Why I Cringe at the ‘Weight Loss’ Health Goal
I’ll be honest, I cringe when I hear clients say their health goal is a number on the scale. Or their goal is to lose weight.
Because weight loss, as a primary goal, is relatively meaningless. Weight loss doesn’t equal better health. Causing the number on the scale to drop doesn’t mean you’ve learned better habits, and it certainly doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to keep it there.
A goal should be something related to an activity or an outcome that you can control.
Does this mean I don’t work with people who want to lose weight? Nope.
Does this mean my clients don’t lose weight as a result of my program? Nope.
This means that I’ll need to dig a little deeper to find out what they are actually struggling with, and how I can help them focus on building habits that lead to that specific outcome.
Weight loss as a goal is low hanging fruit. I know I can offer give clients a diet and workout plan and because all they care about is the number on the scale, they will pay for it, and they will lose weight.
If they follow it.
But they probably won’t. At least not for long.
Any program that has, at its center, a restrictive diet as the sole means to get results is a temporary solution at best.
What does a restrictive diet look like? Anything that asks you to count, measure, or categorically say no to an entire food group. Restrictive eating is suppressing your body’s natural hunger cues.
Have you been told:
“Drink more water so you won’t be hungry.”
”Drink hot coffee or tea to avoid getting hungry.”
“Chew gum to trick your body into thinking you’re eating.”
“Only eat for 4 hours during the day.”
“Shut down the kitchen after a certain time and under no circumstances allow yourself to eat, no matter how hungry you are.”
That’s all restricted eating.
You see, programs that use strategies like the ones i just mentioned relies heavily on willpower and motivation. Those are two finite resources that need to continuously be replenished.
Will it be effective?
But let’s be clear… the results will last ONLY as long as the restriction can be maintained. And while you might be able to train your body to adjust to this restriction, the mind will never fully get on board. It might go along with this for a little while… but let me tell you what’s been shown to happen over and over again. (Seriously, there are studies on this.)
You might keep up your limited food portions, your meticulously weighed protein servings, your designated cheat day, your ‘good behavior’, for a while. What will happen is that your body, which coincidentally has its own amazing weight management system that would gladly let YOU know how much you really need to eat to support a healthy weight at your current activity level by secreting hormones that regulate hunger and fullness, will eventually stop trying to send you hunger and fullness cues because it knows you just won’t listen.
When messages repeatedly fall on deaf ears, you just stop talking. This is your body after long term restricted eating. You can no longer determine actual hunger or satiety because you’re too conditioned to how much you’re allowed to eat.
So you’ll become heavily reliant on this external control of what you eat, and your body has become conditioned to what you’re putting into it (and what you’re not!), but your brain is still thinking about full fat lattes with whip. Or pizza. Or cheeseburgers. Or chocolate cake
And you know what’s going to happen? You’re going to snap. This ‘control’ you’ve been exercising over your diet through sheer willpower and motivation is going to wane… a cheat here, an extra bite there...until it comes crashing down in a great, glorious fashion and you’re going to binge.
And here’s the worst part… (seriously, this is the ABSOLUTE worst part!)
You’re going to think it’s your fault. You will feel guilty.
You will have a whole slew of negative thoughts about yourself that might sound like this:
“Oh my god what is wrong with me? Why am I so weak? I’m such a loser. Why can’t I just stick to the diet? It’s my fault for walking past this tempting bakery (or amazing smelling pizza place) I should have known better. Next time I’m going to be better. Well... i’m here, being bad, eating a slice of pizza that puts me way over my calories/points/carbs for the day…. I guess I might as well have another one. And another one. And a beer. Forget it, the day is blown I should just have dessert while I’m at it. I’ll start over tomorrow.”
And you’ll start over but it eventually happens again. And again.
You will try different diets looking for the holy grail… the ONE diet that’s going to stick. The one that ‘fits your lifestyle’. And you might find a few that allow you some of the foods you really like. But if you’re allowed to eat cheese and bacon there’s no bread. Maybe there’s bread, but there’s no dessert. Maybe there’s dessert but it’s only a teeeeeny tiny piece which just leaves you wanting more.
Any results you get will stick around only as long as you kept up the behavior that you got them in the first place.
The problem with a ‘weight loss’ focus is that by following a diet and exercise program that tells you what you can and can’t have, it just imposes certain rules over your behavior, and you haven’t learned anything….
…except how to follow someone else’s rules for what they should put in THEIR body.
Once you stop counting calories, points, carbs, or measuring portions or following the rules around what foods you can and cannot eat, but you don’t have a system in place to understand WHY you’re eating, not just WHAT or HOW much you’re eating, you’re going to go right back to whatever you were doing before that wasn’t working.
Bottom line? Diet and exercise is a bottom-up approach. It doesn’t solve the problem. It doesn’t change your approach to eating, it makes you wish you could have just one more bite. It makes you count down the days until your cheat meal.
It makes you obsess about what you can’t have.
So much so, that once you CAN have it, you have absolutely no control over it.
Or worse, you’ve built it up so much in your head that once you have it, it’s completely disappointing.
My clients learn a top-down approach that changes their mindset about food. It changes their beliefs around better health and what they are capable of becoming. It gives them the tools they need to be self-sufficient.
I work with clients who are done with dieting.
They want a long term solution. They want to understand WHY they eat when they’re not hungry.
And how to stop that.
They want to be able to go on vacation and not obsess. They want to get out of the feast or famine cycle of restriction, binge, guilt, further restriction.
It’s not that they don’t want to lose weight or they don’t care about the number on the scale.
It’s that the number on the scale is not as important as
having a healthy relationship with food
feeling like they can eat like a ‘normal person’ without obsessing, counting, or restricting
having energy, lowering their blood pressure, or getting their A1c under control
feeling in control of themselves around food
not fearing the urge to binge that’s right around the corner
understanding their emotional eating triggers
being present for mealtime
My clients learn a technique that puts them in control at every meal, whatever food or plate size might be put in front of them.They discover what caused them to put on weight in the first place and how to avoid a repeat performance.
My clients learn to manage stress, integrate self-care practices, and healthy habit development, so that when their time with me is over, they’re no longer left needing my watchful eye to make sure they ‘stick to a program’.
Are you ready to end the fight with food, the battle with the scale, and the war with your body?
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Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor or Registered Dietitian. The information presented is purely to share my experience and for entertainment purposes. As always, check with a doctor before making any fitness or nutrition changes. The author and blog disclaim liability for any damage, mishap, or injury that may occur from engaging in any activities or ideas from this site.