What if you didn’t need to lose weight?

The common assumption (or common wisdom) is losing weight will make you healthier, that if your BMI is above 25, you need to lose weight to manage your health. These assumptions are so strong that they prevail despite lack of evidence that pursing weight loss improves long-term health, largely because not enough people have lost weight and kept it off long enough to test this theory.

The strength of this common wisdom may also explain why most people overlook the fact that weight is not a behaviour. Take a moment to let that sink in – WEIGHT IS NOT A BEHAVIOUR. The way in which people can influence their health, is through behaviours. Focusing on weight distracts from the actual behaviour change and the weight loss often takes the credit for health improvements when it was actually the changes to lifestyle, diet, activity, mental health etc that should take the limelight. In short, we really need to stop focusing on weight when it comes to health.

HAES dietitian

You may ask, given this lack of evidence, how has this common assumption become so pervasive? Here are some of the reasons why…

  • Our culture’s strong weight bias – we live in culture that has been deeply conditioned to believe fat is bad and unhealthy, a culture that wrongly equates thinness with worthiness, attractiveness, success, health and happiness.
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  • Our culture’s weight stigma – people in bigger bodies are constantly being judged as doing something wrong, having a body that is wrong, being lazy, incompetent and unhealthy.
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  • The persistent public health (or more accurately, public shaming) messages that fat is bad and being “obese” is deadly
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  • The continual advertising of weight loss solutions, weight loss products, body transformations and surgery
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  • Doctors and other health professionals advising weight loss as necessary for almost any condition. Being weighed at the doctor and told you need to lose weight regardless of your health status.
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  • Being surrounded by people, often family and friends, deeply conditioned to this assumption and talking about the next diet they’re doing or how they’re losing weight

 

Given all these factors, it’s not difficult to understand why so many people are unhappy with their bodies and desperate to lose weight, even people who don’t have any health issues or who may not even be considered fat by societal standards. I’m not saying it’s wrong to want to lose weight, I’m hoping to acknowledge why this desire is understandable. I’m also not saying it’s wrong to lose weight, if through changing various health behaviours, your weight changes, then that is a side-effect your body is happy to have happen.

But what happens when changes in health behaviours, while perhaps improving indicators of health such as blood pressure or blood sugar, don’t result in the desired weight loss? Or what happens when the weight is regained, which it nearly always is. Do you keep up with the positive changes or do you feel it’s not “working”? Do you then give up altogether, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable? When this happens, people end up in the (sometimes lifelong) cycle of dieting or falling off the wagon, losing weight, then regaining the weight. 

What if despite taking better care of your health and doing all the “right” things, you still have high cholesterol or develop diabetes? Does this mean you still try to lose weight even when your body doesn’t appear to want to lose weight? Again, do you give up, or do you try something else, usually something more drastic and rarely maintainable?

It’s often after turning to something more drastic (see below), or years or yoyo dieting in an attempt to lose weight, that people hit rock bottom and come to see us (dietitians). Rarely has the drastic approach or long-term pursuit of weight loss improved health, in fact quite the opposite, often it’s worsened both physical and psychological health. If you are someone who has pursued weight loss, has this pursuit lead to an overall improvement in your health, be that mental health, emotional health, social health or physical health?

What do I mean by drastic? Anything that can’t be sustained or that interferes with daily life, including;

  • Completely cutting carbs or any other other food type from your diet
  • A diet with specific rules that interferes with eating out, eating with others, holidays or just enjoying food
  • Any sort of 9-12 week body transformation
  • Any program that promises rapid weight loss
  • Any program that leaves you feeling hungry or thinking about food all the time

Now if you can do any of these with ease and no interference to your enjoyment of life, then I’m not here to say you shouldn’t be doing them. I’m talking to the people who struggle with such restrictions – which, I think is fair to say, is most people.

So what can you do? See if you can pop your weight loss the goal on the back burner, this is often easier said than done and you may need help from a non-diet/HAES practitioner who doesn’t focus on weight loss or promise weight loss as an outcome. Instead, could you think about being kind to your body, perhaps moving it more in ways you enjoy and feeding it in ways that feel good both mentally and physically. Being kind to yourself and doing things you enjoy are also vital to health, when you actively dislike and hate on yourself, you are much less likely to treat your body well, be that with food, exercise or social interaction. If you feel you need help with this, please find a non-diet/HAES practitioner, be that a therapist, dietitian or nutritionist. Or you can contact us to make an appointment today.

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Why recommending weight loss, even when a person’s BMI is very high, is often unhelpful and misguided.

A personal trainer tagged me in a post showing the image of a fat person and how this fat/weight was damaging to their body and therefore, why weight loss was necessary.

I am going to to attempt to break this down as simply as possible to explain why such attitudes are misguided and damaging to a person’s health. This is actually a very complex topic and I hope those with much greater understanding of social justice issues will forgive me for only mentioning them as a factor without going into depth.

Let’s say this fat person – described as “obese” in the mainstream culture – does have issues with some organs and joints, let’s say they have diabetes and knee pain. And let’s agree for a moment that their high body weight is exacerbating these conditions.

The mainstream assumption is losing weight will help this person. Now if this personal trainer was to help this individual lose weight, I am going to assume they are not going to suggest liposuction, therefore if the person changes their health behaviours, how do we know if any improvements to health are due to weight loss or the change in diet and exercise? 

We don’t, but either way, if this PT encourages the client into calorie deficit to achieve weight loss, the client will almost certainly regain the weight at some point. If there are PTs reading this who feel strongly that they have helped the majority of their clients lose weight (through diet and exercise) and keep it off  for life, we need your evidence of this please – at present we have none. What we do have though, is evidence that shows many people end up heavier through pursuing weight loss.

This brings us to vital and often overlooked factors that affect a person’s health and which may explain why this person ended up at this weight. While these factors may influence current eating and/or exercise habits, they can affect health independent of diet and exercise.

To assume diet and exercise are the key, or only factors to address when helping someone manage their health is misguided and in most cases highly insufficient. I want to pause for a moment here and acknowledge that this is more or less what I was trained to do and what I did for the first part of my career. I’m not saying that I ignored, or that other practitioners who still work this way ignore a person’s psychology or life circumstances, I certainly didn’t, but I did not address them adequately, particularly with regard to body image and impact of weight stigma, and I did not understand the implications of continuing to place focus on body weight.

 

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Some of the reasons people end up with a higher body weight

  • Concern about weight from a young age, be that underweight or “overweight” as per growth charts. There is evidence that parents who worry about their kids weight, end up with fatter children. 
  • Natural human size diversity – their genetic blueprint for size is a bigger body
  • Medication
  • Hormonal disturbances
  • Mental health issues with or without medication
  • Economic and social circumstances
  • Adverse childhood events, including trauma
    ….
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    and the most common reason I see with my clients…

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  • Through the pursuit of weight loss – a large number of my clients have dieted themselves to a heavier weight, research shows that up to 2/3 of people end up heavier through dieting in an attempt to lose weight.

Regardless of the reasons, placing the focus on weight and encouraging people to pursue weight loss is more likely to lead to the following, than it is to improve a person’s health long-term…

  • Weight loss followed by regain (weight cycling/yoyo dieting), often to a higher weight.
  • Engaging in diet behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with food over-time, disordered eating behaviours such as restricting and bingeing.
  • Engaging in exercise behaviours that are generally not sustainable and may lead to a poor relationship with exercise over-time, injury or a general dislike of exercise.
  • An increased sense of shame over body size and perceived “failure” to control their weight, eating behaviours and maintain a certain level of exercise. Shame has been identified as an independent risk factor for health.
  • Perpetuating our cultures weight bias (that thinner people are more worthy, healthy, attractive etc) and the social stigma that accompanies this.

To state this person is unhealthy because of their high body weight or to keep this as the focus for their health issues, is at best misguided and very simplistic, and at worst, serves to further damage the individuals health through the continued pursuit of weight loss, weight cycling and weight stigma. Those of us who work in the Health At Every Size paradigm work to take the focus off body weight and instead focus on addressing health behaviours and the various factors that influence these. 

Note: HAES and the non-diet approach are not anti-weight loss, just anti-pursuit of weight loss. Some people may lose weight through changing health behaviours, we just can’t predict for whom this will happen and therefore can’t promise or expect it will happen. For those who have dieted themselves to a higher weight, the chance of significant weight loss will be lower.

 

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10 things you need to be healthy

Good news! You don’t need to consume charcoal, love kale, enter a hardcore fitness challenge or deny yourself yummy food…

10 things you need to be healthy

    • Access to adequate food and water
    • Basic food preparation and cooking skills and facilities
    • And place to live or that provides adequate shelter and clothing
    • A safe environment
    • Adequate sleep, rest and relaxation
    • A sense of belonging and acceptance
    • Meaningful relationships with other people
    • To feel valued in your community and/or workplace
    • To move in ways you enjoy
    • A sense of purpose

 

Melbourne dietitian

10 things you don’t need…

  • To follow a special diet promoted by a “wellness guru”
  • To look like a “wellness guru”
  • A lean, toned or thin body
  • A 30 day to 12 week challenge of any sort
  • To train for an extreme fitness challenge, event or marathon
  • To track “macros”, calories or your food using an app or other device
  • A NutriBullet or other “health” food kitchen appliance
  • To restrict carbs or to eat kale
  • A food or body “detox”

Of course you could partake in any of these if that’s what feels right for you and they truly align with your values in life. I’m not saying it’s wrong to do these things, but rather if they’re not for you, you don’t have to partake!

Also, if the pursuit of any these goals leaves you feeling not good enough, inadequate or with a sense of failure, then the shame you experience with this is actually damaging to both your psychological and physical health. Lastly, if pursuing these goals interferes with any of the 10 necessary things, then there’s a very good chance they are not making you healthier or happier.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

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Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

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A thinner person is not necessarily a healthy person just as a fatter person is not necessarily an unhealthy person.

We must stop lumping people into one homogenous group. If a person is fat, this does not mean they eat poorly or don’t exercise, just a thin person doesn’t necessarily workout daily and drink kale smoothies.

I am using the word fat as a purely descriptive word, just as we use thin, tall, short etc. I place no negative connotations on this word. If you feel uncomfortable by use of the word “fat” (and I still do at times), this is totally understandable given we live in a culture where we have been conditioned to believe and feel that fat is bad and shameful. There is a growing movement to reclaim the word ‘fat’ as a non-judgemental descriptor – just as thin, tall, short are.

There is an assumption in our society that fat people are not taking care of their health. Sure, some fat people engage in behaviours that adversely affect their health, but so do some thin people! Fat people vary just as much as thin people when it comes to the spectrum of health and what it means to be healthy. We cannot assess a person’s health simply from their body size and doing so does nothing to empower people to engage in healthier behaviours, in fact, it usually does quite the opposite.

non diet dietitian haes

When government bodies and the media talk about the “obesity epidemic” or wage “war on obesity”, fat people are lumped into one homogenous group, a group regarded as a serious health risk and a problem that needs fixing. When news stations show images of “headless fatties” walking around town or eating something deemed “unhealthy” they are implying that if your body looks like this – YOU are a problem. Quite frankly these images are discriminatory and dehumanising.

Whatever your body size, imagine you are watching a news story that is talking about a significant problem within a group of people and next second, you see an image of yourself… how would this make you feel? Irate, unjustly portrayed, discriminated against? Would this lead you to suddenly change your behaviour? You might be thinking “but I am exercising regularly and I do eat well!” – and this is the case for many people in larger bodies. Many fat people are conscious of their eating and they are physically active. Not all are, but nor are all thin people and no one, whatever their size, benefits from being discriminated against.

If you work in an area of government, public health or media that is involved in “obesity” campaigns, or if you know someone who does, I implore you to please take a moment to consider the impact of these campaigns. Please also take a moment to look at this study on stigma and this study on shame which discuss how public health campaigns and attitudes around obesity/weight may actually serve to damage health.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Chocolate is not unhealthy.

dietitian melbourne

This is something I often say to my clients. It’s very common for people to feel they “have a problem” with chocolate (insert other sweet food). When I ask my clients what they feel the problem is, the answer is often along the lines of “it’s bad for you” or “I eat too much of it” or “I need to lose weight”.

Let’s start with “It’s bad for you”…

No one food on its own is bad for your health. Eating 50g (or even 200g) of chocolate is not going to adversely affect your health, eating 10kg of chocolate in one sitting – if it were possible – would likely put you in hospital and quite possibly kill you! But so would eating 10kg of broccoli or drinking 10L of water in one sitting. The point being, it’s “the dose the that makes the poison”. 

This is when my clients might tell me “but I can’t just stop at 50g of chocolate, once I start, I can’t stop”. While there may be a number of reasons for this, one of the key reasons is labelling chocolate “bad” and trying to restrain yourself from eating it. At some point, restricting your eating nearly always leads to over-eating or binging, this has been well documented and if you have ever tried to control food intake through restriction, you’ll know what I am talking about.

Emotional hunger is another reason and this can be complex and often needs to be addressed with a skilled practitioner such a dietitian or psychologist who works in a weight neutral and non-diet space.

One of the biggest paradoxes with our dieting world, is that restricting food often leads to over-eating whereas allowing yourself to eat what you want when you feel like it, actually makes it easier to decide you’ve had enough. After all, when something is available all the time, we cease to be as excited by it and after a while, we may even lose interest. There are many biological, physiological and psychological reasons for this, which are explained in the books listed here.

In addition, when something tastes good and brings pleasure, why on earth do we insist this is bad for us? I think we can blame diet culture for this.

With respect to “I eat too much of it”…

When I ask my clients “what makes you think you eat too much?” The answer is usually to do with the sugar or fat content (or calories) and the idea that you can’t possibly lose weight eating chocolate. This is where it’s important to separate health from weight loss. There is clear evidence that shows people do not need to lose weight to see improvements in their health and in fact, focusing on weight loss often leads to poorer health. Click here for research. These facts aside, it is possible to eat chocolate and be a weight that is right your body.

If you can learn to separate your eating habits from weight loss, you can learn to enjoy chocolate, really enjoy chocolate, no guilt attached and still improve your health. The Non-Diet or Intuitive Eating approaches can help you with this. Separating your eating habits from weight loss can be difficult and you may need help from a skilled practitioner.

Lastly, I would like to argue that enjoying chocolate (insert other sweet food) is actually healthy. The ability to enjoy eating without fear, guilt or anxiety is pivotal to having a healthy relationship with food and your body. Having a healthy relationship with food and your body is vital for your overall health. Research shows time and time again, that the better your feel about yourself, the more likely you are to engage in healthy behaviours be they related to eating, being active, social or your mental health.

Thanks for reading and as always, I’s love to hear your thoughts on Facebook! The Moderation Movement.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without dieting or restricting food?
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If you regain weight after losing it, it’s not your fault…

When you regain weight after losing weight, it’s common to blame yourself for shortcomings.

FACT: If you regain weight after losing it, it’s not your fault…

It’s because our bodies are carefully designed to defend against weight loss. For most people, intentional weight loss involves a self imposed famine. Meaning, if you’re not giving your body enough food energy, it goes into famine mode, just as it would were there an actual famine.

Famine mode is designed to keep us alive when food is scarce.

Famine mode results into the brain going into hyperdrive thinking about food; food looks better, smells better, tastes better and you can’t help but think about food a lot of the time. Sound familiar?

Famine mode slows down our metabolism so we don’t need to eat much food to keep our bodies functioning.

Famine mode messes with our appetite hormones where your hunger and fullness hormones respond differently to when you’re adequately fed. You may not feel very hungry until you eat, and then you feel ravenous and want to eat everything. Your fullness hormone may then be slow to kick in allowing you to eat more food then usual.

 

non diet dietitian


Famine mode is a key reason people regain weight and NOT because:

  • You stopped the diet
  • You ate too much or the wrong food
  • You didn’t have enough willpower
  • You didn’t exercise hard enough
  • Your routine changed
  • You went on holiday and never “got back into it”
  • You started a new relationship and food was a big part
  • You didn’t try hard enough

For an alternative to pursuing weight loss and the way to avoid famine mode, click here. For more of the research on why diets and pursuing weight loss doesn’t work long-term, click here.

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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Want to learn how to nourish your body without having to diet or restrict food?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

Click the banner to grab your copy today!

non-diet dietitians Melbourne