By Maryann Tomovich Jacobsen, MS, RD
It’s understandable that so many Americans are worried about their weight. The media is constantly reporting the negative effects of obesity and there are images of thin people everywhere you turn. But no matter how many popular diets come and go, the ideal weight goal seems more elusive than ever.
I’ve come to believe that this obsession with weight actually gets in the way of finding solutions that help keep weight in check. It sounds counterintuitive, but by chasing weight, we get further away from the solution. Let me show you what I mean.
Treating the symptom, not the cause: Weight as the singular goal keeps people from changing what actually causes the excess weight. This is like someone trying to treat chronic money troubles with more money — they keep searching for quick fixes instead of attacking the root of their financial woes.
“If you lose weight without losing the beliefs that created the weight, the weight usually returns. Long lasting change occurs on unseen levels first,” wrote best-selling author Geneen Roth on her Facebook page. I couldn’t have said it better myself — we need to dig deeper into the beliefs and life changes that have increased eating, instead of focusing on the number on the scale.
Unrealistic weight goals keep us stuck: “False Hope Syndrome” is a term researchers have used to explain unrealistic expectations of weight loss. In a 1997 study in Clinical Psychology, obese women weighing an average of 217 pounds were asked their goal weights – separating goals into categories such as “dream weight” and “disappointed weight.” Most women’s goal weight was a 69-pound loss, getting down to 148 pounds. After 48 weeks of treatment, almost 50 percent didn’t even reach their “disappointed weight” and lost 35 pounds (getting down to 182 pounds).
Unrealistic expectations almost always end with disappointment and giving up. Plus, they keep people choosing more extreme diets that work initially, but are hard to maintain in the long term.
Eating for weight loss makes some people eat more: A 2008 review study found that restrained eaters (limited food intake to control weight) tend to have higher weights than unrestrained eaters. And those with particularly high restraint show weight gain over time. This has a lot to do with “out of control” eating with forbidden foods, called disinhibition.
This pattern of restrict, binge, restrict makes people believe they need restriction to control themselves when in reality the restrictive approach is part of the problem.
There are physiological barriers: A Consensus Panel (group of scientists) recently published a review on metabolism and weight in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. They say the 3500 fewer calories = one pound of weight loss is a myth. The committee recommends, for permanent weight change, a more realistic 10-kcal deficit in daily energy intake, which leads to an eventual weight change of 1 lb when the body weight reaches a new steady state (>1 year!).
In short, it takes time for the body to adjust to calorie deficits for it to become permanent. Fad diets simply don’t get to this and wrongly present permanent weight change as quick and uncomplicated.
None of this means weight doesn’t matter — it’s just a “weight-only focus” may keep people at higher weights and farther away from permanent solutions. So I say, unless you are at health risk, put weight aside and learn a way to eat and exercise that is enjoyable, mindful, sustainable and good, both in terms of health and well being.
What do you think? Has it been hard for you not to focus on weight? Share your thoughts in the comments below.