"At this point we are faced with the real question: is the problem that people remain fat, or is the problem our inability (and theirs) to accept that instead of size, the goal is helping people to connect with their unique needs and to respond with loving self-care regardless of size?"
— Kathy Kater, LICSW
Clients frequently come to me in tears after their doctor tells them that they need to lose weight. The implication from the doctor is that their health problems will magically disappear if they do so. The implication from our society is that they will be happy if they do so.
There are several profound and dangerous flaws in these notions.
1) That health will improve with weight loss:
- First of all, there is no proven effective way to lose weight and keep it off for the long-term. In fact, most strategies ultimately result in weight gain.
- Health (physical, psychological, spiritual) is a complex combination of many factors, including genetics, environment, and lifestyle behaviors. It is not a function of weight. Health parameters such as blood pressure and blood sugar have been shown to improve with lifestyle changes that don't include weight loss.
- The ways in which patients are told to lose weight actually perpetuate a cycle of losing and gaining weight, which has been shown to do more damage to the body than simply maintaining a higher weight.
- Individuals who are told by their doctor to lose weight and are unable to do so are less likely to go back for follow-up care due to shame. Thus, their medical issues don't actually get addressed.
2) That weight loss will result in happiness:
- We live in a culture that stigmatizes and shames people of higher weights. Being at a higher weight can be traumatizing. This perpetuates the myth that thinness = happiness.
- The behaviors that it would take for a heavier person to achieve and maintain a socially acceptable weight would make them miserable, not happy.
- Happiness is best achieved through self-acceptance, self-care and self-compassion. When we do this we live a life according to our values, which is much more likely to result in happiness than shaming yourself to a lower weight (which is a futile effort anyway).
By rejecting these faulty assumptions that weight loss will improve your health and make you happy, you are free from the bondage of trying to force your body into a box that's too small and that ultimately suffocates your soul.