How does one successfully lose weight? Remembering the discussions my mother and grandmother had at the dinner table when I was a little girl, this seemed like some secret code every woman had to crack at one point in her life. They regularly had a go at it employing a variety of tactics, my grandmother more ferociously than my mother. Two of her strategies I particularly recall are having only water and bread every other day and massaging your belly fat, which would somehow reduce it. (Don’t ask)
This might be a good time to tell you that my mother and grandmother were not fat. At least, as far as I was concerned, they were normal shaped. Which in the early nineties was not yet synonymous for skinny. (From somewhere beyond the grave I can hear my grandmother shouting at me that I’m being ridiculous and that she was most definitely ‘fat’. Though not as fat as her mother-in-law who was ‘really fat’). Anyway, despite their efforts, I can’t say I ever noticed any remarkable reductions in the shape of their normal shaped bodies. (More shouting. Sorry grandma)
The weird thing is, although on the one hand I remember their weight struggles as something that concerned only them, the grownups, and not me, the idea that body weight and shape was somehow a problematic thing did nestle itself in my mind around that time. And boy, did it become a problem as I grew from a normal shaped girl into an ‘actually still normal, but bigger than most others’ teenager (which is hindsight, because I did think of myself as too fat), into a fat young adult and an even fatter grownup. If I may call myself that at the tender age of 31.
By now, I’m somewhat of an expert on losing weight. And subsequently gaining weight. And losing weight. And gaining weight. And… You get the picture. I’m not the only seriously overweight person (I fall within the statistical category you read about in newspaper articles about obesity and the related health risks and health care costs and general burden on society) who has attempted lose weight and failed to keep it off. In fact, that’s most of us fatties.
I’ve read quite a few research articles on ‘successful’ weight loss, and one of the persistent findings is that regardless of diet, most overweight people are back to their original weight (or even heavier) within three years. While other findings suggest that going up and down in weight is even more damaging for one’s health than consistently being (moderately) overweight. The one factor that actually seems to make a difference, according to these articles, is the inclusion of some kind of psychological intervention in the weight loss ‘treatment’.
I get the impression that this is one of those inconvenient truths. Because confronting and resolving your own psychological hang-ups (through therapy and/or other means) is not ‘quick and easy’. And we are supposed to believe that losing weight is just that. ‘All’ you need to do is eat less and exercise more. And if that’s not easy enough, there’s a whole industry making it easier for us. Just buy into the right philosophy by getting this book or joining that club. Get the ‘light’ or ‘diet’ version of all your favourite foods from the supermarket or better yet, get those meal replacing bars or shakes. Top it all off with some fat burning pills while you’re at it. Positive results are a matter of weeks rather than months. And when you do get those results… You’ll live happily ever after. All’s well that ends well.
Except it doesn’t end there. With winter come the pounds again and you’ll be more miserable than ever. As I see it, the fundamental flaw in the dominant weight loss narrative is that losing weight is the gateway to being a happier person. Well then, let me finally let you in on the big huge secret to cracking that code: it’s the other way around! Losing weight has much less to do with what you eat and when you eat it and if you stand on your head while eating it. It has everything to do with clearing your head. Massaging your belly fat is optional, redefining how you think about yourself, your weight, your shape, your body, your health and your happiness is not.
In other words, you can take the girl out of the fat body, but how do you take the fat body (and her mother and grandmother) out of the girl? As your resident Fat in the Head weight loss expert, I’ve got some ideas. Stay tuned…