Weight Loss Is NOT An Achievement

Did the title of this post kind of piss you off? Good!

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.

weight loss is not a worthy achievement
Take a moment to list your real achievements. (Image by Golda Poretsky)

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 to get your free download – Golda’s Top Ten Tips For Divine Dining!

43 replies on “Weight Loss Is NOT An Achievement”

I think one reason weight loss is such a prized/prioritized achievement is that looking a certain way has one, standard ideal–being thinner. Being successful in your work or family life doesn’t. For me getting my PhD will be an awesome achievement, but for my friend it’s getting her JD and for my other friend it’s getting a promotion to manager and for someone else none of those are in the progression. So weight loss is a more publicly shared goal that’s easier to conceptualize across many people and groups (in our culture). Secondly, it’s more visible (probably this is why it’s more shared). People don’t see the thirty hours I put in per week reading and writing and grading on top of like, attending and teaching classes, and they aren’t with me on my last mile of a hard run when I’m really not sure I can make it but I push through and then feel really good; they DO see if I’m “skinnier” so it’s a more positively reinforced accomplishment. For me to get such positive feedback about a work or personal accomplishment, like running or eating better or doing well at work, I’d need to announce it all the time, and then people would think I was a jerk (see: most of facebook). So weight loss is one of the few “accomplishments” that everyone sort of understands and that everyone can visibly see and respond to, so I think those are reasons why it’s seen as the most important one.

Also, since we interact in our society in an embodied way most of the time (minus the internet, but sometimes even there), having a body type that society sees as “acceptable” or laudatory really does feel different, day to day, than having a body society shames you for. And our culture is set up such that it’s hard to achieve that kind of body. So it does make sense to me that it’s seen as a big accomplishment; it literally can change the way you interact in the world on a day to day basis. That’s big.

Do I think it’s good that things are set up that way? No. Obviously! When I was really struggling financially and I didn’t eat very much, I lost weight somewhat quickly (I didn’t notice it at first); when people complimented me, it was hurtful and confusing, because I had been hungry and sad and poor. I don’t like getting compliments on my weight even when it is semi-deliberate (say, I lost weight/gained muscle due to swimming more or whatever). I don’t want my body to be the focus of conversations and interactions. But I try to be sympathetic to my conversation partners that this is just considered a good thing, an accomplishment, a compliment and they mean it that way. Other stuff should probably change before people stop taking pleasure in something society positively reinforces their work for. (Bad syntax on that last sentence but you know what I mean.)

I see a lot of knee-jerk reactions coming out to this, and some people seem to be missing the point- living a healthier lifestyle should be considered an achievement. Weight loss? Not so much. Because as soon as we infer that weight loss is the achievement instead of the living healthy part, we’re implying that those who don’t are failures.

Part of it is that we do equate weight loss with health, when there’s sometimes a correlation, not causation. Some people may lose weight when they start living healthier. Some wont. The problem is we equate thin with living a healthy lifestyle, and therefore applaud the thin part instead of the being healthy part.

I think, though, that it would sound sort of bizarre and condescending to compliment someone on living healthier, right? Like, “hey Bob, I saw that carrot you put in your lunch. Good for you!” Right? I think there’s a lot more going on that we’re allowed to be all up in each other’s businesses about weight but not food/work/money/etc. in the same way. (Though we’re happy to judge strangers for all those things, it seems like something we don’t discuss with friends/acquaintances so much, right? I’d be happy to be wrong on this one–I just started thinking it through to respond to you.)

A pal of mine and I were just talking about this the other day.  She was saying that she hates when people come shrieking at her, “OMG, you FINALLY lost the baby weight!” after the birth of a child.  Birth.  Of a CHILD.  Because, you know, having a BABY is less of an achievement than losing that pesky baby belly, amirite?  It’s so insulting, but people think they’re being genuinely nice.  Baffling.

I get what you’re saying, but maybe it could have been phrased differently? I mean, if you embark on a quest to be healthy and happen to lose weight and feel healthier because of it, it can be considered an achievement, and a good one. I understand that you’re trying to come at this from a point of health rather than a point of weight, but weight loss is often the signal that health efforts are succeeding, and sometimes weight loss is good and should be celebrated if it signifies a healthier lifestyle.

That said, one shouldn’t feel discouraged if they are being healthy and not losing weight. What I’m trying to say is that you should give yourself kudos for meeting all of your healthy goals, not matter how they manifest themselves.


This is a very emotional subject for me (as it is for many, of course), and I guess I won’t get into my personal stuff here. I’ll just say I disagree. Some addictions to overeating are extreme enough to cause bad health, and they are hard as hell to shake. I think overcoming something like that is a serious achievement along the lines of kicking a drug or alcohol habit.


Of course getting past an addiction to overeating, or at least getting it under control, is a huge accomplishment! However, the weight loss that might come with that isn’t the point. The point is that you would overcome something that was an addiction, and your life would be better in many ways because of it. The weight loss isn’t the point. Weight loss wouldn’t be the achievement there, and focusing on the weight would actually cheapen the impact of the accomplishment.

I guess? A serious weight problem can bring its own specific health problems, though, like sleep apnea and joint problems. And of course, having a hard time finding clothes that fit, and dealing with plane and theatre seats, just sucks. I’m not going to debate any further, though…it really is a volatile issue for me, particularly right now.

I think being fat =/= having an eating addiction. There’s a lot of people I’ve known who have had addictions to sugar/fatty foods/etc., but they were crazy thin! And I think that’s an important thing to remember, and that not everyone who has an eating addiction is actually fat.

Of course, and I apologize for even continuing the discussion. I realized after I posted that comment that it might seem somewhat argumentative, and that wasn’t my intention. I’m sorry! I just wanted to bring up another perspective, in case it might be beneficial somehow. I know that the weight is definitely a major symptom of problems with overeating, and I’m sorry if anything I said was a problem. Good luck with whatever you are dealing with!

I was going to protest loudly and broadly until I read this

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.

For me, weight loss is right when it’s part of a positive change, a so said symptom of a (positive) life change. I mean: losing weight because you think it will end all your financial, mental, social, hypothetical and magical problems doesn’t work, like dieting doesn’t work if you don’t change your food-intake afterwards.
But weight loss because it makes feel people stronger, more in control, healthier and happier, yes.

I stepped from the scale this morning and noticed I lost weight again. I really liked it because a) I have a slightly unhealthy obsession with my body but b) because I had expected that there would be weight gain when I would have to cook for myself seven days a week and it didn’t happen. That means I can take care of myself and that’s the great hurray out of it.

I think there’s definitely a state of achievement felt in any goal that is set and obtained. And for me, it’s super-easy to set a vague goal like ‘lose weight,’ not eat fries for a bit, drop a couple of pounds, and feel like I’ve done something. It’s an obtainable, simple goal that makes me feel good (and I can ignore it once I decide to nom some fries and ignore my weight until the next cycle). But once I decide to lose A Number, and once I decide that That Number is what I need to be, getting there is hard. It is harder than many things, because it involves a lifestyle change and giving up habits (and foods) and accepting that nothing other than time and hard work (or surgery) will make it happen. It integrates into all aspects of your life; your diet, your routines, your level of activity. So I do think it is an achievement, but not one that anyone should feel bad about not wanting/having as a goal, or feel bad when they don’t achieve in some magical, easy way. And certainly, there are other achievements that one should be just as proud–and prouder–of.

It’s just messed up the way we act like losing weight is the most amazing spectacular thing a person can do. I lost 100 pounds about 10 years ago. (Probably because I was 22 at the time and it really was the first time I’d ever tried to lose weight, it was amazingly easy. I didn’t even join a gym, I just took walks.) (Naturally, I’ve since gained it all back and then some, as most dieters do, and tried to take it off again about a KAJILLION times, and hey guess what, now not so easy. Whodathunk?)

But seriously? It was like I was a fucking celebrity. Every person I knew or had ever known gushed and fawned over me when they saw me. It made me feel uncomfortable. My grandmother cried when she saw me for the first time at my new weight, and said that me losing weight was her own personal Christmas miracle, it made her so happy (it was xmas day that she saw me post-loss). This fucked me up, actually. Like what, she wasn’t proud of me before? She didn’t cry when I got a degree, got my first grown up job, bought my first car and many other things that I felt mattered so much more the same year I lost the weight.

And now that I’m fat again, am I some big crushing disappointment? I’ve gotten married, bought a house, gotten a HUGE promotion at work that makes me (I’m pretty sure) the most successful person in my entire extended family, professionally and financially speaking. But no one freaks out over me the way they did for getting temporarily thin. It’s messed up, if you ask me.

I had a similar experience. I lost weight not long before I was accepted to grad school, but guess which achievement got more attention?

There’s a picture on my FB page of me post-loss with a comment from a good friend saying how “amazing” I look, and I’m so tempted to comment now, a few years later, asking if I am ugly and gross having gained weight back.

I think often people who fuss so much have their own disordered eating/body issues. I know an older lady who herself struggled with ED (not diagnosed, but I think pretty clearly, though I’m not a doc so grain of salt), and one of her kids was overweight, and she literally said (not to the kid, thank GOD) that the thing she felt worst about in her whole life was this kid’s weight. But that was her own food issues/body issues talking, and it wasn’t actually about her kid or her kid’s weight. I think the people who fuss the most, usually, are people who are really stressed about themselves. Same as dudes who are stressed about their own sexuality are the most worried about gay people. That’s my theory.

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.

I think that this is true, but for me it applies to any accomplishment (and I do think any time you set a goal and reach it it qualifies as an accomplishment). I think that it is a problem is when self esteem gets too tied to the sense of accomplishment in any arena.

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.

I think that graduating from school is another temporary boost, just like weight loss. Learning to count the non-temporary achievements like the others you list is valuable and difficult, but I think that singling out weight loss as the only temporary type is misleading.

I’ve struggled ever since graduating from school to find the sense of achievement that I used to get from completing a project or passing an exam. I finally realized how fleeting the satisfaction is from any of those milestones, and over the past ten years I’ve learned to draw my self esteem from deeper wells… and you know what? That discovery is sapping my desire to take the seven professional exams that I should be doing, because I know how much work it will be for such a temporary reward.

I think there’s a place for both transient and more lasting accomplishments, and now I need to be working up a little more enthusiasm for temporary gratification.

I’m sorry, but if I want to lose weight and I do, I consider that an achievement.  Losing weight is H-A-R-D and if I succeed at something that difficult, it’s an achievement.

The steps along the way are also achievements – exercise, changing my eating habits, etc.  But so is the end result.

Different people have different ideas of achievement. I have a Master’s degree, but honestly, losing weight has been/is more challenging than grad school ever was because school is easy for me and managing my eating is not. It also doesn’t mean I value one over the other, but you’re not going to take away my feeling that my weight loss is an achievement.

Losing weight is an achievement if it’s something that you wanted.  Not everyone has the same goals, and some people set goals for themselves that are pretty fucking stupid (hot dog eating contests, dangerous stunts, etc).  Doesn’t mean that those goals are not being achieved.  I don’t believe in moralizing things like this.  If losing weight is the only thing that makes a girl feel a little better about herself, she’s entitled to that.  No one should be able to say that her goal didn’t meet some arbitrary value judgment.

I think if you’re trying to lose weight as a part of improving your health/fitness or because you prefer the way you look at a lighter weight, then it can be an achievement; the actual thrust of the desire might be “get healthier” or “feel better in the way I look”, but that doesn’t mean we can’t attach positive value to losing weight for us if it’s a part of our overall goal. The problem comes when we give weight loss an inherent value; weight loss can be very dangerous or highly beneficial, but that’s to be decided and judged on an individual basis.

For me, losing weight I had inherited through sport WAS an achievement, an achievement nobody can take away from me. I became fitter, and healthier, and felt better about myself when the shape of my body had changed. The problem is really when anyone, from any side of the debate, becomes proscriptive about what constitutes positive value. Like so many other issues, rigid absolutist truth is destructive to discourse and to good health, in the end.


I’ve been working out for over a month now and I can see changes in my body already. But my weight has stayed the same. I never cared about how much I weighed before – I am relatively small – but I had to hide the scale away because I was getting frustrated. And I realized this was because I was using the numbers on the scale to measure my progress. If they didn’t change, I felt like I wasn’t working hard enough (which was stupid in the first place because I have since learned that your body gains weight during the day, so you weigh differently at different hours and I tend to weigh myself later in the day) and I just became annoyed at myself.

Now I’m going back to not knowing my weight and being okay with that.

The main problem was that I don’t know how long weightloss/losing fat can take. And every time I got on that scale and it was the same was just crushing a little. After talking to some people about my frustrations, I realized that if I wasn’t careful it could become an unhealthy fixation. So away the scale went, stopping something BEFORE it happens.

A few years ago, I lost a lot of weight (and surprise, surprise, I’ve gained almost all of it back). At the same time, however, I figured out what I wanted to do in life, was working toward it and applied/was accepted to grad school. It made me extremely uncomfortable that people would blow right past all of that and focus on how “great” I looked. It’s sick.

But the achievement is engaging in these healthy behaviors, not the weight loss itself.

Why can’t both be an achievement? I do see what you’re saying, but I think, in a healthy situation, the weight loss can be considered an achievement, too, alongside other achievements.

But a lot of people don’t bother to find out whether it’s a healthy situation. When I lost weight a few years ago it was NOT through healthy means (it was one of those milkshake diets marketed as “medical”) and the praise was still heaped on. No one asked what me methods were (unless they wanted tips about my “success”), all they cared about was that I was thinner.

That is people making judgements on what others have done, rather than on what they have done. If someone doesn’t bother about finding out whether ot not they’re doing something by healthy means is up to them. If someone wants to call the end result an achievement, that is also up to them.

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