Do I need to lose weight to be healthy?

Meal plans can be used as a way to lose weight

When you think of ways you can improve your health what comes to mind?

For many people, the answer is weight loss because we are told that our weight greatly influences our health.

Gaining weight makes us less healthy and losing weight makes us more healthy. It’s that simple. 

But what if I told you that weight loss is not the guaranteed ticket to health we have been promised? What if you could be healthy at the weight you are right now.

We don't have much control over our weight

The health and diet industry would like you to believe that you control your body weight. The old mantra of “calories in calories out” makes weight loss seem like a simple mathematical equation. Eat less, move more and you will achieve the body of your dreams.

But that is not true. 

You actually have very little control over the size of your body. Just like we all are different heights, we are all different body weights and 70% of these differences are due to our genetics1Our genes influence how our body changes in response to our environment and lifestyle choices. They explain why following another person’s diet and exercise regimen won’t give you their body. You each have different genes.

Your body is also biologically programmed to keep your weight and body fat within a tightly controlled range. A part of your brain called the hypothalamus is responsible for this. When you lose weight and fall below your programmed weight range your hypothalamus gets to work. It releases more hunger hormones to increase your food intake and it slows down your metabolism so you store more food away as fat2

Trying to override these biological mechanisms through dieting is almost impossible in the long-term and is the reason why diets don’t work. The problem is not with you and your lack of willpower. The problem is with diets and their false promise of weight loss.

Dieting for weight loss can harm your health

Not only do diets fail you when it comes to weight loss, they can also harm your health. 

We know our body wants to remain in its programmed weight range which is why people regain weight within 1-5 years of losing it. But this weight regain sets you on the path of weight cycling.

Weight cycling is when you lose weight through dieting but eventually regain the weight which makes you feel guilt and shame. You seek out another diet where you lose some weight but inevitably put it back on and the guilt and shame return. This cycle continues with your weight constantly going up and down as you try to find the diet, exercise program or lifestyle change that works. 

These constant fluctuations in your weight are known to damage your health. 

  • It increases your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease, type 2 diabetes and arthritis. 
  • It reduces your bone mass which can lead to osteoporosis.
  • Constant dieting causes chronic stress and increased cortisol production.
  • It increases body dissatisfaction and poor self-esteem. 
  • It increases your risk of developing an eating disorder such as anorexia, bulimia, or binge eating disorder1.
 
I want to emphasise that these health risks are NOT your fault. The diet industry knows diets do not work and they rely on people regaining weight so they can continue to sell their products and programs to make money. 
Fitness is a strong predictor of health despite body weight

You don't need to lose weight to be healthy

As you can see, dieting and weight loss are not the best way to improve your health. This is because you have very little control over your weight, that is the job of your hypothalamus!

What you can control are your behaviours and there are many behaviours that benefit your health no matter what you weigh. When you take the focus away from your weight you can enjoy the benefits that a nutritious diet and regular movement have on your physical and mental health. 

Focusing on healthy behaviours instead of weight loss can result in improved blood pressure and cholesterol levels, less bingeing, an improved relationship with food and increased mood, self-esteem and body image3. Taking the focus away from your weight is difficult when we live in a weight obsessed world but it can be one of the best things you do for your health. 

Here are some suggestions to help you get started:

  • Unfollow social media accounts or email subscriptions that encourage dieting and weight loss or make you feel bad about your body. 
  • Donate any clothes that are too small for you. 
  • Find healthcare providers who are weight-neutral by asking for recommendations or even emailing the practice before booking an appointment. 
  • Take a non-diet approach to eating.
  • Start doing movement that you enjoy such as walking, gentle yoga, cycling, dancing etc.
 
Taking small steps away from diet culture can have huge benefits to your mental and physical health. If you would like support as you unlearn the messages of dieting and weight loss you can find out more about online nutrition consultations with dietitian Kim and book online to get started.

References

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