The idea that weight loss is a good idea and a worthy achievement is so ingrained in our society that most of us take it for granted. Of course, losing weight is an achievement, right? We heap praise on anyone who does it. We flagellate ourselves for not achieving it.
And the worst part… no other achievement seems to compare with the high of weight loss.
Last week, I was re-reading Paul Campos’s The Obesity Myth in preparation for my Body Love Revolutionaries Telesummit call with him and Amy Erdman Farrell. It had been a while since I’d read the book, and I had forgotten about his discussion of Susan Estrich, a woman whose many achievements include being the first female editor of the Harvard Law Review, being a Harvard Law professor, and managing a presidential campaign. Ms. Estrich also wrote a popular diet book, wherein she wrote, “Nothing that I do now or have done in the past… has made me prouder, happier, or more fulfilled than losing weight and getting in shape.” [Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth (New York: Gotham Books, 2004) 202]
This statement would be shocking if it weren’t so shockingly normal for women. Before I was a counselor, I was a lawyer myself, and nearly the entire time that I was attending a rather prestigious law school and working at rather prestigious firms, none of it felt like an achievement compared to fleeting bouts of weight loss. Why is nothing good enough if we don’t fit into a particular dress size?
Weight loss and the praise we get for it are a major self esteem boost. But the problem is that the self esteem you gain from weight loss is temporary. That initial high of praise and satisfaction begins flitting away, so you feel pressure to lose more weight in order to get more praise, and if you gain the weight back (as 85-95% do), your self esteem plummets.
By the way, I’m not saying that weight loss is a bad thing. For some people, it may happen as a result of healthy, non-restrictive eating and appropriate body movement. And for others, these things may have no effect or even increase their weight. But the achievement is engaging in these healthy behaviors, not the weight loss itself.
So how do you avoid the highs and lows of weight loss? Make a list of your real accomplishments, like graduating from school, being a good friend, eating with pleasure, and moving your body with joy. The more you focus on these real and totally legitimate achievements, the better you’ll feel, and the more stable your self esteem will be.
Golda is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Go to http://www.bodylovewellness.com/free to get your free download — Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining!