Losing Weight Is Never as Important as Gaining Health

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I’ve worked with a lot of diets in my life.  I was the person behind the table with the kind face and the tape measure.  It’s a really crappy place to be sometimes.

See, these diets; be they meal replacement, calorie control or the one that made you weigh your lettuce and eat strawberries and cream for lunch (yes, I’m serious!) are set up to look successful. Really, really successful. They are marketed, promoted and by and large, they initially work for a lot of people who then spread the word even further. The problem is that they don’t work for everyone. Nothing does, really.

So why are we surprised that despite a large number of people clamouring that ‘this is the perfect diet, the best way to lose weight’, it just doesn’t work? Whether you’re following it religiously and can’t lose an ounce or you just can’t stomach the thought of never seeing your favourite comfort food again, or perhaps you’ve been on it and doing great, until things slow down… because that’s the part they don’t tell you about.

Behind closed doors there are tears from those who just can’t stick to it, because this style of eating isn’t for them. The people who did stick to it, and it’s just not working for them. The people who did it, ‘won’ the prize, reached their goal weight and then had it piling back on in minutes.

For them, there is little support.

There is often blame (you’re not strong enough, you can’t do it if you’re weak), accusations (you mustn’t be doing what you say or it would work) or a sad shrug of the shoulders- sorry, this isn’t for you.

They are sent away full of blame and self-loathing. Many already have issues around food and body image and this is just another drop in the bucket of shame.

I hated it.

I hated the programs that set people up for failure so they’d keep coming back, that traded quick and ‘easy’ results for a long term solution.  I knew what was wrong, but I didn’t know how to fix it.

Growing up, I was the skinny kid, the one who looked like she needed a good meal. My life revolved around my Mum’s weird diets and obsession with failed weight loss attempts. I still remember the angry look in her eyes when she’d tell me ‘my turn was coming’ or ‘you’ll know what it feels like to be fat one day’. I was 12.

It was around then I realised I’d started to develop thighs… and I hated them. When I was working my first full time job, I tried on a size six formal dress for a lark, and it fit.  It was stunning, nothing like anything I’d worn before. All I could think (while wearing a size six dress) is that it would look just that bit better if my stomach was more toned.

As I got older, I got a little bigger, rounding out at a very pear-shaped ten. I tried the diets I put my clients on, and I hated them all. I felt deprived and miserable. I cheated and I didn’t stick to them, then I felt like a failure and a hypocrite.

I was glad to change jobs, into an industry more focused on holistic health. I started a degree in herbs and nutrition and started thinking more critically. If stress and starvation can slow the metabolism, why do we stress and starve ourselves thin?  I watched a documentary that put this into much better words than I could have (it’s called Hungry for Change). The pieces started coming together, but I wasn’t quite there.

Then I got sick.

A giant gallstone, the size of a golf ball meant I couldn’t eat for a few months.  I was on a long wait list for surgery and anything larger than a single sushi roll sent me into spasms.  In the last month I was living off 400-500 calories a day.  I looked fantastic.  I loved that I looked fantastic.  I hated that I cared.

Once I could eat again, I made the decision to be gentle with myself.  No more crazy diets. No more guilty binges. No more comments about my body in front of my kids. I noted how much better I felt- more energy, my hair grew back, no more sores in my mouth (malnutrition isn’t a walk in the park). That’s how I knew what to do next.  Live for health, not a size. Eat for energy, not a flat stomach. Give my body the nutrients it needs, and let my body figure out the rest.

Now, I’m at my heaviest. This is the time my insecurities should be at their worst.  With a seven month old baby I still have my mummy-tummy, my thighs have billowed a bit and I’m bigger all over, currently sitting at a size 12-14 and well into the ‘overweight’ BMI category. And yet I have never loved my body more. It wakes me up in the morning with a sparkle. It propels me through the day with little sleep but much happiness. It feeds my baby, cuddles my preppie, and shows my young teen that it’s OK to be happy with your own self.

Losing isn’t as powerful as gaining.

Losing weight can make you thinner, but it doesn’t make you feel better- physically or emotionally. Gaining health does.  Gaining energy. Confidence.

Here’s a thought- how about instead of losing weight, we should try to gain health.

Instead of depriving ourselves of food, we should just try to add more in- good foods like vegetables, fibre and water. Instead of torturing ourselves at the gym we should find something we love and do it every day.

Maybe, if we learn to love our bodies again, our bodies will love us back.

Maybe, if we treat our food with the respect it deserves, it will respect us back.

Have you suffered diet shame? Do you focus on your weight or your health? 

  • Jessica Chapman

    The flat stomach obsession is really a bit nuts, we went to see Aida the other day and as I was watching the dancers I noticed their stomachs were not flat. These were trained dancers with fantastic bodies and their stomachs wrinkled and rolled as they bent their torsos. I was reminded of one of the reasons I gave up trying to get a flat stomach, because I didn’t have one even when I was on the lower side of my healthy weight range and I realised, to have a completely flat stomach and a ‘thigh gap’ I would have to be underweight and I wanted to be healthy over thin.

    • http://dietofplenty.com/ Amy @ dietofplenty

      That’s why I wish photoshop was banned! I know plenty of gorgeous women- ones I know and look up to- and NOT ONE of them has a ‘perfect’ body.

  • http://www.thefountainside.com Sophia Russell

    I totally agree with this article. I still struggle to change my shift in thinking though. I remember reading in, of all places, Bridget Jones’ Diary, this section where Bridget is reciting all the calories in foods and how little she tries to eat when her friend, flabbergasted, says, “but don’t you need more calories to live?” The thought never entered her head. Food is for nourishment, not deprivation!

    • http://dietofplenty.com/ Amy @ dietofplenty

      I wish there was an easy answer but perfect body acceptance seems as hard to attain as that mythical perfect body or perfect diet! With the rise of conditions like Orthorexia nervosa (which is not a new thing, despite it’s sudden rise in the media) I think we just need to do the best we can and block out harmful messages in any way that works for us.