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Doing Activities for the Wrong Reasons

Clients often complain, “I’m going to the gym three times a week, so why haven’t I lost weight” or “I’ve cut way back on sweets, so how come my pants are still tight?” I really don’t know what to say to them. Frankly, I don’t have an answer that will make them less disappointed and frustrated. But, I do have a response that will help them think in a healthier way about cutting back on sweets and continuing to go to the gym.

If you’re still engaging in health care behaviors to lose weight, you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Linda Bacon, PhD, researcher and author of Health At Every Size and Body Respect says that we disregulate our body by dieting and binge-eating and that it can take a year of “normal” eating for the body to re-regulate. So, I suppose that’s one answer for why clients aren’t seeing body weight changes: It takes time, probably more time than they’re giving it.

Another response I often give is that weight is not the only outcome of “normal” eating. I ask if clients have checked their triglycerides, cholesterol, or blood pressure. Have these readings have improved? Sadly, weight has been touted as the only important number related to health, a false supposition. What if you’re getting healthier by cutting back on sweets and working out more regularly? What if you’re helping avoid diabetes and building bone to ward off osteoporosis? What if you’re more happy and proud?

Another response I offer is that changing behavior—eating more healthfully or being more active—only to lose weight is a poor long-term motivator. Why not do it because you value your health and want your body to feel good? Or because you feel proud when you take care of yourself? Whether you lose a pound or not, you can feel good about your ability to take care of yourself.

The reason so many dysregulated eaters stop eating according to appetite or staying active is because the number on the scale doesn’t budge. But when they slack off on health care, are they moving closer to taking care of their bodies or moving farther away? Obviously, the latter. If you find yourself rebelling against doing what you know is beneficial for you, my bet is that you’ve been doing whatever it is to lose weight and not because you really wish to be healthy. For the umpteenth time, I can only repeat that weight loss is not a sustainable motivator for changing behavior. I understand that you want to shed pounds, but don’t you also want to live a long and healthy life? Only you can decide what your goals are: weight loss or health.