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.
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
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.