I’ve read several articles lately that talk about our bodies and how they work when it comes to weight and weight loss. I’ve been fascinated by them, because each of them is taking the advice we’ve been given for decades on how to be healthy and turning it on its head. I decided to not just put these in the links section, because they aren’t just links for me, they are about a change in thinking that I’m so happy to see.
I should back up for just one moment though. Part of why I’ve found these fascinating is because I grew up in a house where weight was a big issue. My mom struggled throughout my childhood to be thin and she was on Weight Watchers and other diets. And I can honestly say that I don’t recall a time when she wasn’t concerned or fretting about food, exercise, and overall health. Growing up in this environment meant that I too was often thinking about these thing. I’ve always been healthy, and I’ve never felt I was overweight, but when it is front and center in your life for so much of your childhood, you think about it.
And now, here I am at 42, happy with where I’m at and reading that all the things that were in front of me during my childhood are wrong. That the way our bodies work is how they work. And the conclusion I came to a while back about myself, that I have a weight my body seems to be happy with and that if I eat right it’s about where I stay, is actually true.
A Vox article was the first one I read. And wow, talk about using science to say that killing ourselves with exercise in order to lose weight will never work. It’s fascinating and I recommend reading it. I mean, exercise is still a good thing, just for other reasons than weight loss. Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies is well worth the time if you have any interest in the topic.
How much we move is connected to how much we eat. As Hall put it, “I don’t think anybody believes calories in and calories out are independent of each other.” And exercise, of course, has a way of making us hungry — so hungry that we might consume more calories than we just burned off.
Next up, the New York Times published a really fascinating article following the participants of the TV show The Biggest Loser for six years after the show ended. And all of them gain back weight and it’s not because they weren’t trying to stay thin, for the most part many of them continued to try and maintain, but their bodies fought against them.
What shocked the researchers was what happened next: As the years went by and the numbers on the scale climbed, the contestants’ metabolisms did not recover. They became even slower, and the pounds kept piling on. It was as if their bodies were intensifying their effort to pull the contestants back to their original weight.
And finally, today I read in the Sunday Review in the New York Times another piece about how our bodies fight against us losing too much weight. Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet is written by a neuroscientist and talks at length about the way our bodies are made to keep us at a weight they’ve determined. I’m fascinated to know how the determination is made, but that seems very complex and I haven’t seen anything on that yet.
If dieting doesn’t work, what should we do instead? I recommend mindful eating — paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness, without judgment, to relearn how to eat only as much as the brain’s weight-regulation system commands.
My experience over the past several has been true to much of what these articles talk about. I exercise quite regularly, both running and yoga, but I do it because it actually has benefits to my mental health and to my body recovering from the hunched over a computer life I lead. I now try to eat healthy, I eat when I’m hungry, I stop when I’m full, and I’ve been maintaining a healthy weight. But the voices from my childhood about what weight we should be, the voices from the media about how a woman’s body should look (just try buying jeans when you have muscular legs, ugh) are extremely hard to shut out. These articles helped me tamp them down and reminded me that we are all very different and that’s a good thing.