When I recently wrote about ‘thinsanity’, you got it.1 But also the obvious question ‘what do I do about it?’ came thick and fast to my inbox! So I’m going to show you how to take the first step to overcoming it. As you LOVED reading the excerpt I shared from my upcoming book on the topic, I’m going to cheekily share another one with you now2 …
Imagine I’m a weight loss expert and you’re in my office for the first time. Of course, you’re hoping I’ll have the answer that finally works for you. I tell you I’m excited about your weight loss journey. However, accidentally and unknowingly, today I have mixed up my herbal detox tea with my truth-serum tea. Sipping it, I tell you it’s a certainty I can help you lose some weight, even if it’s nowhere near the amount you’d really like to lose given the goal weight you just gave me. When you ask about my success rate with helping people keep the weight off, my voice rises an octave as I sheepishly reply ‘About three per cent’. The truth-serum tea is really kicking in now, and I volunteer that because the weight loss process often leads to weight gain over time, you’ll actually end up heavier as a result of seeing me than if you did nothing at all.
How are you feeling? Pumped? Ready to sign up? I doubt it (and if you are, you definitely need to keep reading!).
Despite what they advertise, all diet- and exercise-based weight loss plans result in what researchers call the ‘Nike swoosh’ of weight loss: short-term weight loss, followed by weight regain to pre-diet weight within a few years, then rising significantly above the pre-diet weight within five years.3 The reality is that people who try to lose weight gain more weight than those who don’t.4
While it makes intuitive sense that if you want to lose weight you should just do it with diet and exercise, all the research we have suggests that trying to lose weight in this way actually backfires in the long term. Focusing on the scales can lead to unhealthy relationships with food and physical activity, putting you at risk of both unhealthy weight loss (via restricted eating and exercise addiction) and weight gain (via overeating and sedentary living). Many of my clients experience both, with a fanciful weight loss honeymoon period followed by a terrible marriage of weight gain.
The fact that people who have been ‘supporting’ you in the past have ignored this plain-as-day reality annoys the hell out of me. More upsetting, though, is that when you do inevitably regain weight, you blame yourself. It’s as if you failed the diet, and not the other way around.
Eventually, after you have recovered from your post-diet heartbreak, you open your heart again and decide to give thinness another try. Diet culture sends a charming new weight loss fad into your life and, with all its glossy promises, draws you back into another bad relationship. Because, let’s face it, this new romance is just a repackaged version of the same loser you’ve dated half a dozen times before.
Over repeated Nike swoosh cycles, you end up dieting yourself fatter. Your weight history ends up looking the way you’d want your share portfolio to look!
You can’t have this continue – you have to lose some weight! But trying to lose weight only makes the problem worse. It’s like you’re digging yourself deeper into a pit of eating, weight and body-image issues … and the diet industry is handing you an array of shovels for answers.
All of this only makes your thinsanity worse, meaning that:
The solution you’re being given is actually part of the problem!
The unfortunate reality is that this story is one I hear every day. If the struggle of alternating between dieting and bingeing is familiar, you are not alone. If you feel trapped in habits you can’t seem to change, you are not alone. If you want to be healthier, but are confused as to how to do it, you are not alone.
There is nothing wrong with you. You are normal. In fact, you are just fine.
I want you to ask yourself: are your negative experiences with weight loss signs of a personal weakness, or could they be a natural human response to a problematic process?
You haven’t failed diets – diets have failed you.
And we health professionals have failed you by failing to combat the harmful messages of the dieting industry and provide you with a truly workable way forward.
But we have a chance to fix it. Just because something’s not your fault doesn’t mean it’s not your responsibility. You can let go of what doesn’t work. You can STOP focusing on dieting and exercising to lose weight. I am hereby refusing to be your next failed diet.
Now I’m going to throw a rope down to pull you out of thinsanity in my next email … but first you need to put down the shovel.
Thinsantidote 1: Break up with the scales
(In Thinsanity we explore 7 Symptoms of thinsanity, each with a ‘cure’ that we call a ‘Thinsantidote’!)
You have so much to gain just by breaking off an unhealthy relationship with the scales. It’s not the entire answer (in fact, a weight focus is the first of four dieting factors from which we will free ourselves), but it’s an important start. Even if it’s really hard, and even if you haven’t found a more supportive love to replace it with yet, it’s time to say, ‘It’s not me, it’s you.’
It’s time to break the addiction. It’s time for other things to become important again – fun again. When they do, a door will open to a whole new world of possibilities, and you’ll be surprised at just how much mental space the scales were taking up.
Anyone guaranteeing you long-term weight loss is either lying to you or an idiot. But I’ll guarantee a weight off your mind if you stick with me. This is the first weight you will lose, and free of it you’ll feel better immediately!
As everything is related, letting go of the scales makes all the work to come easier. As an example, as weight focus decreases intuitive eating increases, so just by letting go of the scales you will naturally become a more intuitive eater. When we get to developing intuitive eating in Step 4,5 it will be easier than ever before (if you’ve struggled with this in the past, scales sabotage has likely been a big barrier).
Tossing the scales can be daunting, but it really is the best first step to freeing yourself of weight worries. You can’t take the focus off the scales and keep weighing yourself. The behaviour itself reinforces the focus – like a recovering alcoholic having just one drink, weighing yourself can pull you back into a dieting mindset so quickly. If you don’t change your relationship with your weight, you’re really only paying lip-service to this step, and you run the risk of learning more but not actually changing anything. And neither of us want that – you’re worth too much!
And once it’s done, it’s done – it’s like ripping off a Band-Aid. After a conversation about what was best for her wellbeing and long term success, I encouraged one of the Biggest Loser: Transformed contestants, Steph, to be brave enough do this mid-competition! If she could do it in the middle of Australia’s biggest weight loss contest (and with $100,000 on the line), you can do it now. My office cupboard is a graveyard where my clients’ scales go to die … and you know what? No one ever asks for them back! For more support in taking the focus off the scales, and to see Steph tossing hers, see Thursday Therapy #44 Taking the Focus Off the Scales.
So for homework I’d like you to break up with the scales6. Like any break-up, it’s your choice how you do it. You may want to casually toss them out with the rest of the trash, like Steph did, smash them with a hammer or burn them. You may need to get support from a trusted friend or family member – whatever works! When you do, take a picture and post it in our Psychology of Eating, Movement, Weight, and Body Image Support Group on Facebook – we love seeing people taking the first step! …
If you’re interested in taking the other 6 steps to free yourself from thinsanity, why not pre-order my book Thinsanity: 7 Steps to Transform your Mindset and Say Goodbye to Dieting Forever so you can get it hot off the press on it’s release date December 31st. The pre-order promotion is still running!
✔︎ Automatically be invited to an exclusive free live webinar where we talk through any questions you may have about the book or the game-changing principles within it.
✔︎ Go into the draw to win 1 of 3 one-on-one Skype sessions with me where I can help you overcome any problems you experience and apply anything you read in the book in a way that is right for you!
1 Thank you for all of your ‘thank you’s and heartwarming feedback – if you loved that little part, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!
2. Slightly altered so it makes sense without reading the rest of the book!
3. While the shape of the Nike swoosh may vary between various diet and exercise approaches, it remains a swoosh nonetheless. For a detailed review, see R.W. Jeffery, A. Drewnowski, L.H. Epstein, A.J. Stunkard, G.T. Wilson, R.R. Wing & D.R. Hill (2000). Long-term maintenance of weight loss: Current status. Health Psychology: 19 (1): 5-15.
4. E.A. Schur, S.R. Heckbert & J.H. Goldberg (2010). The association of restrained eating with weight change over time in a community-based sample of twins. Obesity, 18(6): 1146-52.
5. Step 4 is make peace with food. Step 1 is break up with the scales, Step 2 is make up with your body, Step 3 is sabotage to success, Step 5 is fall in love with movement, Step 6 is nurture your inner self, Step 7 is layer up with healthy habits and there is a Bonus Step at the end which can be a surprise for you!
6. Some break-ups happen in an instant, others over a period of time. If you feel you can’t stop weighing cold turkey, you may be able to wean yourself off the habit. If you are weighing multiple times a day, set a plan to weigh daily. If you are weighing daily, aim to cut back to once or twice a week. If you are weighing weekly, stretch it out to every two to four weeks, and if you are weighing every two to four weeks, push it out to quarterly! Eventually, you can stop weighing completely. Plenty of my clients make weight a non-issue (and, honestly, most of them surprise themselves with their ability to do it).
And like any break-up, the level to which you break up with the scales is your call. You may completely cut them off (my recommendation), stay loose friends and catch up every now and then (without getting too emotional about it), or just see each other at mutual friends’ events (like your health professional’s office – this can be a good idea if you just want to ‘keep an eye’ on them). But like any break-up, you have to be smart about what’s best for you, and do it no matter how hard it is.