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If I Can’t Lose Weight, Then How Can I Be Healthy?

If I Can’t Lose Weight, Then How Can I Be Healthy?

Perhaps you’ve read the research on how diets don’t work. Perhaps you’ve dieted your whole life and can’t bear to put yourself through another round of the diet-binge cycle, or the weight rollercoaster. Maybe you feel mad or frustrated that you’ve been lied to this whole time; that you’ve been given tools that not only don’t work, but actually do the opposite of what they claim to do.

No matter what brought you here, you feel stuck. If dieting doesn’t work, then what does? If you can’t lose weight, how can you be healthy?

I’d like to start by saying that as someone who is in a smaller body (with many other privileges) and doesn’t have the lived experience of being in a larger size, and as someone who hasn’t lived in your shoes, I know I can’t fully relate to what you’re going through, nor do I know exactly what you need. However, these are some thoughts and strategies that have resonated with others, and I invite you to give them a try:

What Do You Truly Value?

As naturally social creatures, it can be easy for us to take on other people’s values and desires without realizing that they’re not necessarily our own. Think back to what motivated you to want to lose weight in the first place – was it something that you really wanted for yourself, or did it come from somewhere else, like a well-meaning family member, friend, personal trainer, or health professional? Even if it did come from within, like a desire for health or to fit in (literally and figuratively), is trying to manage your weight really the best way to live according to those values?

What exactly do you value? My colleague and mentor, Christy Harrison, calls dieting the Life Thief, because it steals your time, money, energy, brain space, and so on, until you feel so lost in it that you can’t think of anything else. Now that you’re starting to let go of dieting, ask yourself, what do you truly value? What do you really want in life? And if you’re feeling stuck, a quick Google of “values list” will bring up lots of different ideas. (Also, I might be the first health professional tell you this, but let me just say that it’s OK to not value health.)

Allow Yourself to Grieve

Letting go of dieting and weight loss can be uncomfortable and difficult, to say the least. So many of my clients have told me that they’ve been dieting since childhood, and there are some who have even built a career or reputation out of their body size, eating/lifestyle habits, and/or perceived health. You will probably have close friends and family members who are still dieting. As with any loss, it’s normal to go through the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. It’s normal for these stages to happen out of order, to be repeated, and/or to happen at the same time.

My friend, Certified Body Trust® provider Meredith Noble wrote this beautiful post on grieving the thin ideal. You may also find yourself grieving other things like, the praise you get for losing weight/eating “healthy”, the high of seeing a lower number on the scale, the camaraderie in swapping weight loss tips with your friends or colleagues, or relationships that you realize no longer serve you. This work is difficult, and it’s part of what makes it so hard to stick with it, but the freedom and peace you will feel as you heal your relationship with food and with your body will be worth it.

How Can I Care for My Body as it is Right Now?

This is a “trick” I learned from Australian dietitian and PhD candidate Fiona Willer in her recent appearance on the Don’t Salt My Game podcast. It was shared in the context of “what to say if your doctor tells you to lose weight,” but can definitely be adapted for everyday use.

So, here goes: It’s not uncommon for doctors to tell their larger patients to lose weight for a myriad of reasons. The next time the doctor does that to you, try saying, “That’s all well and good, but obviously weight loss would take time/it’s statistically improbable/I’ve tried that and it didn’t work, so what can I do right now?” If your doctor needs an extra poke, you might also add, “What do you tell your thin patients who have the same condition as me?”

How this can be adapted for everyday use is that you can ask yourself this same question every day. “What can I do to care for myself right now?” “What can I do to get closer to having my needs met right now?” “How can I help myself to feel good/better right now?”

These may seem like simple questions, but it can be difficult if you’ve put your life on hold until you reached a certain size or weight, or if you’re in the habit of putting others’ needs before your own. It’s OK if you don’t get it all right away. It’s OK if it takes years for you to get it. As long as you’re making space to ask yourself what you need, feel the discomfort of your grief, and stay true to your values, you’ve got this.

Where are you in your journey of letting go of dieting and weight loss? What advice do you have to offer to others? Please share your thoughts and insights in the comments below. If you’re looking for additional support, I’m always happy to provide it.

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9 Comments

  • Theresa on Jan 04, 2019 Reply

    I’ve been following you on Twitter as well as some of your suggested bloggers. I’m starting to feel less desperate than I did in my last post. I appreciate the opportunity to grow in knowledge and awareness.
    Thank you!

    • Vincci Tsui on Jan 04, 2019 Reply

      Thank you so much for your kind feedback, Theresa! I’m so grateful to hear that you find our work helpful 🙂

  • Caitlin on Dec 11, 2018 Reply

    Phenomenal piece, thank you so much for writing and sharing. I am an RD and I struggle daily with the demand for “weight loss” counseling by my physicians and patients. I love “if you can’t lose weight, how can you be healthy?” I’m going to use that. Thank you.

    • Vincci Tsui on Dec 11, 2018 Reply

      Thanks so much for your kind feedback, Caitlin!

  • Thrresa on Nov 04, 2018 Reply

    Where am I in the journey of letting go? I don’t know if I can ever let go. Once I had a successful loss I had so many amazing things happen. I was 40 and felt one thousand times better than I did at 30. People “saw me” for the first time in everyday activities. Eye contact, doors being held, people thinking I was smarter than I’d experienced before, better service, a more attentive doctor, a body that didn’t hurt, I could shop for clothes and buy what I liked instead of what fit, comfortable flights, and so many more events in the short time I stayed at goal. (8 months maybe? It was a blurr as it came back on, lightning fast). I still don’t understand how it happened that fast. Letting go of the possibility to have even some of that back would mean accepting almost a death sentence. I know that sounds dramatic but currently I do feel like this. I don’t really have advice for others except for convincing them to NOT diet their way to obesity in the first place.

    • Vincci Tsui on Nov 04, 2018 Reply

      Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your thoughts, Theresa. Your experience speaks so much to the prevalence and the pain of weight stigma in our society; not just in how you are treated by others, but also in the clothing sizes that are available or how airlines would rather squeeze in more seats rather than ensuring people would have a comfortable flight. When it feels like weight loss is the only way to avoid this stigma, of course the idea of accepting your body as it is would seem like a death sentence. I also don’t really have any advice other than to say that it’s not you, but the system, our society, that needs to change.

  • Cheryl Strachan on Nov 01, 2018 Reply

    Another heartfelt, life-saving post Vincci. Sharing some more.

  • Sebastian on Oct 31, 2018 Reply

    Great article. I love giving my clients reading homework and this is great.

    • Vincci Tsui on Nov 04, 2018 Reply

      Thanks, Sebastian!

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