Sometimes we need to take concepts loaded with history and layers of social meaning and unpack them before we use them – or if we even use them at all! ‘Lose weight’ is one of those concepts along with ‘get in shape’, ‘get healthy’, ‘get fit’, and they’re usually all mixed in with one another. New Years Resolutions are filled with all kinds of vague and loaded health-related aims that almost seem like they ‘should just be’ on the list without question. Now the point of this blog isn’t to tell you not to have health-related resolutions, it’s to offer all of us an opportunity to examine what it is that we’re really trying to say if they are headed for the list. I have outlined below some of the common thoughts sitting behind ‘lose weight’.
It’s been hard to be my body size because of the social stigma and all I can think of to do is lose weight to change that experience
This is a common one which often underpins many of the other points in this list as well. If you’re in a bigger body you know what this stigma can be like, and it gets more intense the further one is along the weight spectrum. Weight stigma is based on stereotypes about larger people – lazy, unmotivated, gluttonous, uneducated, out of control, lacking in self-respect etc. Often, the desire to lose weight can be an attempt to distance oneself from the social stigma related to body size. Ask yourself – if stigma didn’t exist around my body size, how would this change my relationship with my body size and myself? Losing weight has shown to be ineffective for significantly reducing internalised weight stigma (where one believes fat stereotypes apply to them) and is associated with harmful physical, mental and social impacts. Even after weight loss, individuals are still likely to hold residual stigma about their previous body size which maintains psychological distress. This is why it’s important to channel that energy outwards to culture change instead of directing it at the self – after all, weight stigma has been named a public health issue.
Aim to learn more about weight stigma, weight bias and internalised fat phobia, The Body Image School has a course on Internalised Fat Phobia to help you explore this topic.
I’ve been feeling more tired, less energetic and unhealthy in my body for a while now and if I lose weight that will change.
There are two pathways to explore here: feeling tired and less energetic are valid experiences and worth investigation if they’re impacting your life, but let’s be less hasty about connecting it to weight. Questions to ask are: what may be contributing to low energy levels beyond weight? What is health for me? How do I know I'm unhealthy? It’s not uncommon for weight bias in medical professionals to lead them to not take symptoms seriously and blame weight, when there may be something else going on. Secondly, for decades, weight science research and health promotion have focused on weight loss as the holy grail for producing positive health effects like more energy and improved health, for example. This has encouraged us as a culture to give weight loss the credit for health improvements, without considering the other factors which may have been present like increased fruits and vegetables, movement, limiting alcohol and not smoking. Research which takes a weight inclusive or neutral approach is recognising the benefits of health behaviours even if weight change doesn’t occur, for people in all body sizes.
See a Health At Every Size dietitian to explore your relationship with food and develop appropriate nutrition related aims for your health.
Get a general health check-up from a weight inclusive medical practice, if possible - they are still a little rare. The other route is to explore self-advocacy.
Focus on health behaviours rather than weight loss if health is your aim – remembering not everyone loses weight when they do these behaviours, and doing health behaviours requires a certain level of access and socioeconomic privilege. Health is also not a moral imperative!
I really want to be in a relationship, if I lose weight I’ll feel attractive and sexy and be able to find someone.
Wanting to be in a relationship is absolutely valid and for many, a human desire and need to experience intimacy - emotional and physical, and a sense of security with another. Many of us have formed concepts of what relationships are meant to look like through TV, movies, pornography and old patriarchal ideals even modelled in our own families – this includes body ideals and appearances that are considered to be ‘lovable’ and ‘wanted’. Hold in mind that outside of this cultural conditioning people of all shapes, sizes and abilities do experience loving, respectful romantic and/or sexual connection. It’s not just reserved for people in smaller bodies. Internalised fat phobia can distort being able to perceive yourself and even your body as sexy or desirable. Unpack what ‘attractive’ and ‘sexy’ mean to you – it may seem cliché, but those are usually feelings that come from inside. If you’re sitting with feelings of self-loathing, low self-esteem and poor body image, changing your weight will do little, if anything, to meaningfully shift how you think and feel about yourself.
Do some journaling around where your concepts of attractiveness and sexiness came from, how they were formed, and how they are reinforced in your life currently.
Explore sensuality and embodiment to feel comfortable relating to your body in a pleasurable way – this may even include masturbation.
I can’t stand the way I look and how I look in clothes, it’s all I think about and I’m always checking myself in the mirror, if I could just lose weight I wouldn’t worry as much.
Body image issues and the behaviours that are used to try and alleviate the distress, like body checking cannot be solved with weight loss. The distress – anxiety, disappointment, shame, fear, sadness when seeing your body reflected back to you has little to do with your actual physical body and more to do with the way your brain is perceiving your body. Body image issues can be complex, layered and a part of other mental health issues like eating disorders, trauma, social anxiety and body dysmorphia (not an extensive list!). Attempting weight loss or further weight loss in an attempt to like what you see in the mirror is often a futile task to give yourself. Most find that even if they get to a weight they ‘like the look of’ anxiety is still sitting in the background as the underlying factors fuelling body image issues are still there.
Consider working with a weight inclusive therapist that works with body image and related concerns
Follow different body sizes through your social media to let your brain know body diversity exists
Wear clothes that actually fit and chuck out clothes that don’t