Digging Below the Surface of Eating Behaviors
You've decided you want to improve your health. It seems natural to look first at food and exercise, so you jump on the internet. Being healthier involves losing weight, right? And weight loss requires dieting and exercise, so that's where you start your search.
There is no shortage of "miracle" diets floating around the internet and you choose one. Whatever it is, it probably doesn't allow certain foods, so you clean out your kitchen and head to the store to restock for your new lifestyle. On the way, you stop by the gym and pay for a one year membership because your new lifestyle will involve going to the gym every morning. You've had trouble going in the past but you've shelled out for a membership now! This time you'll go.
Your plan works great for a couple of weeks but the scale doesn't seem to be moving as quickly as you'd hoped. Then you miss a day at the gym. And then your family all wants to go out for ice cream and you just can't say no. But hey, the scale wasn't moving anyway, so what's the point? Maybe you just don't have the willpower to make changes to your lifestyle. You stop cooking at home and decide to cancel that gym membership.
Does anything about this sound familiar to you? If so, you are NOT alone. This is a story I hear (in some form) day in and day out. First, let me just say that if you CAN relate to the above story, you are most definitely not lacking in willpower. It takes a lot to make changes to the way you live and you have certainly done that at one point or another.
Did you ever consider that maybe willpower isn't the problem? Maybe the problem is with the approach. Maybe the problem is that you're trying to impact something as complex as health by focusing on something as surface-level as the number on the scale.
"Wait," you may be thinking, "isn't weight loss the whole point of dietitians?"
Actually, no. Our job as dietitians is to help people become healthier. But being healthier means losing weight right? Not quite. In fact, research does not support the idea that a higher weight or BMI causes poor health or chronic disease. Although some conditions are often associated with higher weights, other factors like nutrition, exercise, stress levels and more often partially or fully explain these links.
Because we know that health is multidimensional and that a person's weight does not determine their overall health, it would be irresponsible of us to focus only changing a person's weight. Weight and health are not the same thing. Bodies come in all shapes in sizes and I'd personally rather focus on something we can change (behaviors to help improve health) than something we can't change (weight, which is strongly tied to genetics).
So, what happens if we dig below the surface and go beyond the number on the scale? What if we started recognizing that adding more fruits and vegetables and cooking more at home and being active are beneficial for our health on their own, regardless of the number on the scale? What if we got better at managing stress and saying no to extra commitments and making time to do the things we enjoy? What if we found out what types of movement we actually enjoyed and looked forward to doing?
Not only would our lifestyle changes be more sustainable, they'd actually be improving our health and helping us feel better! My challenge to you in the coming week is to set a goal for your health that isn't based on the scale. What is something you know you can do for yourself that will make you feel better, even if your weight doesn't change? Maybe it's doing 10 minutes of stretching to help you wind down before bed, packing your lunch, scheduling time for a break during the day, going on a walk with a friend, taking a break from exercise that makes you feel miserable, or planning some meals for the week. Hide your scale (or toss it out) and notice how you feel mentally and physically with the new changes you've made. Without the scale creating judgement and shame, my guess is that you'll notice all the other benefits that come from making these positive changes and be more likely to stick with them in the long run.