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Why I No Longer Help People Lose Weight

Why I No Longer Help People Lose Weight

About a year ago, I decided to turn this practice from “side hustle” to “moving toward full-time gig”. One of the first things you learn as a businessperson is to “find a niche”. At the time, I’d worked at a bariatric clinic for over three years, so naturally, I picked weight management as one of my niches, especially since it was a service that many people ask for.

I know that going from “I specialize in weight management” to “I no longer help people lose weight” feels like a sudden, surprising about-face, and one of my deepest fears in writing this post is that clients who have paid me to help them lose weight may feel like I am betraying or cheating them.

But as I look back at my work from the past few years, like this post on obesity myths I wrote a year ago, or this article on body positivity and weight I wrote three months ago, I see that this has been a gradual evolution, and for those who have been following me for a while, perhaps you have just been waiting for me to finally come out of the closet.

Tiny Rumblings

From the start, weight management wasn’t a niche that I was 100% comfortable with – I knew that instead of the medically complicated cases that I often came across at the bariatric clinic, I would more likely see perfectly healthy people who didn’t necessarily have anything to gain health-wise from losing weight, but wanted to see a number on the scale that would make them more comfortable.

My marketing messaging was non-specific, stating that I worked with people who were “craving more than standard nutrition advice”, hoping that I’d attract people who wanted something more than weight loss. As recently as two months ago, I was still reaching out to some of my friends via email, asking them to look at my website and tell me – “What is my niche?”

The Turning Point

A few months ago, I was searching for nutrition podcasts when I found Food Psych by Brooklyn-based dietitian Christy Harrison, who is an anti-diet, Intuitive Eating coach.

I’d read Intuitive Eating early on in my career as a dietitian, but abandoned that philosophy the more I worked with people who wanted to lose weight, and got good at teaching people about calories. I was also hesitant to identify with Health at Every Size (HAES), due to reports that some of the data used to back up the movement were cherry-picked and inaccurate.

It feels sort of silly to credit my transition to an anti-diet, weight-neutral approach to a single podcast, but I can honestly say Food Psych was really the strongest force pushing me in that direction. Hearing the stories of Christy’s interviewees’ struggles with dieting and disordered eating made me wonder whether I was inadvertently causing harm by helping people lose weight, however sensibly. I mean, was I contributing to the diet culture narrative that losing weight can bring happiness? Was I actually planting the seeds for an unhealthy obsession with food or calories by calculating someone’s estimated energy needs, or reviewing their food journal?

Does 'sensible' #weightloss still contribute to the #diet culture narrative that thin is better? Click To Tweet

I listened to episodes where Christy talked about going through the same transition in her practice, and how yes, she lost clients in the beginning, but in the long-term it actually helped her business. One episode that sticks out for me in particular is one where she interviews Intuitive Eating co-author Evelyn Tribole – while many of Christy’s guests (and Christy herself) have recovered from a long history of dieting and disordered eating, Evelyn was unique in that she shared that she had always had a healthy relationship with food. I, too, am lucky in that I’ve never struggled with my body image or relationship with food, and it was encouraging to learn that someone who is regarded as a leader in the field has not had those struggles as well.

Food Psych was the loudest voice, but not the only voice. I’m grateful to Rebecca Scritchfield for recording a Facebook Live and a podcast in response to (I think) a question I posted in a Facebook group. I’m grateful to the Moderation Movement for their insightful posts that make me want to click “Share” every day. I’m grateful to this article about bariatric surgery in the New York Times, which was fascinating, but ultimately sad that it ended with two people who were unhappy that they “didn’t lose enough weight”. I’m grateful to learning about how common disordered eating is, and wondering why I “never saw those people”. I’m grateful to my friend Emma, for reminding me that I’m “probably still providing […] the same or [very] similar services but [my] bigger picture practice has a new mission”. I’m grateful to my friend Casey for declaring “I think promoting weight loss is unethical,” at the end of a movie night, knowing full well what I do for a living, and for this:

Where Do We Go From Here?

I don’t expect anyone to just decide that they’re not interested in losing weight anymore overnight. You might be thinking, “Well, you’ve never had to diet, you don’t know what it’s like.” True – I come from a place of thin privilege, and do not truly know the prejudice that fat people face. Still, if I wrote this post as someone with a fat body, I know some people would say, “You’re just giving up because you can’t lose weight yourself.” Haters gonna hate. I know this is a radical, unconventional position to take.

The crux of the situation is that for too long, diet culture has duped us into thinking that we have control over our weight – we just need to find the perfect diet, the magic pill. And at what cost? People with larger bodies being wrongly accused of being lazy, stupid, incompetent. Generations of (mostly) women chasing the next big thing, obsessing over every morsel that passes their lips or every pound that shows up on the scale, never really feeling good enough. The guilt that comes with eating anything that remotely tastes good. Millions of dollars poured into researching the (really, let’s face it) meaningless debate of low-carb vs low-fat. Heck, Oprah Winfrey is one of the most wealthy, influential women in the world, and if this month’s magazines are any indication, the most interesting thing about her is her weight loss.

I’m tired of contributing to this diet culture lie. I want to get back to focusing on health – physically and mentally. On helping people feel good. Yes, that will sometimes mean eating more vegetables. Yes, you might lose weight as a result. You might not lose weight. You might gain weight. Does that make vegetables any less nourishing? NO.

As I embark on this new direction in my practice, I ask for your patience and guidance. I know it’s all too easy to give into the pull of diet culture, and I want to be one of the voices that help get us out.

24 Comments

  • Patti Morris on Feb 06, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for your thought-provoking posts Vincci. Very interesting and helpful perspective.

    • Vincci Tsui on Feb 06, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for reading, Patti!

  • Bronwyn on Jan 24, 2017 Reply

    Beautifully said Vincci, as Casey says “Bravo”! I think it’s a fantastic move, and while it might not be the current most popular paradigm, I think we’re really heading that way. I also love seeing how many dietitians are HAES/intuitive eating supporters, I feel like it is a very strong belief in our profession (or growing at least).

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 24, 2017 Reply

      Thank you for your kind words, Bronwyn!

  • Lori on Jan 22, 2017 Reply

    I had tendencies toward mindful eating, HAES and rejecting diets but entered the weight management program at my doctors suggestion. That’s where I met you. As I was starting to look at the exit sign, I had a meeting with you where I expressed frustration at having gained a few pounds after eating really well for a week, then losing a few after eating poorly the week after. You said to me “there are no straight lines” What a relief that was! I felt off the hook for the first time since entering the program. The more that phrase looped in my brain “there are no straight lines” the more I thought ‘then what the hell am I doing in a weight management program?’ I’ve been overweight all my adult life but never really “struggled with my weight” until entering that program. I didn’t like how it felt. And with this new revelation “there are no straight lines” running on repeat – I excused myself from the program. Maybe I’ll lose weight, maybe I’ll never be able to lose weight, but I feel better when I treat myself well. When I eat veggies and cookies and go for a walk and take a bubble bath. Your coming out was no surprise to me because you inspired me in this direction and I’m on a whole new path. I’ve found people who inspire me; you, still and Casey -what a treat she is, and I’m still obese but I’m no longer struggling with my weight. Thank you! Thank you for your encouragement that day in your office and thank you for this article. Honest and vulnerable. I wish you all the success in the world!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 23, 2017 Reply

      Lori, I am so touched and moved by your comment – I had no idea that what I said that day had such a profound impact on you. Thank you for sharing that with me. It pains me to learn that you “never really ‘struggled with [your] weight’ until entering that program”, and confirms my suspicion that even “sensible” weight loss can be harmful.

      I find it so inspiring to hear you say “Maybe I’ll lose weight, maybe I’ll never be able to lose weight, but I feel better when I treat myself well” and “I’m still obese but I’m no longer struggling with my weight.” It sounds like you are back on your proper path and I also wish you all the success in the world!

    • Casey Berglund on Mar 06, 2017 Reply

      What a beautiful comment :)! Lori, YOU are awesome!

  • Becky on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    Hallelujah! So refreshing, not to mention inspiring, to see you step away from the weight loss paradigm and embrace the less popularized path of health, wellness and listening to our bodies. As a fellow RD I have, and continue, to struggle with getting people to shift the focus away from the scale and concentrate on healthy food choices and fostering a better relationship with themselves and their food. It’s a constant challenge, but hoping that this shift in thinking will catch on in time. So glad to hear that you are “coming out” and embracing this movement! I look forward to future posts.

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, Becky! I really appreciate your support.

  • Sarah O'Hara on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    I absolutely loved reading this, and totally identify with your stance as I have moved into this direction as an RD as well. Bravo!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thank you, Sarah! It means a lot to me to hear that other RDs are embracing this philosophy and movement.

  • Christina seely on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    Hi Vincci, ever since that obesity conference where we learned so much about why it’s so hard to keep weight off I’ve tried to minimize weight on my discussions. It’s hard as weight is often a top thing people want to focus on and they can lose all interest if you won’t focus on that. I think the mindful eating and HAES movements are gaining a lot of momentum among RDs. Not much in the nutrition schools yet. Good luck with the newer focus

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thanks for your comment, Christina! That’s so interesting that the obesity conference made you want to minimize weight in discussions, and I agree there is a worry that people will lose interest if you won’t help them lose weight. I’m hopeful that the body positive and HAES movements take hold.

  • Shannon on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    This makes me so happy. Congrats on “coming out” 🙂

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Shannon! Your support means a lot to me.

  • Rebecca Scritchfield on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    It’s a journey… stay curious… In case you don’t know, you might like my free e-course (link below) and the Body Kindness podcast starts back up weekly with a blend of interviews and sessions with Bernie where we keep each other posted on our Body Kindness practice.

    Rebecca

    PS I recommend you join ASDAH. It’s inexpensive and very valuable. Or at least start with their free webinars at their website. Are you in #RD4BC we are always looking for volunteers!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thank you for sharing all of these resources, Rebecca! Your support means a lot to me. I only recently discovered the ASDAH website; thank you for suggesting that I look into a membership, it looks like a great resource. Also, I’ve signed up for RD4BC but haven’t received any emails – is that normal? I would love to volunteer!

  • Jen @ pretty little grub on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    Love this! I think it’s so fantastic you found what you feel your purpose is.
    It’s so hard when it feels what everyone wants is weight loss but it’s not something you agree with. It’s been a huge struggle of mine too and I love that you’re stepping out. Wish you all the luck.

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Jen!

  • Anar J on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

    Great write-up Vinci! Look forward to reading your future blogs.

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Anar!

  • Casey Berglund on Jan 18, 2017 Reply

    Bravo, my friend. What a powerful and honest post. You’ve totally got this, and your future clients will be so damn grateful.

    With all my support,

    Casey

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 19, 2017 Reply

      Thanks, Casey! Your support means a lot to me.

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