Emotional Health

Healthy Weight Control: Is it Possible?

This week, we focus on eating disorders and their dangers. Very often these dangerous illnesses start with an attempt to lose weight. If you are between the ages of 12 to 80, chances are you have been on some kind of diet. Especially if you are a woman. Most of the time the goal is weight loss, but other kinds of diets have become increasingly popular. There are gluten-free diets, the paleo diet, veganism, etc. Many of these regimens have radically contradictory instructions (such as the paleo vs. the vegan) though the reasoning behind many of these diets often makes some sense if you look into it.

However, isn’t it possible to be on a diet, especially a weight loss diet, without becoming preoccupied in an unhealthy way with restricting your eating, controlling your weight, or, worse, developing a dangerous eating disorder? We previously reported about the high incidence of these problems in older women. Nevertheless, a great many people seem to always be on a diet of some sort. Often these are ineffective and even destructive. Besides the incidence of dangerous eating disorders, yo-yo dieting (losing and gaining the same weight over and over) has been proved to be unhealthy, perhaps more so than remaining at an unhealthy weight.

Yet there are also many people who are overweight, some dangerously so, and many more who are dissatisfied with their bodies and want to lose some pounds. Determining if you are on the right track, unrealistic in your goals, or suffering from a dangerous obsession is not always easy. Body image problems are rampant, so much so that many women are unhappy with their weight no matter how close to normal it is. Others are fighting an uphill battle, having bought into the idea that anyone can have a great body if they work at it. The diet industry, magazines, TV shows, and celebrity endorsements make billions of dollars based on this concept.

Lately, progress has been made, as the “Body Positive” movement has gathered steam, emphasizing that feeling good about the body you have is a worthwhile, healthy goal. At the same time, “fat shaming” is finally being called out for the form of prejudice it is. People who would never think of uttering a racist remark have felt free to disparage overweight individuals with impunity. Feminist writer Roxane Gay has just published a wrenching memoir about her life as an obese woman. Gang raped as a young teenager, she began putting on weight shortly after, and has spent her life coping with the consequences of both.

Many do not understand the difficulties that are inherent in losing weight and keeping it off. Statistics vary, but a very small percentage of us can maintain  weight loss. However, after a year, almost everyone gains back all the weight. Worse, many people wind up being fatter than they were when they started.

Given this bad news and the fact that efforts at weight control can morph into eating disorders, is it even worth it to try to lose weight? Some, like Gay, have taken the position that while she still needs to lose some weight for health reasons, her goal must be realistic (she is now aiming for size 22). More women are trying to support each other in the idea that slimness is not for everyone and that you can aim to feel good about yourself even if you are heavier than average.

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  • Julia July 15, 2017 at 2:46 pm

    I have never been obese, but I have been overweight (164 pounds at 5’5″ and not muscular). At one point in my early 50’s (am now 70) I lost 17 pounds very slowly, over maybe four years? with Weight Watchers and the mantra: I’m going to lose weight no matter how long it takes, keep it off, and I’m not going to feel deprived (ie if I really want something, I will have it). Maybe ten years ago I began drifting up and what has worked for me is that whenever I have felt unwell for a few days and am down one or two pounds (weighing daily helps me) I decide not to regain it. I am now about 137. Although I exercise regularly, I am disabled and therefore am pretty sure that my exercise does not contribute to weight loss, though it surely does to my health.

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