Your Weight May Not be the Problem

“But how can my weight not be the problem?!? I know it’s bad for my health and it’s the reason I can’t stand to see myself in a mirror. My life would be so much better if I could just get rid of the weight once and for all.”

It’s easy to feel this way when you’ve spent your entire life hearing about and dreading the consequences of being overweight. You may be living with some of those consequences or can easily see them in your future. To assure that we’re all on the same page about how much they matter, let’s begin with a brief review.

The Health Impacts of Being Overweight – Some Obvious, Some Not So Much

Excess weight triggers a variety of medical problems that corrupt the operation of vital bodily systems, increase pain, decrease mobility, increase the need for medical intervention, and shorten lifespan. Excess weight tracks strongly with increased susceptibility to depression. Overweight people have physical limitations, reducing their options for activities that would manage stress, improve mood, and make life more enjoyable. In short, overweight people have fewer ways to lead an interesting and fulfilling life.

A vicious cycle tends to occur in that the more excess weight you carry, the more likely you are to change your life in ways that set the stage for further weight gain. Because the excess weight makes it harder to move, you may become more sedentary. Because being sedentary leaves you fewer options for enjoying yourself, triggering foods become more appealing and you may tend to consume more of them. You’re then also likely to start spending more time with others who are doing the same and less time with those who maintain healthier practices. This is important because we tend to mirror the behavior of the company we keep. The more time you spend around people whose weight and health are out of control, the more normal that state seems to be and the harder it is to find the motivation for change.

To summarize, excess weight results in loss of quality, choice, and health across every aspect of living, creating a negative spiral in which each health-stealing decision tends to lead to another. So, yes, being overweight is a significant health issue related to very troubling outcomes.

Trying to Solve the Wrong Problem

Being overweight certainly is a problem, but it’s not the problem.

You’ve probably seen proof of this in your own life already. How long have you worried about your weight? How much weight have you lost and how many times have you lost it? How often do you see others around you worrying about their weight and what attempts do you see them repeatedly making to address it? Conversely, how many people do you know with long-term success in weight management? Anybody? If you’re like most people, you’re lucky if you know even one person who has left the yo-yo diet world forever and is happily getting on with his or her healthier life.

The failure rate of dieting is extraordinarily high—80-95%, depending on who you talk to and how they’re measuring it. If what we’ve been doing made any sense, we would have seen more success by now. Instead, the population rates of overweight and obesity just keep climbing.

Experience overwhelmingly shows that focusing on weight does not solve weight problems.

To see how this makes sense, consider an example: Your house floods. Your furniture is ruined and you have the risk of mold problems. It will take months to repair and even then, it may never be quite the same. Your damaged house and furnishings are a problem – a big problem that requires immediate and focused attention—but they aren’t the most important problem, which is whatever it was that caused your house to flood in the first place. Yes, you’ve got to deal with the consequences of the flooding that has already occurred, but your main priority must be to solve the problem of what caused it to happen at all. Do that and you’ll never have to worry about your house getting ruined again.

So it is with weight. On a short-term basis, you need to deal with the weight and its consequences, just like you have to deal with the flood damage in your home. In both cases, though, your short-term efforts will ultimately prove futile if you haven’t put a lot of energy into the longer term project of addressing what caused the problem in the first place.

The Real Problem

To be blunt, the way we like to live is the real problem. We like our super-tasty processed trigger foods, and we like them in generous portions. The result is that we take in far more calories than most of us could ever use. Many of those calories carry little nutritional value, so we are simultaneously overfed and undernourished. To add insult to injury, we lead a more sedentary lifestyle than ever before, which means that we need fewer calories even as our intake has increased dramatically.

We have come to see all of this as normal and to expect that we should be able to live this way and have it work somehow. In fact, we represent the fractionally tiny percentage of humans who have ever lived this way. This is not normal – it has never happened before in all of human history. It has taken place over just the last half-century or so, which happens to coincide with most or all of your life, so it’s understandable if you believe this is just the way it is. The truth is that it’s never been this way until very recently. We are all part of the biggest lifestyle experiment ever undertaken in the history of humanity, and we are all present to witness its failure. The results are in: We actually cannot live this way, as much as we might wish that we could. Unfortunately, the experiment has created staggering health losses for hundreds of millions of people, perhaps including you.

Many of us look at healthy choices as taking away the life with food that we think we should be able to have. We have learned to expect to eat whatever we want, whenever we want it. Small wonder, given that our society reinforces the notion constantly. As long as we work to reduce our weight –but with the unspoken hope of somehow returning to a no-limits approach to food someday – we are doomed to continually regain the weight and lead a life of unnecessary frustration, failure, and compromised health.

Contrary to popular belief, healthy choices do not steal “normal” from you. Those populations that have embraced the lifestyle we’ve idealized have steadily become sicker and more disabled. As new populations adopt similar patterns, their overall state of health always begins to deteriorate. The human body simply is not built to live this way. Period. It would be nice if sitting around all the time eating lots of trigger foods could result in a good life, but it can’t and it doesn’t. No amount of wishful thinking will ever change that.

Our distorted expectations have caused many of us to feel resentful about healthy choices, but all those choices do is make it possible for us to enjoy lives in which we feel well, energetic, strong, optimistic, engaged, and motivated. They give us greater resistance to disease, quicker healing from injuries, better mobility, and a far better aging process at the end. Healthy choices make possible the lives that we all seek.

Happily, those choices are pretty simple: Eat moderate amounts of whole food (mostly plant-based), stay well hydrated, and be physically active for some part of every day. These choices result in the most robust health and by default, the most stable weight. Weight gain won’t happen again because you will have stopped it at its source. Eliminate the source, and you eliminate the problem. Life will become about living rather than about weight management, which is as it should be.

As long as you keep your focus on what keeps you energetic, strong, optimistic, and at peace with yourself, your weight will naturally stabilize at the healthiest level that it can.


Copyright © 2017, Elizabeth Babcock, LCSW. All rights reserved.


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Depression Series, Part Four: When Someone You Love is Depressed  


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