Of all the discussions I have with clients, the most difficult for both of us, it seems, is talking about their desire to lose weight. The topic comes up often—for some clients, in nearly every session—and its exploration never gets any easier. I sometimes feel as if I’m being drawn down into a quagmire with every word I utter and believe that my clients feel similarly. Why is it so tough to talk about the perils of a weight-loss focus?
First off, clients seem to feel as if I’m trying to snatch something away from them. I even get the feeling that they think I’m a little crazy to be suggesting that weight loss isn’t a great long-term motivator or goal. After all, their doctors and doctors’ nurses, dieticians and, well, just about every health professional they encounter is telling them just the opposite. And then there are the barrage of daily news stories in every type of media telling them that they’re going to die if they don’t shed some pounds. Their parents, children, friends, partners and spouses all agree: you need to lose weight to be happy and healthy. No wonder they think I’m a bit out of step.
Second, I think that when I tell them to move away from having weight loss as a goal, they are hearing something quite different than my intent. I suspect that the message they are getting and trying to internalize is that they don’t need to lose weight or shouldn’t be trying to lose it. No wonder our ships seem to be sailing right past each other repeatedly. I am not telling them, or you, that you should not wish to decrease the number on the scale or that weight loss has no place in health or the quality of life. I don’t believe that, so that is not what I am saying.
I am saying that as the sole, exclusive focus, weight loss is not the motivator they think, wish and hope it to be. Wanting to lose weight is not the big picture, but a small aspect of it. The larger and more important goals are to be fit, healthy and happy, to love yourself no matter what your weight, and to take super duper care of your body no matter what number the scale says. Weight loss can certainly help ease movement, increase flexibility, decrease stress on body parts, enhance sexual feelings, bolster self-esteem, and make you feel more normal in our fat phobic, thin obsessed society.
Again, I am not discouraging weight loss, but I am saying that in my 30 years of experience, in the experience of other eating disorders therapists, and in terms of scientific research, having a main goal of losing weight, as opposed to being healthy, fit and wanting to take the best care of your body that you can, just isn’t going to help you get to and stay where you want to be.