from diets and healing their relationships to food and their bodies. It comprises 10 principles that help us to reject diet culture and relearn how to listen to our internal body cues. And setting aside weight loss goals is a big part of that work.
But, while intuitive eating requires us to set aside the actual pursuit of weight loss, it’s very common to still be holding on to hopes of weight loss when we first start an intuitive eating practice.
And why wouldn’t we?
The vast majority of intuitive eating counselors and coaches are straight-sized women, and a lifetime of marketing has told us that eating like “experts” will make us look like them. So we’re conditioned to believe it, even when the folks doing the marketing aren’t actually saying it.
By the time most folks come to me for coaching, they usually understand that health is more complicated than just our personal behaviors, and they’ve often realized that the “thin ideal” isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. But some things still feel more complicated. Because wouldn’t weight loss actually help when it comes to finding clothes that fit, avoiding weight stigma at the doctor and other areas of life, being able to travel or go to the theater, and a whole host of other problems?
I knew when I first started out as a coach that supporting people in working through lingering hopes for weight loss would be part of my job. And if a client wanted weight loss for health reasons, I knew how to guide them through debunking things like whether weight loss was really necessary to navigate diabetes, cardiovascular health, joint health, or other types of medical concerns. But I was stumped when faced with something like clothing accessibility, which was inarguably easier in a smaller body. In my gut, I knew weight loss still wasn’t the solution, but I also couldn’t figure out why.
On some level, it still did feel like weight loss would help, and it wasn’t a problem that could be changed by a mindset shift, a reframe, or another personal behavior. So I brought it up to Evelyn Tribole in a group supervision session, and Evelyn reminded me that, regardless of the reason, intentional weight loss doesn’t work. The statistics on diets are still the same, no matter what problem we’re trying to fix.
And of course that’s true! The biological and physiological responses of our bodies that make long-term weight loss impossible don’t care what our reasons are. But over the years since I first started coaching, I’ve also come to realize that’s an oversimplification of the issue, and the real answer is much more nuanced.
First, because this is really important, when we’re talking about the statistics on intentional weight loss, here’s what we’re talking about:
Over 95% of diets fail in the long term. That statistic has been replicated in studies since the 1950s. People usually see temporary success, up to the 1-2 year mark, and then weight loss will plateau, and regain starts at the 2-5 year mark. That’s for any kind of intentional weight loss - regardless of whether we’re calling it a diet. And some version of that pattern shows up for things like weight loss drugs and weight loss surgeries too. It may take longer, but the pattern remains, which means that any attempt at weight loss will be a temporary solution.
About ⅔ of people actually regain more weight than they lost. That means weight gain is a more likely long-term outcome of dieting than weight loss. Now, weight gain is not a bad thing, but if we think that a smaller body is going to solve our problems, this is more likely to put us further from our solution than when we started.
And dieting is the #1 predictor of eating disorders. Does this mean that all diets become eating disorders? Of course not. But it does mean that, for people who have other specific biopsychosocial predictors for eating disorders, going on a diet is much more likely to trigger that tendency and open the door to an eating disorder. And that’s just the clinical harm of dieting – there’s also tons of other harm to our emotional, mental, physical, and social health.
The bottom line is there is no safe, effective, long-term way to lose weight. Which means that it actually doesn’t matter if weight loss would make our situation better or easier– because it’s just not possible.
I often use the analogy that a million dollars would make my life inarguably easier in many ways, but it doesn’t matter because I have no realistic way to get a million dollars. Get rich quick schemes are harmful and often result in people losing money in the end, which would only make my situation worse. So I can’t look at “getting a million dollars” as a feasible solution to any of my problems, regardless of whether it would actually make the situation better. I have to look elsewhere for solutions. And the same is true for weight loss.
But here’s where the nuance comes in, and why looking only at the science is an oversimplification: We live in an anti-fat society, which means that a lot of things would legitimately be easier in a smaller body.
Yes, getting medical care would be easier.
Yes, traveling would be easier.
Yes, people would treat you better.
Yes, clothing would be more accessible.
Yes, going to the theater would be easier, or going out to eat, or doing basically anything in public spaces.
Yes to any and all lived experiences of anti-fatness being improved by having a smaller body.
But weight loss still isn’t the solution because our bodies aren’t the actual problem.
A million dollars wouldn’t make my life easier in any necessary way if we didn’t live in a capitalist society with vast wealth inequality and lacking social support. I could hustle and burn myself out to earn more money, but without a material change to capitalism, it would be a temporary solution, at best. And, at worst, I would be perpetuating the problem for myself and others. In the same way, we wouldn’t find navigating the world in a smaller body to be easier if we didn’t live in an anti-fat world, so pursuing weight loss is, at best, a temporary solution that fails to address the underlying systemic issues.
If we can see that anti-fatness is the actual problem, then the solution can only be changing anti-fatness.
Having said that, each of us has full autonomy and ownership over our bodies, and each of us gets to do our own risk/benefit analysis about whether temporarily changing our body size is worth it to get some temporary relief from anti-fatness. Maybe temporary weight loss is enough to get us cleared for surgery, or to go on our dream trip, or to get the job we want (or need), or to buy our wedding dress, or any number of other things. For some folks, that temporary relief may be survival. And that’s a valid choice.
Ultimately, knowing that diets don’t work is simple, but living in an anti-fat world is not. So we have to navigate this on both a personal level and a societal level. We have to dismantle our internalized anti-fatness and the anti-fatness we see in the world. It can’t just be about our personal choices. It has to be bigger than that.
We have to start by doing the work to unpack our own anti-fatness. Because that’s how we get to a place where we know that our bodies are not really the problem we’re trying to solve. That’s how we stop blaming our bodies and trying to change them, and we start blaming anti-fatness and trying to change that.
We have to learn about how anti-fatness has its roots in anti-Blackness, ableism, patriarchy, gender normativity, and colonialism, and then recognize all the ways that this doesn’t align with our high level values.
We have to acknowledge all the ways anti-fatness asks us to sacrifice parts of our lives - giving up pleasure, joy, experiences, and social and cultural connection for the sake of a smaller body, and then recognize all the ways that this doesn’t align with what we value in our day-to-day lives.
We have to notice when anti-fatness is causing us to turn our anger and blame inward, toward ourselves, and make the conscious decision to turn it outward, toward the institutions and systems that create and perpetuate anti-fat oppression.
Doing this work to unpack our internalized anti-fatness is important even if we make the choice to pursue temporary weight loss, because it allows us to acknowledge that it’s temporary, that our bodies are not the problem we’re solving, and that we’re making a choice to appease anti-fatness in order to live our lives.
And then, we have to look outside ourselves and address anti-fatness in our society. Because that’s what actually needs to change.
The only real, long-term solution to this problem is fat liberation and learning to advocate for ourselves and our communities against anti-fatness. And that’s hard, and uncomfortable, and it often feels like nothing is happening. It’s a big ask, and it’s hugely powerful.
Learning to advocate for ourselves doesn’t happen overnight, but it does get easier with practice and support. Finding fat community to share experiences and resources is a game-changer, and more and more local fat communities are popping up all over the place! I also regularly refer folks to resources from Ragen Chastain and Dr. Asher Larmie for help in building the skills to advocate for ourselves in medical situations and beyond.
Fat liberation and advocacy is how we make changes on a structural and systemic level. It’s how we get better medical care, more clothing options, accessible seating, and all the rest. It’s how we make things better for ourselves and for our communities in the long run.
The bottom line is that weight loss is not a solution because your body is not a problem. The solution isn’t something we can find by ourselves because it’s not a personal problem. But if we find community and work together, we might be able to find liberation for everyone.
–Naomi Katz, Happy Shapes Coaching