How To Leave Toxic Diet Culture Behind And Pursue Actual Health
Aug 29, 2018
I know that path too well, because it was the path I used to be on myself.
I spent many years of my life trying to become thin, because I was promised that being thin was the key to happiness, health, and all my dreams coming true.
I tried everythingâ€Šâ€”â€Šfad diets, lifestyle changes, medically supervised diets, you name itâ€”always with the same results. I lost weight short-term, but then Iâ€™d gain it back, often gaining back more than Iâ€™d lost.
So, I decided to take a two-part approach. The first part was learning to love and appreciate my body at any size. The second part, I decided, would be to lose weight for my health. Part one will have to be the subject of another article, but once I realized my body was amazing and worthy of respect and good care, I decided to focus on losing the weight.
I studied research methods and statistical analysis in college, but I hadnâ€™t researched any of the diets that I had been on. I decided to start with research. I began a literature review of every study of intentional weight loss that I could find, so that I could find the best diet, the one with the greatest efficacy, in order to set myself up for success.
What I learned was so shocking that I went back through all the studies, thinking I must have missed something or misunderstood. But I hadnâ€™t.
There was not a single study where more than a tiny fraction of people were successful at losing a significant amount of weight long term.
The idea that I could become and stay thin if I just tried hard enough had been sold to me as fact by everyoneâ€Šâ€”â€Šfrom coaches to doctors to random strangers my entire lifeâ€Šâ€”â€Šand based on the research, there was absolutely no reason to believe it was true.
Furthermore, I learned that weight loss wasnâ€™t even a predictor of health.
Based on what I learned, I took my focus off of losing weight and on getting healthy. Iâ€™ll share with you here what I learned, and how I established habits to maximize my health and happiness.
The myth of weight loss and health
How did we get this idea of dieting so wrong?
Well, a great deal of research is funded by the diet companies themselves, and they have a vested interest in people spending time, energy and money (to the tune of $60 billion a year) on weight loss. To get to the the truth, we have to read the research very carefully.
Lucy Aphramor did an extensive look at the issues with weight loss research, but here are some common study tactics that would get a freshman in Research 101 a failing grade:
Long term research shows that most people are able to lose weight in year one, but the vast majority gain it back (with the majority gaining back more than they lost) within 5 years. Most weight loss studies simply stop tracking progress at 2 years, when participants have gained back some weight, but are still under their original weight. Then they claim that the study was a success. Or they will ignore weight regain and simply draw the conclusion that â€œall participants lost weight.â€
Many studies have very high dropout rates, which they simply ignore in the results, making the highly questionable assumption that the dropouts had the same â€œsuccessâ€ rates as participants who completed the study.
Studies find that the average person loses around 5 pounds. Peer-reviewed research from Weight Watchers found that the average person loses around 5 pounds (Weight Watchers participants lost about 11 pounds) at the end of a year of dieting. I could probably lose 5 pounds with a vigorous session with a loofah. Advertising claims insinuate that their results prove people can lose ten to twenty times that amount by the same methods, with absolutely nothing to back up that claim.
Some people simply change the goal posts and declare victory. As several weight loss researchers have explained, the Metropolitan Insurance tables originally provided very specific height and weight ratios to achieve a â€˜healthy weightâ€™. But people werenâ€™t able to reach those targets, so the amount of weight loss that studies deemed â€˜clinically significantâ€™ was changed to 20% of body weight. But again, doctors couldnâ€™t get people to reach that target, so the number was lowered to 10%, then 5%. Now, one can be considered a â€œsuccessful dieterâ€ for research purposes, despite the fact that they havenâ€™t even dropped a dress size.
The research actually shows that weight loss programs either donâ€™t work at all, or work minimally.
Thatâ€™s shocking enough. But the thing that really blew my mind?
There has never been a study that looked at formerly fat people who had become thin through dieting, and compared their health outcomes to those who were always thin.
That study simply doesnâ€™t exist.
To say I was shaken to my core would be an understatement.
As someone who believes in research, logic, and math, I was forced to face the fact that there was almost no chance that I would become thin, that further attempts to become thin would most likely result in weight gain, and that there was no guarantee that becoming thinner would make me healthier.
I had been sold a lie. This realization marked the beginning of my journey to focus on my health rather than my weight, but first I would have to give up something that had been present for almost my entire adult life.
What I had to give up is what Kate Harding calls the fantasy of being thin. I had spent all my time imagining the amazing life I was going to have and all the things I was going to do when I was finally thin.
I had been sitting around for years, planning and plotting for the day when my thin body finally arrived. Now it was time to let that fantasy go, and take my fat body out for a spin. It was time to take my â€œWhen Iâ€™m Thinâ€ list and relabel it the â€œDo It Now!â€ list.