Can I Pursue Weight Loss Too?

Hey everyone,

Please enjoy this month’s #TransparentTuesday Q&A guest post below, by Stefanie Bonastia.

If you want to submit a question for her to answer next month (about intuitive eating, anti-diet work, overcoming disordered relationships to food/exercise/body image, etc!) feel free to hit reply and ask. 🙂

<3

Jessi


Q:

I have struggled with food and weight since I was 10 (I am 27 now), and about two years ago I lost a lot of weight by changing my diet to {X} and started going to the gym. I got kind of obsessed with it and would stress about not eating perfectly but I was still able to do it. But then I started cheating here and there, not eating as well as I wanted to. Over the past six months, I have gained all the weight back. I try to go back to what I was doing before but after a while, I go right back to my old ways. I just want to be healthy.

My question is, can I heal my relationship with food while trying to lose weight (but this time in a healthier way)?

A:

Thank you for your question. You are not alone with these thoughts — I hear from people all the time who express similar circumstances and concerns.

First, I’m sorry that you have spent so much time feeling at odds with food and your body. We are taught from young ages that we should change our size and shape if it does not conform to media ideals, and that confidence and health are only accessible to smaller bodies. The pursuit of weight loss is a default setting for most people raised as female.

I know that finding a diet that changes the size of your body for the first time can feel liberating. It’s like finally cracking the code of weight loss; you might think, “why did I never try this before — it’s so easy.” At first, that’s true: it’s easy to run on the adrenaline of success. There is a buzz that accompanies knowing exactly what to eat, when to eat, or how much to eat. It’s intoxicating to the wave of compliments that inevitably ensue as your body changes and you become admired for your discipline.

However, over time, the sustainability of the diet loses traction. Our bodies become threatened if weight loss happens too quickly, too drastically, or if we dip below the weight range where our bodies feel safe. (This is called our weight set point range, and the ranges vary from person to person depending on genetics and diet history.) Our biology has no concept of thinness as a value system; it is simply concerned with survival. Diets threaten survival because your body only understands that it is not getting the intake it has been used to, and there is not enough energy to sustain its current level of functioning. In the case of extreme diets that eliminate entire food groups or require prolonged periods of time without eating, the body moves into an alarm state and starts sending out increased hunger signals with greater urgency.

There is a primal drive to eat that overrides willpower. We blame ourselves and believe we aren’t motivated enough, but in fact our biology (and often our psychology) has overruled our conscious effort to restrict food. This is not a moral failing, it is human design.

Healing your relationship with food is not the same as losing weight, and in fact they work in opposition to one another. Food freedom is a process of surrendering control and nurturing an existence with food that does not include manipulation, white-knuckling, or suppression of natural hunger signals. Intentional weight loss usually requires all of these things.

Losing weight in a “healthier way” is a concept up for debate.

While there may be consensus that extreme diets — for example, those that exclude major food groups or require low caloric intake — are not sustainable (although even these have become so mainstream that they are often not seen as extreme at all), the desire to lose weight in a “healthy” way seems less about health and more about effectiveness. We just want to lose weight in a way that works.

What we define as healthy weight loss may not, in fact, be healthy for our minds and bodies

What we define as healthy weight loss may not, in fact, be healthy for our minds and bodies. Given that most people who attempt to diet will regain the weight lost (and ⅔ of those people will regain more than they lost), it stands to reason that something within us is rejecting intentional weight loss no matter what the approach. Whether that rejection is physiological (the body wants to achieve health through homeostasis at its preferred weight set point) or psychological (the mind wants to make peace with food instead of being forced into submission), there appears to be more to “health” than simply losing weight.

Making peace with food once and for all will involve eating without shame or judgment. In the pursuit of weight loss, we must moralize food into “good” and “bad” categories according to how they will facilitate that weight loss, and we inevitably feel shame when we do something “bad.” This is why the pursuit of weight loss is incompatible with truly healing your relationship with food — weight loss requires micromanagement of food (which leads to control and suppression of hunger signals), and micromanagement does not allow for true attunement and release of judgment.

Consider, instead, healing your relationship with food as you explore opportunities for physical and mental health that do not focus on weight loss. What does health really mean to you? Physical fitness? Less stress? More balance? What behaviors (not what weight) actually lead to those things?

You can find ways to move your body that feel fun and invigorating, or calming and grounding. Aim for a balance of work and play, and include rest and a good night’s sleep as goals. Enjoy time with friends, participate in hobbies that make you lose track of time, cultivate your stress management. If weight loss is reflected in your pursuit of health, that is where your body is happiest. If weight loss is not reflected in your pursuit of health, that is also where your body is happiest.

I hope this clarifies some things for you. You ultimately have autonomy when it comes to your body: if you choose to pursue weight loss, it doesn’t make you a bad person — just one living in a world that makes these decisions difficult. In any scenario, sustainable weight loss can only exist alongside a peaceful relationship with food, so prioritizing that work is a great place to start.

Sending you hope, peace, and clarity.

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