we all need support – thoughts on how we should talk about weight loss

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we all deserve support - thoughts on how to have a conversation about weight loss in a respectful and supportive way

Last month I read this article in the New York Times titled, “Losing it in the Anti-Diet Age – the agonies of being overweight in a culture that likes to pretend it only cares about health, not size”

It’s a good article, worthy of reading. The article is a long one that took me several days to read, but it’s one I’m glad I made time for. The author, Taffy Brodesser-Akner, does a deep dive into weight loss culture as it has shifted over time, chronicling her own experiences as a fat person, and following the many formulations of Weight Watchers as the company has adapted to changing paradigms.

And here’s where we are today: pushing back against diet mentality, eating “clean”, sugar-phobic, knee-deep in healthy fats, and working hard on intuitive eating… but we don’t talk about weight loss.

I don’t talk about weight loss, and I’m a nutritionist whose MSc research was through Sweden’s national obesity centre. I don’t talk about weight loss because I want The Muffin Myth to be a size-positive space, and I don’t want to risk fat shaming or have people think they *should* lose weight to be healthy. But, where does that leave those who are looking to be supported on a weight loss journey?

Of the nutrition clients I see, a clear majority come with some sort of weight loss goal in mind. It’s usually framed within the context of wanting to eat well and put some strategies into place that work with their busy lives. But more often than not, shrinking into a smaller body is also on the agenda.

Here are some things I believe to be true:

Size does not equal health

Just so we’ve got a working definition, the WHO defines health as, “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

There are people of every shape and size who are perfectly healthy. And there are people of every shape and size who are unhealthy. Research has shown that it is more dangerous to be of “normal weight” and unfit than to be “overweight” and fit, and that fatness may actually be protective in some cases of critical illness.

Size does not equal happiness

Only happiness equals happiness, y’all, and it comes from within. If you’re thinking that achieving a smaller body size will bring you joy, it’s time to re-evaluate. This is something society tells us – that thinner people are happier / more successful / more motivated / more disciplined and frankly, that’s a crock of shit.

We need to push back against this and acknowledge that these are unfair stereotypes that often lead to cruel behaviours (fat shaming) and unhealthy behaviours (disordered eating and exercising). That doesn’t even begin to address the stigma that people in larger bodies encounter leading to reduced access to quality health care (Brodesser-Akner shares some of these experiences in the above article), discrimination in job interviews leading to fewer employment opportunities, and lower incomes.

We all deserve to be supported

For some folks, making a shift towards a healthier lifestyle – eating more plants, moving their bodies more – is linked with shrinking into a smaller body size. For me personally, it meant moving from a lifestyle that involved a lot (a lot!) of junk food and very little exercise, to a lifestyle with a lot (a lot!) of vegetables, mostly plant-based proteins, healthy whole grains, a little bit of well-placed junk food (celebrations!), and considerably more meaningful exercise.

In the spirit of full transparency, I think it’s important to mention that I definitely began my own weight loss journey because I wasn’t comfortable at the size I was. The gradual shift towards a healthier lifestyle (and the start of my formal education in nutrition!) was a result of my weight loss efforts, not the other way around.

Wanting to be in a smaller body is a complicated thing, because we have to consider the reason why. Is it outside forces? Is it society telling us that thinner is better? Is a smaller body a healthier body? And how does one talk about wanting to be in a smaller body without implying that larger bodies are unattractive? Because all bodies are beautiful, yo!

Other things to consider

I think it’s also important to address that not all weight loss efforts are motivated by a desire for attractiveness, or even by a person’s health. It’s not uncommon for a larger person to be denied health care (including surgery, fertility treatments, etc) until they have lost substantial weight. Often the reasons are complicated, personal, and emotional. Other reasons include athletic performance, whether aiming to compete in a certain weight category or looking to improve performance with a lighter body.

Let’s also keep in mind that there are plenty of reasons for a person to *not* want to lose weight. Maybe they’re fit and healthy and comfortable in their own skin. Maybe they’re not fit and healthy but they’re still comfortable in their own skin. And know that encouraging someone towards weight loss doesn’t always yield positive results. Statistically, 90% of weight loss has a 2-year outcome of a return to the starting weight, or surpassing it, with poorer health markers.

To be perfectly clear, I’m not trying to position myself as for or against weight loss. I’d rather be known as a nutrition professional who is open to supporting those who are body positive, and who is also open to supporting those who have ambition to lose weight.

So what do we do?

Existing in a space with simultaneous fat shaming and push-back against diet mentality is complicated. You shouldn’t want to diet! You should be a clean eating, intuitive eating, zen garden of body positivity, munching on your unicorn toast and sipping on your MCT-oil enhanced dairy-free latte, right?  

Well, that’s tough. So, can we open our minds and support one another? Can we create a healthy space for everyone whether they are body-positive or aiming to change their body? That, friends, is my goal here.

Now I’d like to ask you some specific questions: Can The Muffin Myth serve both body-positive followers AND those who are looking to lose weight for one reason or another? Has the body-positive aspect of The Muffin Myth been a draw for you over other sites with an overt focus on weight loss? I’d love to hear from you all – respectfully – in the comments section.



 

Comments

  1. One of the reasons I subscribe to The Muffin Myth is because of your approach to food. I think eating healthy is equated with weight loss. The foods we should all choose whether it’s to lose weight or be healthy are the same. We should eat to fuel our bodies and keep them running like a well oiled machine. This is what I feel The Muffin Myth is about.

    • Hey Sandra, thanks for commenting! I definitely agree that we should fuel our bodies to keep them running well. I do think, though, that healthy eating being equated to health loss isn’t necessarily accurate. True, for many people shifting towards eating a healthy diet results in losing some weight. Many others might eat the exact same healthy diet and remain in a larger body. Also, the assumption that an unhealthy diet is associated with a larger body is false and carries with it a lot of stigma. Furthermore what exactly does a healthy diet looks like in the first place. There are some general principles that we can all agree on (lots of plants!) but beyond that it’s a bit of a grey zone and different people feel healthiest with different ways of eating. These are questions that don’t have easy answers.

  2. I like that you talk about the positive health benefits of ingredients, rather than focusing on things not to have.
    I follow a few intuitive eating blogs and one in particular is very much about eating whatever you feel like, which just doesn’t work if you’ve spent years eating trash. There has to be a balance somewhere.

    • Thanks Lolly, that’s great feedback! I also follow a few intuitive eating blogs and while I think the approach is helpful for some people, it doesn’t feel quite right to me. This is something I’m planning to write about next in this series. And yes, I’m all about the balance!

  3. Dear Katie,

    Thanks for this post and you are right, society lets us believe that we should be thin and, that we will be happier when we are. I have never been good at dieting – if I am hungry I want to eat something. I have always told people that I diet between meals, when I am not feeling hungry 😉

    I think the problem comes when we eat for reasons other than hunger. We have been conditioned to see food as a reward and many of us tend to over eat when stressed or simply if we are feeling down. And it is very hard to override this unconscious emotional programming. When I am happy, relaxed and have had a good night’s sleep I will eat well and not over-eat. So I think we need to concentrate more on really being good to and looking ourselves rather than bashing ourselves with dieting plans that do not result in long term weight loss, anyway.

    Women in parcticular often have a very hung-up relationship to food and my colleague sometimes talks about “sinning” when indulging in a piece of cake. This is all rather sad. We need to enjoy good (indeed, mainly plant-based) food, I think, in the way that children do. When a child is ist full, they stop eating, however good that piece of cake is!

    On your other topic, I do find a lot of food advice very contradictory – functional medicine says no grains – only veggies and proteins. Vegans are very passionate, too. I cannot get by without good German wholegrain bread and the odd piece of cheese. My grandmother always told us with a smile: “a little of what you fancy does you good” – allowing myself to eat everything (normally) means I do not need to eat loads of junk food. (Apart from tortilla crisps – can’t stop eating them once started and feel unwell afterwards 🙂 !!!!!!!

    All the very best to you and your family 🙂

    • I think your grandmother’s advice is spot on, and I always tell my nutrition clients something similar. I agree, also, that it’s quite sad when we talk about “sinning” or “being naughty” in relation to food. It’s just food!

  4. I really like your blog. As an overweight vegetarian that is fairly fit and feel well in my body I don’t think many food blogs cater for me…but you do???? You also seem to have a very steady scientific/objective kind of approach to foods (not into food “fads”) and a nonjudgmental attitude that I appreciate. Thanks hon????

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