In the past I’ve talked about how fat people can be happy without losing weight. Now a new study confirms something else I’ve known for quite a while, that losing weight won’t necessarily make you happy. The study, while still managing to pontificate about the “health benefits” of losing weight, points out that fat people who lost more than 5% of their body weight tended to be more depressed than those fat people who didn’t lose more than 5% of their body weight. In fact, after adjusting for health issues and major life events (like losing a spouse) those who lost more than 5% of their original body weight were more than 50% more likely to be depressed than the group that lost less weight.
The study press release goes on to suggest that of course you should still lose weight because it’s good for your health. And the study is careful to suggest that correlation is not causation, so we don’t know that the weight loss causes depression. (BTW this is a good practice that is curiously absent in many press releases about the health risks of obesity, but I digress…) And the study suggests a few possible reasons why this depression might be happening. They use a lot of flowery language, but it boils down to:
1. Constantly dieting and not eating what you want and weighing and measuring every morsel of food you put in your mouth takes a lot of energy and kind of sucks.
2. When you win the weight loss lottery and your life is not as wonderful as promised, it can be a major letdown.
And I suspect both of these suggested reasons are totally true. Constantly fighting the fact that your body is HUNGRY and you want to eat takes a lot of energy. Watching your friends eat fabulous stuff while you order the fish (steamed please, no butter) and vegetables (steamed please, no butter) and salad (dry with cruets of vinegar and oil on the side) gets old really fast. And don’t even get me started on weighing and measuring and obsessive point/calorie counting.
And let me remind you about the big fat cycle. One of the major triggers for the big fat cycle of weight loss and gain is fantasy. We are taught that when we are thin our lives will be perfect. We will be beautiful. We will be like movie stars. Men or women (depending on your preference) will be standing in line to take us out and buy us fabulous stuff because we are gorgeous. Our health will magically be perfect. We will be pain free. We will climb mountains and become CEOs of multinational corporations because that’s what thin people do. Look out for me, baby!
Then we (at least temporarily) get thin. And we are the same. Our lives are much the same. A few people who weren’t interested in dating us before may become interested. But instead of feeling elated about that, we feel hurt and kinda pissed off. We wonder why we weren’t good enough to date before. And we wonder about the fear of dating somebody who will drop us when we gain some or all of the weight back. People tell us how fabulous we look now. And again, it kind of hurts. We wonder what they thought about how we looked before we lost the weight. We still feel pain. We still get sick. We fail to climb mountains or climb the corporate ladder. We are simply smaller versions of ourselves with the same frustrations, insecurities, problems, challenges, frustrations and crud in our lives as before–except without cookies. No cookies are anywhere. And people wonder why weight loss can be accompanied by a side of depression?
This is why a behavior-based approach to health is so much better. There is no before and after. There just is. I feel better when I exercise, so I exercise. I don’t have to do something I hate. I don’t have to do things that feel like punishment. I don’t have to build up some ridiculous fantasy about how my life will change when I do it. I find exercise that I like. I know I feel better when I do it. So I do. It’s pretty simple really.
I know that when I eat too much of certain things, I feel kinda icky. So I don’t usually eat too much of certain things. Sometimes I do. Sometimes I know I’m going to feel kinda icky and I eat it anyway and I enjoy it. But I don’t like feeling icky so the next day I probably won’t eat too much of that thing.
I know when I eat a lot of fruits and vegetables, my body feels better. I don’t count servings or weigh or measure my broccoli. I don’t eat fruit or vegetables because I won’t allow myself to eat anything else and I’m starving. I just kinda know I feel better when I eat fruits and veggies so I do. I eat the ones I like when I am hungry for them. I don’t imbue them with magical powers. I am not suddenly going to grow taller or develop forearms like Popeye because I’ve downed a little spinach. Fruits and veggies feel good, so I eat them.
It may seem revolutionary to some. But I think when we stop focusing on how our bodies look and start focusing on the messages our bodies are sending us, we feel better. And I don’t really know if I need a study to tell me that.
Jeanette DePatie (AKA The Fat Chick)
P.S. We are only a few days away from the Fat Activism Conference. It’s only $39 or pay what you can. Check it out here!
P.S.S. Looking for a fabulously funny speaker who can talk about body image, HAES, eating disorder prevention, fitness and more? Book me here!