This is the year, you tell yourself. This year you’re finally going to stick to your 5:2 Paleo Wheat Belly Bikini Challenge and by next Christmas you’ll look like you’ve been Photoshopped.
But before you hand over a small fortune and another slice of your soul to the weight loss industry, Dr Rick Kausman, author of If Not Dieting, Then What? and fellow of the Australian Society for Psychological Medicine, suggests you think again.
1. There is no magic number or chart that can accurately measure your health
Despite being thoroughly discredited as an accurate measure of an individual’s health, Body Mass Index (BMI) is the favourite tool of the weight loss industry.
‘Weight is a terrible proxy for health’, say Dr Kausman, who has been running a weight management and eating behaviour clinic for 25 years.
‘You can’t measure someone’s ideal weight from a chart. And if we are measuring health, then weight is the wrong measure. Health is much more complex than a number.’
‘Without BMI measures the weight loss industry would fold because there would be no goal for people to aspire to.’
‘A waist circumference may give a clue as to possible risk factors, but that still doesn’t mean you can assume that a person is unhealthy. It’s still just an average for populations that can never be applicable to all individuals.’
Dr Kausman says that behaviours and attitudes are much better measures of health. He suggests a quick self-inventory along the following lines: Are you moving your body in an enjoyable way on a regular basis?
If you need something more objective, then blood sugar levels and blood pressure are much better measures than the all-encompassing BMI number.
2. Rather than you failing the diet, the diet failed you
Just like in ABBA’s ‘Waterloo’, the weight loss industry feels like it wins when it loses. If people lose weight initially, it’s a diet industry success story. When people regain the weight it’s a personal failing of the individual.
‘People say to me, “I’m so good at so many areas of my work and life; I’m determined and successful, but when it comes to my weight I’ve just got no willpower,”‘ says Dr Kausman.
‘It’s not a matter of willpower. It’s about having the right strategy to help support us to be the healthiest we can be — and dieting is not that.’
‘When people go on a diet almost everyone ends up back at their original weight. The research is crystal clear on that’, says Dr Kausman.
And it gets worse. More often than not, diets end up making people fatter.
‘Two-thirds of dieters will end up at a higher weight than when they started’, says Dr Kausman. ‘Weight loss dieting is actually contributing to people becoming above their most healthy weight, which is the opposite of what is being sold to people.’
3. You don’t have to go hungry or under-eat to be the healthiest weight you can be.
We don’t need to have fasting days, drink diet shakes or count calories or points. When it comes to eating the right amount of food for our bodies, the only expert we need to listen to is our own body.
‘We don’t need gurus to tell us how much to eat, what to eat, and what time to eat it. Eating more slowly and enjoying our food trumps all of those things for almost everyone,’ Dr Kausman says. ‘Our body lets us know how much is enough. People are shocked by how much less they eat when they eat more slowly and stop when they are full.’
‘The reason some people are eating more food than is right for their body is that they’re doing a lot of non-hungry eating — eating what they are not physically hungry for.’
‘Don’t follow any more rules. A much better alternative to counting and measuring is eating more mindfully, which is listening to our body about when we’re hungry and when we’re full.’
4. Self-loathing doesn’t burn calories
Tough love might excite bootcamp fitness nuts and ‘health’ bureaucrats who want to look like they’re ‘doing something’ about obesity, but the evidence shows it’s not an effective way to improve people’s health.
‘Self-compassion helps us eat the amount of food that is right for our body’, says Dr Kausman. ‘If we’re feeling good about ourselves, we’re more likely to look after ourselves well. That can help us eat more mindfully and make healthier choices.’
Still not convinced? Then Dr Kausman suggests asking yourself what you’d tell your best friend to encourage them to do something? Would you speak kindly to them and use compassion or speak harshly and shame them?
5. It’s not possible for everyone to lose the amount of weight they want.
Dr Kausman’s final piece of advice may be a bitter pill to swallow for people who think the only thing standing between them and looking like a supermodel is will power and the latest wonder diet. But for others it will be a relief.
‘People come in all different shapes and sizes,’ he says. ‘Person A could be doing lots of activity and not much non-hungry eating and person B could be doing lots of non-hungry eating and not much activity and their weights might be the same,’ says Dr Kaufman.
‘Some people can be doing everything they can possibly do to be the healthiest they can be but they still might be told that they are overweight or they may feel cultural pressure to lose weight. It’s so damaging for that person.’
A goal of weight loss is setting yourself up for another year of failure. For 2015, make a resolution you have a chance of keeping: focus on eating as well as you can, be as active as you can, and let your weight fall where it may.