So today I am not going to write about something scientific. I didn’t do any research for this one, I am not going to be formal or fancy. I’m just going to talk about something that not a lot of people talk about, but something I feel strongly about, and I hope to find others that do, too. I’m going to talk about our society’s warped idea that weight loss always = better health, and how that makes me feel.
We’ve all seen the Herbal Magic and Weight Watchers commercials with the Before and After pictures. Here’s Suzie, a mom of three. Let’s see a photo of Suzie at her absolute worst –no makeup, jogging pants and a t-shirt, hair a mess, and looking probably heavier than she ever has in person. Now, let’s switch to a picture of Suzie now! She looks INCREDIBLE! See how much BETTER she looks now that she’s lost all that weight? Her makeup is done, her clothes and hair are immaculate, she’s grinning and looks ecstatic. How nice for Suzie. How lovely that she is no longer that fat, sad sack of a person. Then, generally, Suzie will go on to say how much her weight loss has changed her life – how she can now go out in public, how she feels really confident, etc.
If you’re like me, these commercials drive you absolutely crazy. When did our society decide that losing weight turns you into a happier person? That it gives you more self-confidence? That it automatically means you are healthier, and that you’ll live longer, and your life will mean more? The fact of the matter is, lowered self-confidence because of a little extra weight is not your fault, but the fault of these stupid commercials, and the media in general. What if we had grown up being told that what makes us beautiful and worthy actually came from our personalities and not from a strict diet and exercise regime? What if the movies and TV shows we had watched as kids featured people of all sizes in lead roles, instead of the usual coupling of the thin, attractive main character with the overweight, funny friend? I believe the world would be a very different place.
The fact of the matter is, there are plenty of thin people who are incredibly unhealthy, this we know. There are also a lot of overweight people who are perfectly healthy, which is something a lot of people don’t know. The weight loss that the majority of people seek is NOT for health, it’s for image. That’s why they buy these ridiculous products like fat flush pills (terrible for you, by the way), starve themselves, exercise way too much, and try every fad diet out there in order to achieve the “perfect” physique. So why is it assumed that you are healthier after you lose weight, or happier? I think our society has become so obsessed with the obesity epidemic that they have come to believe that any and all weight loss is good news. But this is simply NOT the case.
Why can’t we focus on health, and leave weight loss out of the discussion? Because the fact of the matter is, if your weight gain is a result of an unhealthy lifestyle, and you change your lifestyle to be a more healthy one, the weight will probably come off. And even if it doesn’t, who cares? If you’re eating healthy foods and exercising regularly, you’re HEALTHY, and shouldn’t that be what matters?
I’m not saying no one should try to lose weight. But I’ve always been irritated by the idea that all overweight people must be trying to lose weight, and all overweight people must be unhealthy. I remember when I was running a 5k three times a week at 170 pounds. When I told people, they looked at me like I was lying. They didn’t think it was possible for me to be in such good shape. And my entire life, people have ALWAYS said to me, “Wow, you look great! Have you lost weight?” as if it should make me happy to hear that. I’m always thinking, “Why would you immediately assume I WANT to lose weight? What if I like my body better this way?” But that idea is so foreign to people, they simply cannot accept it. Which makes me sad.
I could go on and on about this. About how the words “childhood obesity” are incredibly damaging and put overweight children who probably already feel singled out into a box that it is nearly impossible to get out of. About how depression and feelings of loneliness lead to stress and binge eating, and telling a child that they’re “obese” only serves to make them feel worse about themselves, thus creating a vicious, lifelong cycle. And what about the skinny kids who eat McDonalds every week and don’t gain weight? No one is concerned about them. Just the fat kids. What is wrong with this picture?! We all know thin people can have sky high cholesterol. Isn’t anyone concerned about the effect of bad nutrition on the kids who aren’t gaining lots of weight? Shouldn’t we be educating ALL our children on how to eat properly and feeding them fresh, clean foods from day one? Why are we singling out the obese kids? And has no one else thought that MAYBE this is quite possibly the WORST thing you could do to an obese child who already feels singled out and different? Or is it just me? I hope not!
A society obsessed with weight loss and the perfect body image (whatever the hell that is) has created shows like The Biggest Loser (don’t even get me started), countless diet pills, ridiculously unhealthy and pricey schemes to drop pounds and a planet full of people who will celebrate your weight loss like you have saved a third world country from starvation, regardless of whether or not it means you are healthier. That is a non-issue! You look GREAT, and that’s all that matters. It honestly hurts my heart. And it’s an issue close to my heart, too – one that I have been dealing with my entire life. Take me at 18. I went to the doctor for my annual check-up, and he decides to take my blood to check out my cholesterol, as heart disease runs in my family. He tells me I have impeccable cholesterol – great levels of good cholesterol and very low levels of bad cholesterol. At the time, I considered myself overweight, so I was astounded to hear this. He says, “You must be doing something right – you’re very healthy.” But the pressure of an image-obsessed society drives me to try and lose weight. I spend two years in university barely eating, and I lose thirty pounds. But my metabolism has slowed down so much that once I start eating again, I gain weight like crazy. I end up heavier than I was at that doctor’s appointment, and with a host of minor medical issues from all the crap I have been eating. Why couldn’t I have just been happy with the way I was? I was healthy! It pains me to look back on that Marita. I wish I could have talked some sense into her.
So, that brings me to my final point, and I hope you will all hear me out on this. As I slowly cut out the refined sugar, meat, dairy products, eggs, preservatives and unpronounceable ingredients from my life, I will most likely lose weight, as my weight gain (as I mentioned above) has been brought on by terrible eating habits. I don’t want to hear about how much weight I’ve lost. I don’t want to be complimented on it. I want people to tell me I look healthy, that my skin looks great, that I’m glowing, that I look happy. And I am not going to mention weight loss again in this blog. I’m not going to talk about it like a goal. I’m not going to post before and after photos. I’m not going to say, “I stepped on the scale and I lost four pounds!” And this is going to be terribly difficult for me, because I want to celebrate it, but I won’t. Instead I will celebrate how incredible I’m going to feel, how much clearer my head is, how much energy I have, how much more positive my outlook is. I’m going to celebrate my healthy heart, and the strengthening of my muscles. I’m going to celebrate the fact that I will be a healthier person overall, not a thinner one. And I urge you to do the same on your health journey. Maybe together we can change the way society thinks about all this, and create a new world - one where people try to be healthy, not skinny.