Everywhere I turn people are trying to lose weight. Some want to look better, and some want to be healthier. Most probably want better health and better looks, but I think people are primarily driven by one or the other to lose weight.
When I hear that someone is trying to lose weight to look better, I inwardly cringe. I can’t blame anyone for wanting a slender, tone body. It’s hard to escape the messages the media gives us of what desirable people look like. But I think also it’s because people in the best health, who eat well and are active, generally have nicely toned bodies, free of excess fat. I think–perhaps, instinctively–want to look healthy.
But like I was saying, I sort of cringe when I learn about weight-loss goals that are created with the purpose of reshaping one’s body. Because first of all, that means a person is unhappy with their body, and I think that’s sad. And secondly, it means they *might* do things like restrict calories or important nutrients to get to their goal, or take weight-loss supplements (which can be dangerous), or even resort to surgery (which is dangerous). I’m relieved when I hear their method involves nourishing food and exercise. Then I know they care about their health, too. Sadly, this isn’t always the case.
When I hear someone say they are losing weight to get healthier, I sort of do this half-hearted cheer. Hurray they want to be healthier! But maybe it’s not their weight that is making them unhealthy!
Maybe it’s that poor health is making them fat. This is when I pray they don’t go on a calorie restricted diet. Losing weight by restricting calories is likely to cause further damage to a person’s health because they are also restricting nutrients from going into the body. Of course, if they are cutting back on calories by dropping their soda or sweets consumption, then YEAH, that will improve their health. But cutting back on healthy fats, proteins, and other nutritious foods can have serious ramifications.
Health comes first.
I understand that there is a powerful drive to lose weight and shape our bodies into lean, ripped figures that make us feel attractive. When I gave birth to my son and didn’t get my regular size body back right away (as in, I magically somehow weighed the same after giving birth as I did with the baby still inside me), it was hard to love my body. Over time, I began to appreciate my post-birth body as one that created and was still nourishing a baby, and I loved it for that. Slowly the weight came off (mostly) and then I stopped caring what my waistline looked like–even when some weight sneaked back on. I was way too busy raising a child to care.
Oh, and there’s something else.
I knew that health was more important than appearance, but at some point I really realized how connected these two things are–that good health leads the body to its appropriate weight. I decided that I wasn’t going to worry about my appearance anymore, but rather my health. I decided to trust that as I became healthier, I would start to look better. Putting my focus on health has brought an amazing change to the way I look at my body. Instead of being excited if I lose a pound, I’m excited if I have more energy. Instead of being excited that my clothes fit better, I’m excited when I sleep better at night. Instead of taking waist measurements, I take notes on how my mood is improving. I don’t even know where my bathroom scale is or what size I wear, but I do know that I’m enjoying my improved strength and vitality.
When people improve their diets and activity level, they get healthier. When people get healthier, their bodies work better. This could include improved thyroid function (which helps regulate weight), decreased insulin resistance (which also relates to weight), and other body functions (which may or may not play a role in weight regulation but are still very important, I assure you!). Studies are showing that toxins are associated with weight-gain, so by removing artificial foods and foods grown with growth hormones, pesticides, and antibiotics may help the body regain some of it’s normal functioning. For those who are insulin resistant, eating low-glycemic foods or fewer total carbohydrates may be key. Thyroid function can be improved by eating coconut oil and unrefined salt. Just for example.
Many, many things go into a truly nourishing diet, and healing doesn’t happen overnight. That’s why focusing on weight– rather than on health–worries me. Even when a person tries to lose weight by eating well and exercising, they may become disappointed when they don’t lose fast enough, or don’t lose weight at all. It may take months or even years for thyroid function to improve enough to start losing weight. Other imbalances that prevent weight-loss may also take time to return to their natural harmonious states. What happens when you don’t lose right away? Do you get tempted to try something else? Something that might not be such a good idea for your body?
Simply losing weight can help you feel lighter and it may improve your blood pressure and other health issues directly related to weight. [EDIT: Just to clarify, if you do need immediate weight-loss for health reasons, you should follow your doctor’s recommendations, of course.] But simply losing weight doesn’t address your whole body of health. If it did, all the slim people in the world would have radiant health, and this just isn’t so.
Learn to love your body so much that you put health over appearance. That you put nutrient-rich foods in your mouth rather than weight-loss pills. That you get enjoyable, moderate exercise rather than over-pushing your body in an effort to burn more calories.
Good health is a lifestyle that is natural and enjoyable. When you give your body the nourishment it needs, your body will find its way to its ideal weight on its own. You just gotta put health first.