Let’s me start by saying that I care far less about your body weight than you do. What I want to focus on with my clients is helping them discover healthy, sustainable strategies to help them feel better and reclaim their best health, so they can age well and live a vibrant life. This outcome can be achieved independent of body weight change.
As a dietitian and nutritionist with a background in psychology, coaching, culinary arts and mindfulness, I see endless opportunity for helping people to renovate their midlife kitchen, refine their diets, revamp their meal planning, and reduce cravings. How we eat does (and should) change as we go through life. But where clients routinely get stuck is inevitably the number on the scale.
Trigger warning – the following post has blatant talk about body weight as it explores the various factors that impact body weight. Discussions of body weight can be triggering. If you or someone you know if struggling with their feelings about their weight or relationship with food, or has a suspected eating disorder, please contact a regulated health professional or visit http://nedic.ca/
I get it. I live in the same body weight obsessed culture that you do. I see the way our world is set up to favour people living in smaller bodies and I acknowledge the privileges I experience as a result of walking on this earth in a smaller body. I am familiar with the lack of scientific information around body weight. I have written about several aspects of midlife body weight (available here). But my voice and the voice of several other health professionals is weak compared to the socio-, political- and economic systems that stand to profit from the narrow narrative of what all influences our body weight (the proverbial “eat less, move more”). So, in this post, I outline a broader framework of the many factors that impact body weight. It is my hope that you will have a wider lens of appreciation with which to see your body and body weight.
What is your understanding of all the factors that impact your body weight? If you said diet and exercise, you are missing several other factors that can impact body weight. When these factors are not adequately identified, addressed, or supported, we tend to focus “harder” on our diet and exercise, because that is all of what we know to do. This (typically restrictive) approach serves to further disconnect us from our bodies, and makes our worlds smaller. We often become frustrated because we think our bodies should be different than what they are, leading to further disconnection from our bodies. This results in us missing the myriad of ways that can improve our health, independent of body weight.
Yes, what we eat (our diet) and how much we move (exercise and physical activity) does have some influence our body weight. Diet culture has shoved those messages down our throats for years. And by the time we have hit midlife, we know a lot about diets! We have likely tried several approaches – keto, low-carb, paleo, intermittent fasting, macronutrient-based approaches, calorie counting, point-based systems, done-for-you meals, meal replacements, etc. We know the different tips, tricks, and “rules” about how we can manipulate our diet and exercise so that we can manipulate our body weight. The problem is, unless you are eating in a way that supports the body you have, and that you can enjoy and sustain for the longer term, you will remain in a never-ending cycle of weight loss, followed by weight gain, and then some (called weight cycling).
We have been conditioned to believe that it is part of our life’s work to “control” our body weight. We are taught that the tools with which we control our bodies include our diet (what and how much we eat) and exercise (how much we move). Over time, this soul-sucking work gets harder and harder because what used to “work” to change our body weight no longer “works”. Our diets get smaller as our body weight climbs, slowly but surely. We develop a joyless relationship with food. We no longer know how to eat. We feel further disconnected from our bodies because we think that our bodies don’t work properly. We might even think that we have broken or ruined our metabolism and other aspects of our bodies from our previous approaches.
It is time to learn about the science of what all impacts our bodies and our body weight.
The “map that is used to build your body” or your genetics accounts for up to 75-80% of your body weight. Some people walk on the earth in bigger bodies and that is perfectly normal. There is natural diversity in our bodies. Just like eye and hair color, shoe size, hair type, there is a range of body sizes and shapes. It is the result of a weight-biased society that deems one size more desirable than the other. This is related to a social and political forces, and economic systems that serves to make lots of money off people’s fear of weight gain.
The bottom line is that we must respect the genetics that we are born with. If you are born with a body like a Hummer vehicle, no amount of dieting and working out is ever going to change you into a Mazda 3. We need to work WITH our bodies, not against them.
When your mental health is not adequately identified, addressed, or supported, either through medications, therapy, and/or skills, we can expect to see that our body weights will climb higher. Our mental health is further damaged with on-going weight cycling. The following is a list of aspects of our mental health that can impact our body weight.
Hormones are powerful chemical messengers in our bodies that can out-muscle any amount of so-called will-power. If you have any of the conditions below, you will have more trouble managing your weight.
Any condition that impacts your ability to move freely, or any injury that impacts your ability to live pain-free is going to have an impact on your body weight.
Your stage of life can impact a change in your body weight. It is not so much your age, but what all comes with that stage of life, that can impact your body weight.
If you grew up in poverty, lived in an unsafe neighbourhood, lived with financial stress, are a part of a marginalized community or identity. These aspects of our health are called “social determinants of health” and are related to our health status. However, you typically have less or no control over these factors.
There are several aspects of our diet that can impact our body weight.
How you live and how you cope with your life will also impact your body weight.
The above list is not exhaustive. But I hope it helps expand your perspective on the various factors that may impact your body weight. As you think about you and your life, how many of the above impact your life history and your health profile? This reflection is about identifying the root causes of the many factors that impact your body weight, and then finding a realistic plan that supports your health and the body you have, which deserves and needs your care to thrive.
I am not saying that you shouldn’t care about your health. I am a dietitian working in health care and am passionate about helping you to improve your health through diet and lifestyle. But what I am saying is that we need to separate weight from health. Weight, by itself, is not a great indicator of your true, holistic health. There are many ways to improve your physical, emotional and spiritual health, independent of focusing on body weight. Here (and here) are some ideas to get you started.
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