Why Weight-Loss Transformations Won't Transform Your Life
Despite what you may think, weight loss is not the answer to all of your problems.
We see them all the time. On TV, on ads, on Instagram, on billboards, and on the covers of magazines. To say that our society loves these before and after weight loss transformations is an understatement. We are obsessed. We watch The Biggest Loser, we cheer on people who begin weight loss journeys, and we can’t help but click on those suggested articles promising a picture of what someone looks like after losing 200lbs.
These transformation images and stories give us a sense of awe and wonder because we feel like they have something we will never be able to attain. We believe that these people who have lost large amounts of weight have not only transformed their bodies, but have also magically transformed their lives to be happy, healthy, and carefree.
But what are these weight loss stories, these before and after pictures, and these “success stories” really telling us? They are telling us that people who look like these “before” pictures are shameful, unworthy of love, and need to change their appearance. They are perpetuating a culture that tells us we are unworthy of love unless we are thin, and that’s simply not the case.
We are worthy simply because we exist. Our dreams, passions, personality, character, and unique traits are what make us beautiful people. We don’t need to have someone tell us that we are only beautiful if we lose weight, and we definitely don’t need to feel bad about ourselves because we look more like a “before” picture than an “after” picture.
I don’t believe that it’s right to congratulate a friend who brags about losing weight because I don’t know exactly what is in need of a congratulations. I certainly wouldn’t congratulate her on becoming her best self, achieving a life of perfection, or becoming as healthy as can be, because, contrary to popular belief, none of that is guaranteed to happen simply because someone has lost weight. In fact, someone’s health cannot be determined by his or her appearance, and I”m not just talking about physical health.
If your friend has lost a dramatic amount of weight, she may be receiving compliments about her looks, but that does not mean she’s in a healthy mental state. She may be obsessing about what she can and can’t eat and calculating calories in her head. In fact, her diet may be controlling her life.
Dr. Linda Bacon, author of Health At Every Size says, “When your body gets deprived of calories, it makes you think about food. It makes sure that you concentrate less on other things so that you’re focused on getting food and taking care of yourself.”
Even if your friend is feeling like her weight loss has transformed her life, that feeling will not stay with her forever. In the long-term, diets don’t work. When you starve yourself on a diet, not only are you making yourself hungry all the time, but you are also depriving yourself of nutrients and slowing down your metabolism. A study followed up with 14 contestants of The Biggest Loser six years after the show and 13 of them had gained back significant amounts of weight after the show. Four contestants ended up heavier than their original weights when they began the show.
These contestants did not gain back the weight because they are lazy or had failed at their diet. They gained back the weight because their extreme weight loss transformation had failed them. Their altered metabolic rate made their body burn significantly less calories than other people their size who did not go through weight loss transformations.
Do I believe that all weight loss is inherently bad and that all people who are trying to lose weight are bad people? Of course not. I believe that dieting to lose weight is harmful to one’s mental and physical health, and overall unhealthy. Instead of dieting, I believe that intuitive eating, (which Benourished.org defines as someone who “makes food choices without experiencing guilt or an ethical dilemma, honors hunger, respects fullness and enjoys the pleasure of eating”), joyful movement (exercise that is focused on celebrating what you body can do), and overall self-care (for one’s mental and physical health), are the keys to living a healthy life. These principles are focused on overall wellness and not vanity. Not to mention, they are ways people can take care of their health in highly individualized ways that are based on their body’s needs and desires.
I can understand the desire to lose weight. I am guilty of desiring to fit conventional beauty standards by having a flat stomach and thin thighs. However, we must understand that weight loss is not the magical answer to our prayers.
Know that when you post a “before” picture, you are telling the world that everyone who looks like that picture is unworthy of love, and please know that your comments can trigger those who are struggling with body image or eating disorders.
If you are posting pictures about your weight loss journey, or if you are bragging about how many pounds you have lost, I urge you to channel your energy into more positive conversations. Focus on your friends, the job that you love, and the fun events happening in your life that do not relate to diet or exercise.
No matter who you are, I urge you to love your body. You are loved and worthy no matter your shape, size, color, identity, gender, or ability, so go out and live your life knowing how amazing you are as you exist in this very moment.