I t is understandable to have weight-loss goals given the dieting culture and thin/fit-obsessed society that we live in today. There is so much pressure to be a particular body size or to look a certain way, and this is often perpetuated by family, friends, social media and even our medical communities. Unfortunately, many people face significant discrimination based on their body size and it can feel like the only answer is to try to lose weight. It’s important to note that weight is impacted by so many factors, such as genetics, hormones, age, medications… most of which are out of our control. And while it may feel that being a specific weight will bring ideal health and happiness, often the goals that we are hoping to achieve by losing weight have little to do with the actual number on the scale or clothing size and can be achieved in a way that doesn't involve shrinking or starving your body.
Here are three of many reasons why you don’t need to worry about your weight.
We all have a biological weight set point, which is a predetermined weight range where our body feels most stable. It is mostly determined by genetics (i.e., the size and shape of your family members that came before you), along with hormones, medications, stress, movement, eating habits, and other factors not within our control. In other words, our weight and size is very tightly regulated and is MUCH more complex than calories, diet, and exercise.
When we try to shrink our bodies below our weight set point by either eating less calories or burning more calories than we eat, our bodies eventually try to counteract this undernourishment by slowing our metabolism and increasing hunger hormones. This is our body’s way of keeping us alive during times of restriction or starvation. We aren’t meant to be at a weight that can only be maintained by restricting. Whether we can maintain that restriction or not, our body will find a way to get back to where it feels most secure. Basically, the most common result of dieting to lose weight is weight gain. What does this mean? It means that it's not your fault that the weight usually comes back after a few months or that repeated attempts at dieting don't lead to as much weight loss as that first time you tried. These are all signs that your body is great at SURVIVING restriction.
While many studies ASSOCIATE higher body weights with increased risk of certain diseases, like diabetes or heart disease, none of them actually show that the weight is the cause. Just because two things are associated, doesn’t mean one causes the other. There are many other factors that could explain why increased fatness is associated with increased risk of disease. For example, larger bodied individuals experience more discrimination in society leading to poor self-esteem, poor mental health, and increased stress on the body, which can lead to increased inflammation. They experience more discrimination in health care, which can result in not getting proper or timely care (e.g., screening for cancer). They may be engaging in dieting, which can lead to malnutrition, loss of muscle mass, bone loss, increased blood pressure and damage to blood vessels, and the use of unregulated and harmful dieting supplements.
Higher body weights are also associated with minority groups and lower socioeconomic status, which are associated with higher disease risk, possibly from increased discrimination, higher pollution, increased stress, less supports, less access to health care, and reliance on processed foods. We can’t forget that genetics play a large role in both disease risk and body size. For example, insulin resistance is genetic, and increased insulin resistance can lead to both fat deposition in the body (more fatness) and increased risk of diabetes. This is just the tip of the iceberg, but as you can see, many of the studies that think they found another “aha” moment that shows being fat is bad for health, often don’t consider all the other variables that may be playing a role.
Try focusing on the things that may be within your control and that we know play a role in our long term health and well-being.
Here are some examples:
Remember that healthy bodies CAN and DO come in all shapes and sizes.