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.

 

HAES dietitian Melbourne

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
    ….
    .
    and the most common reason I see with my clients…

    .
  • 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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“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss”

It’s not too late to change your New Years resolution; repeat…

“From now on I will no longer get sucked in by products or people promising weight loss.”

Social media is rife with people, products and advertisements that promise weight loss. Some ads are clearly ads while others ads are disguised by the people who promote them, often popular social media influencers, bloggers and celebrities.

I learned today from a friend and social media influencer, Tara Leong (aka The Nutrition Guru and The Chef), that people can be paid upward of $450 for one post/blog showing them using the product. Tara says to look for these hashtags as a sign someone is being paid #collab, #ad, #ambassador, #spon, #partner or #partnership. If you want to learn more about this, read Tara’s excellent piece on this.

 

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It should come as no surprise that the advertising/marketing industry generally cares more about money than people, I’m sure even the most easily influenced people can recognise this. So why do we continue to get sucked in by marketing?

Trust – As humans we need to trust others, and when our trusted role models or people we respect get on board the marketing train, we want to believe them. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of the people promoting products actually don’t realise the harm they are doing, after all, many of these people are in naturally smaller bodies and haven’t experienced a lifetime battle with food, exercise and weight. Some of them may truly believe what they’re promoting will work. But if you’ve tried everything and nothing seems to work long-term, then perhaps it’s time to start questioning the products.

Hope – Hope is also a key aspect of being human and it’s human nature to feel that “this time, this one will work”. Most, if not all, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

Desire – We live in a world where being thinner is equated with success, worthiness, attractiveness, health and happiness. It’s completely normal to have a strong desire for these things. Again, weight loss products and people promoting them play on this emotion. 

When your well meaning doctor or health professional also suggests you should lose weight, this reinforces these desires and even provides a medical reason why you should do it – despite the fact that actual evidence that weight loss improves health long term is lacking.

Exposure – products and people that promote weight loss are constantly in our face, making it very difficult to ignore. Even more so as weight loss is such an emotionally charged subject.

Having given you a bunch of reasons why it’s so easy to get sucked in to the latest weight loss (aka healthy lifestyle) trend or product, if you experience an on-going battle with your eating and body, here are a bunch of reasons to reflect on in order to NOT get sucked in…

  • Any results you gained were short-term and you regained the weight.
  • You didn’t get the results you’d hoped for and you felt a deep sense of failure and shame.
  • You were left feeling worse about yourself when it didn’t work, or after you regained any lost weight.
  • In your years of trying to lose weight, you’ve actually become heavier.
  • You wasted your hard earned money on something that didn’t bring about the results you so dearly hoped for.
  • You wasted your precious time and energy on something that didn’t only fail you, but that also probably made you feel worse.
  • The product or program made you feel miserable, you felt hungry, the food was “as boring as bat shit” (as one friend said to me recently) and you missed out on delicious food at parties, dinners or other occasions.
  • The evidence simply doesn’t exist for a product or program that leads to permanent long-term weight loss.

Note: if you feel a particular weight loss product or program has worked for you, then great, but please understand that for most people any results are not maintained long-term and this can lead to a worsening in physical and mental health.

So what can you do?

Here’s a radical idea… have you ever tried to focus on improving your health without weight loss at a goal? The Health At Every Size HAES paradigm allows you to do this through explore these avenues…

  • Learning to eat in a way that is both nourishing and pleasurable – this can be done through intuitive eating
  • If you really feel unhappy in your body, looking at ways to start feeling better in your body that don’t depend on weight loss (the HAES approach is not anti-weight loss, if weight loss occurs as a by product of changing health behaviours then this can be welcomed)
  • For many people, addressing body image concerns is a key part of learning how to truly take care of your body
  • Finding ways to move more that feel good,  that fit in with your lifestyle and that have you wanting to participate for the joy of being active rather than to lose weight 

Need help?

We strongly recommend you seek help from a HAES practitioner in Australia or overseas

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Can DNA testing help you lose weight?

After seeing the findings and advice from one lab, you’re more likely to end up heavier.

Can personalised genetics or DNA testing in relation to how you eat be useful? One of my clients was curious to know, so she went online and completed the application.

weight loss


My clients assessment was in relation to body size and shape, body weight, ability to lose weight and how the body handles fat and the impact this has on lipid profile. The claim is that your genetic profile can give you information on these factors and how to eat to best manage them.

I’m not going to comment on how accurate the findings are, as I simply don’t know. What I would like to comment on, is the advice given to my client… and there is so much wrong with this advice it’s hard to know where to start.

She was advised (suggested with the help of a health professional) to reduce total calories per day by a substantial amount – similar to what is recommended by most diets or weight loss programs – and to exercise for at least 30 minutes most days.

Aside from the advice being the exact same stock standard generally unhelpful advice you can find anywhere, there was no consideration of;

  1. What my client was currently eating or doing exercise wise. Had my client already been restricting, such advice could be highly nutritionally compromising, or heading toward an eating disorder.
    .
  2. How many times my client had tried this before and lost weight and then regained.
    ..
  3. My clients current weight now being at its heaviest after 15 years of trying to do exactly what they suggested.
    .
  4. Previous calorie restriction resulting in over-eating and and an increased desire to eat sugary food. Something we have been working on for almost 2 years now and which my client is seeing improvements with.
    .
  5. My clients psychological health after 15 years of struggling with dieting and weight, which when she first came to see me had left her with a very damaged relationship with food and body.
    .
  6. What my client might already be doing to address her health and where she is at with this, and the impact that their advice might have on her progress.

Quite frankly, I’m stunned and appalled. This DNA testing is simply dieting repackaged without any serious consideration for the person’s lived experience or psychological status.

My advice – don’t waste your time or money.

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Diet culture sucks!

Do you want to fight back against diet culture? You can. Try out any of these responses next time you hear someone talk about food in the context of weight or “being good”.

Diet culture: “you’re so disciplined”

You: “not particularly, I genuinely look forward to eating this… look how colourful it is!”

Diet culture: “I wish I could eat that”

You: “you can! Here have some, just pop in your mouth and chew”

Diet culture: “that looks so naughty”

You: “really, I don’t think it’s done anything bad… and it’s so yummy, it’s divine!”

Diet culture: “you’re so good, I wish I could be like you”

You: “you can, it’s easy*, just eat whatever you’re hungry for”

Diet culture: “I’d get fat if I ate that…”

You: “You’re telling me if you ate this, you’d wake up fat tomorrow?”

Diet culture: “is this your cheat day?”

You: “nope, I don’t need those to enjoy my food”

 

Melbourne dietitian


In summary…

No, it’s not OK to comment on someone else’s food – unless of course you’re saying how yummy it looks!

Eating a salad doesn’t have to mean you’re on a diet, watching your weight or being good. Ideally it means you enjoy and want to eat a salad.

Choosing to eat a toasted cheese sandwich or burger doesn’t have to mean you’re being indulgent, naughty or having a cheat day. Ideally you’re eating that food because it’s what you really feel like and it’s satisfying.

If you’re eyeing someone else’s lunch and thinking “ooh that looks good, I wish I could eat that…” my advice (if you asked me), would be to eat the goddamn food, you may just be pleasantly surprised!

This is just a small taste (pardon then pun), of what intuitive eating is all about… often learning how to eat intuitively again is complex, if you struggle with your eating or body image, please seek help from a professional who is experienced with intuitive eating and is aligned with HAES principles.

dietitian melbourne

 

 

 

Do you have a healthy relationship with food? – take our free quiz to find out
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It’s ok to choose not to include certain food in your diet

As a non-diet dietitian, I don’t often post about the choice not to eat certain food, or to follow particular style of eating.

When it comes to nutrition and how we eat, nothing is black and white. There is no one right way of eating and no one wrong way of eating.

Unless you have a food allergy or intolerance, no one food type will cause you ill health and no one food type will give you health.

Just as it’s ok to eat whatever you feel like, it’s also ok to choose not to eat a certain food or type of food if that’s what feels right for you.

Having a highly nutritious diet does not make you immune from health issues and having a less nutritious diet doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll suffer from a diet related disease.

Because we can’t be black and white, we can’t say that following a particular style of eating is wrong, even if we don’t agree with it.

However you choose to eat and whatever label you might put on it, such as low carb, paleo, vegan, sugar free, as long as you are making this choice because it’s what feels right for you, and it doesn’t cause any distress, then this is not going against non-diet or intuitive eating.

dietitian healthy eating

Recently I had dinner with a friend who has chosen a low carb way of eating. We were able to share a delicious meal and she simply chose not to eat a couple of things. This caused her no distress and she didn’t feel she was missing out in any way. However, the difference between my friend’s experience with eating and most of my clients, is my clients have often had a life-time of struggling with their eating and body image, without the dietary changes yielding the results they had hoped for.

As nutrition professionals, we need to respect other people’s decision with how to eat, if that’s what they’re comfortable with and especially if they haven’t asked for our opinion. As nutrition professionals, if people look to us for guidance, then we have the right to advise as we see fit and in a fashion that holds up to our clinical experience and to current evidence. As individuals, we all need to consider that what works for us, may not be what’s best for someone else, and we also need to respect other people’s decision with how to eat, if that’s what they’re comfortable with and if they haven’t asked for our opinion. Discussing nutrition with people you know well and perhaps giving some tips is most likely fine – however – unless you are a nutrition professional, you probably shouldn’t be giving specific nutrition advice to the general population, or people you don’t know well.

As a non-diet dietitian, I encourage my clients to lift any food restrictions or food rules and to start enjoying all foods. For people who have experienced distress with their eating and body weight/size for many years, this is an important first step. It is important because the restrictions or food rules have not brought about the desired changes, at least not long-term, and very often the person is trapped in a cycle of disordered eating and damaged psychological health. Breaking this cycle, requires healing one’s relationship with food and body and this requires lifting restrictions around food. However, once a person has healed their relationship with food and body, they may then find themselves in a place where they can manipulate their diet in a way that feels right for them. 

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?
Learn about intuitive eating with our ebook Nourish.

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non-diet dietitians Melbourne

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?
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non-diet dietitians Melbourne