Saturday, November 28, 2020

Why Weight Loss Is The Wrong Goal

A Marsha Hudnall blast-from-the-past, originally posted September 11, 2009.

I own and direct a women’s healthy weight loss retreat.  But I wish women would stop trying to lose weight.

No, I don’t want to put myself out of business.  I’d just rather help women set and achieve goals that will really take them where they want to go.

The typical weight loss scenario might be summed up in one of the Biggest Loser seasons.  We decide we’re going to lose weight, then go about doing it in ways that often mean weight loss at any cost.  I confess I haven’t watched the show – ever – but everything I’ve heard/read about it says it’s about losing weight fast, often in very unhealthy ways, working really, REALLY hard, and in general doing things that someone likely couldn’t accomplish on their own.

Then there’s the fallout when they are on their own – weight regain.

And the consequences of that;

Poor self-esteem.

Continued poor body image.

Maybe even poor health.

What if we changed our goal to feeling great?

Consider this scenario: I am above a healthy weight for me, but that’s not something I focus on. Instead, I look at my lifestyle habits. I decide eating on the run isn’t making me feel well. Likewise, working 10 hours a day, just to go home and veg in front of the tv. I decide to explore how I can do things differently. And start doing just that. With small steps that I can keep doing over time.

If I’m focusing on my weight, I’m likely to be chomping at the bit. Because my weight loss can be really slow (if it happens at all – more on that below). If I’m not focusing on it, however, after a (long) while of doing things that make me feel well, I can find my weight has moved to a point that’s right for me. But the big bonus is that I’m safely ensconced in a healthy lifestyle that makes me feel great, and that I don’t feel the need to escape from.

Oh, about that big “if” re weight loss. Weight loss occurs through healthy lifestyle changes for those of us whose unhealthy weight came about through unhealthy lifestyles. If we’re genetically designed to be larger, a healthy lifestyle isn’t going to make us smaller. It will just help keep us feeling great. A fabulous outcome in my book.

There are other situations in which a healthy lifestyle doesn’t necessarily lead to weight loss, situations that aren’t totally understood, such as the typical weight gain of menopause and aging. The bottom line here, however, is that trying to lose weight usually only creates more problems than it solves. Feeling great, again, is a goal that supports us better.

In this society, it’s hard for women to give up on weight loss.  That’s what this blog is about — the unrelenting expectation that women should fit one image and the waste of our lives that results from chasing that image.

If we could change our focus to health, accepting whatever body size that results, imagine the relief, the peace, the productivity that could come from that.

Those are the principles behind the Health at Every Size movement, which is gaining momentum, slowly but surely. If you’d like to help move it forward, consider joining the Association for Size Diversity and Health.

And I’m not worried we’ll go out of business because we’re really not about weight loss at all but about helping women get past concerns about weight to be the best they can and want to be.

I’ll leave you with a question– what personal habits could you change now that would improve your health slowly by surely?




26 Responses to “Why Weight Loss Is The Wrong Goal”
  1. Joy Manning says:

    Marsha, what a sane and thoughtful post. I’m really excited to read it here. Thanks.

    I do strive for health but I know there are some habits I could change like:

    Drinking less alcohol, which is a challenge because I’m a restaurant critic and drinking is often part of the job, but also because I sometime reach for a drink to relieve stress …

    … when I really should be practicing meditation, yoga, or some other stress-busting, health-boosting activity. I would like to implement one of those as a habit

    I could practice better “sleep hygiene” (going to bed and waking up at the same time, not lying in bed when not sleeping, etc.) to be more rested in my life.

    I look forward to seeing what others have to say.

    • Marsha says:

      Great goals, Joy. Trying to work it so that what we do to earn our living doesn’t conflict with taking care of ourselves is a challenge for many of us. Probably the best (worst?) example of that I’ve heard is operating room nurses who go on duty at a really early hour — maybe 5:00 am or so — and don’t get a break until mid-afternoon to feed themselves. Not good for them, certainly, but I wouldn’t want to be the person in their care on the operating table either. You’re right to focus on the non-work times, too. Those times have much more impact that we realize.

  2. Fitarella says:

    “…imagine the relief, the peace, the productivity that could come from that.”

    YES YES YES!! Relief, peace & productivity – BEAUTIFUL & TRUE!

    as someone that comes from a very disordered eating past, it is thoughts & support like this that keeps me going and gets me through each day. Thank you for sharing Marsha.

  3. As one who also helps women lose weight, I’m all with you!

    I wish women would stop dieting and trying to fit into someone else idea of how or what they should look like. It’s all about having a healthy lifestyle, at whatever weight and size YOU feel good in.

    You and your body need to FEEL good. And by treating you and your body well (with good, healthy food, exercise, positive thinking, self-care, etc) your body will love yo back.

    Great post and one that more women should listen to. I’d love it if all women could look and feel great at their own standards, not someone else’s. That’s part of my personal mission — and inspiring, educating, motivating, and guiding women to look and feel their best.

    Thanks for your great insight Marsha! And thanks to this blog for getting that message out there and keeping it real — the real deal 🙂

  4. MizFit says:


    That word leaps out at me as, when I was a personal trainer, the time & energy amazing vibrant women wasted obsessing about weightLOSS over being healthy and LIVING was shocking.

    I’m woman enough to say I’d not heard of HAES before we met.

    I’m so thankful to have met you.

    • Marsha says:

      I have learned from you, too, Miz. Thank you for being who you are, a major feature of which is being so there for people.

      While there may be many cons to technology, I am so thankful for the connection it allows. I live in the woods of Vermont which, while beautiful, can be very isolating. I imagine many women feel that isolation in the middle of big cities, too. The internet has made all the difference for me with the sharing and inspiration I get from the people, mainly women, I meet through it. What an amazing group of women, too!

  5. TWoP Fan says:

    This is the best post I have ever seen on this site.

  6. starstruk says:

    Marsha, my #ageop friend…you are a wise woman and you inspire me.

  7. greenbunny78 says:

    excellent post!

  8. Marsha says:

    So glad to see folks on board with this message. Repeating myself a bit, I think what it really gets down to is how we choose to live our lives. I want to get on with mine, living it in a way that fulfills me. Focusing on my weight doesn’t do that for me; it does exactly the opposite. It drains me.

    Thanks for all your comments!

  9. Kat says:

    Thank you for this post Marsha. It really puts things in perspective. I am trying to lose weight, but my main driver is being the healthiest I can be. I dont want to waste anymore time obsessing on my weight and basing my self worth on the number on the scale!

  10. lissa10279 says:

    Fabulous post, Marsha. I know when I was losing weight in 2003, health was not my top priority: being thin was. Now I’m 10-15 lbs heavier than my “happy weight” and I have health as my motivator, vs. thinness. I might never get back to my lowest weight, but at nearly 30 (vs 25) I’m ok with that. But my health is the top priority and it’s good to visualize it that way. I think it will make the journey more meaningful this time. I know what “thin” tastes like and it didn’t make me much happier — just obsessed with weight. Focusing on my weight and obsessing over every little thing drove me to disordered eating and I do NOT want to go back down that path.

    So to answer your q, one habit I could change is not buying trigger foods; the things that are standing between me and my happy weight. I can have certain triggers around (chocolate, for example) but I can’t keep gourmet PBs at home anymore; I end up tossing the jar when it’s only half-full b/c I end up ODing on it and feeling bad afterwards. It’s an expensive and unnecessary habit; better to buy single-serve packets of my favorite PBs/ABs.

  11. Forestroad says:

    “I know what “thin” tastes like and it didn’t make me much happier — just obsessed with weight. Focusing on my weight and obsessing over every little thing drove me to disordered eating and I do NOT want to go back down that path.”

    Me too, lissa. Quoted for truth.

    Marsha, I live in the VT woods and if there’s any place that will get people focused on how amazing their bodies feel being active outside, this is it. When I’m inside I spend too much time in front of the mirror and on the scale, but get me outside on my bike or on the trails or skis and I just feel so blessed to have the body that I do. It can be isolating, yeah, but I’ve found some pretty great online communities too, as long as I don’t spend too much time in front of the screen.

    I’m going to focus on doing activities that I love in the quantities I love, not in the quantities that will burn the most calories.

    • Marsha says:

      I’m with you on the VT woods. Just came in from a walk outside on a beautiful day. And actually looking forward to winter because I love to snowshoe.

  12. fizex says:

    there are 10 simple tips that you can practice in order to achieve the dream of:

    1. Set your goals slowly. Get decrease in the range of 0.5kg to 1kg per week.
    2. can take supplements such as Glutamine each day after exercise session.
    3. Reduce the intake of food or drink sweet (sugar content high).
    4. just eat fruit instead.
    5. drinks more mineral water and do not drink alcoholic beverages.
    6. Set the time you eat each day.
    7. Eat in the dining area and not in front of the tv.
    8. Familiarize themselves with the smaller plates when eating.
    9. Fill your days with doing certain activities to avoid fun thought of food.
    10. Make sure you get adequate rest. For example bedtime. Sleep in 6 to 8 hours a day

    You can follow all this tips to get more ideal body,visits here to more info..

    • Marsha says:

      Some of these tips can be very useful in helping us get and stay healthy, fizex, but when we’re undertaking them as a way to lose weight, we’re right back where we started — risking the obsession and other negative feelings I and many commenters mentioned. We need to remove weight loss as a goal, and have it become an outcome of our health efforts if it’s part of being healthy for us as individuals (as I said earlier, for some people, weight loss isn’t required to be and stay healthy, even when they are larger than societal expectations).

  13. auntie says:

    wonderful post! i really like what you said about all the time we waste worrying about our bodies and what we eat…while i try to be mindful and aware of what i’m eating/not eating, i try very hard NOT to be “one of those people” that only talks about food and exercise and the size of their jeans! nothing kills a great meal more than that subject, IMO.

    i’ve recently been trying to focus on turning a hobby into a money-maker, as well as accomplish some organizational-type projects at home, and i noticed one day that i hadn’t been thinking about food nearly as much since my focus shifted to something else. and i LOVED the way that felt!! i don’t know if i’d really lost any weight during those couple of weeks, but just knowing that i am finding validation and encouragement in ways other than how my body looks was really a morale booster for me!!

    • Marsha says:

      “i noticed one day that i hadn’t been thinking about food nearly as much since my focus shifted to something else.”

      To me, this speaks to the passion that’s missing from many of our lives — something that emotional eating is often about. We don’t have anything that really excites/inspires/feeds us emotionally because we’re too focused on food and weight to either find our passion, or give it adequate attention if we already have.

  14. clairemysko says:

    Thank you so much for this post! If we could all just let go of the fantasy that a thinner body–rather than a healthier body (and mind)–is the key to our fulfillment, the world would surely be a much saner place. Our society has indoctrinated us into thinking that a focus on weight loss is a healthy mindset, when in fact it’s our thoughts about that “happy number” that are keeping so many of us feeling UNHAPPY.

    So glad you were able to contribute this piece.

  15. NewMe says:

    Great post. There was just one little thing that bothered me: the use of the expression “healthy weight”. Too many people confuse “healthy” with a BMI of 24.9 or less. In fact, as you point out yourself, healthy often has not much to do with weight and a lot to do with basically doing things that make us feel good in our own skin.

    Constantly seeking weight loss is often just a short cut to low self-esteem, unhealthy habits and…weight gain.

    As for what I personally need to do more of: stress reduction and more sleep. I’ve been doing mindful meditation since November, but it’s only just the beginning for me.


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