Thursday, December 10, 2015

Intuitive Eating: When Weight Loss Isn't the Answer

I recently ran into a woman whom I knew from a class at my church. As single parents, we need plenty of strength, love and encouragement and I probed her with questions of how she was doing. Aside from an ongoing legal battle, managing a home with 2 boys by herself and working full time, she stated her most frustrating problem was “trying to lose 15 pounds.”
My heart sunk a little as I looked at her, knowing that her body size would be considered by society and by most of us as “normal”- slender and tall. At this point, knowing I was in the nutrition field, she persisted to defend her eating habits, seeming frustrated that she had done her “nutrition research” and was eating almost perfectly- why wasn’t she able to lose those 15 pounds she so desperately wanted to?
I nonchalantly suggested, that maybe weightloss wasn’t the answer. She looked at me- almost snapping, “but I am so much happier when I’m skinny!” Her story is powerful, and resonates with so many women who assume that weight loss equates to happiness, health and healing.
The traditional weight loss paradigm of our culture suggests that:
– “Everyone needs to be thin for good health and happiness”
– “People who are not thin are “overweight” because they have no willpower, eat too much, and don’t move enough”
– “Everyone can be thin, happy and healthy by dieting”
(Moving Away from Diets, Table 3.1 page 28).
In line with these cultural expectations is the billion dollar dieting industry. A 3 day cleanse to get rid of toxins? A 60 day weight loss transformation? A 3 week regimen booked with personal training sessions, meal plans and zero taste?
All banking off of these weight loss tenets promising us happiness is achieved through weight loss.
Alternatively, the Health at Every Size® (HAES) offers a gentle, holistic approach to health suggesting that:
– “Thin is not intrinsically health and beautiful, nor is fat intrinsically unhealthy and unappealing”
– “People naturally have different body shapes and sizes and difference preferences for physical activity”
– “Dieting usually leads to weight gain, decreased self esteem, and increased risk for eating problems. Health and happiness are not dependent on weight loss and involve dynamic interaction among mental, social, spiritual, and physical considerations”
(Moving Away from Diets, Table 3.1, page 28).
My personal and professional philosophy moves individuals towards true health enhancement, with little, if any attention to a persons weight. Removing the focus on a persons weight does not negate the attention away from any medical problems or health concerns, but simply recognizes that health is a complex interplay of social, emotional, ecological and spiritual factors. This allows health practitioners to view the person as a whole, rather than a specific focus on parts.
“HAES® proposes that people create health by healing disturbed relationships with food and making peace with their bodies, when and if these relationships are problematic, not by weight loss.” (Moving Away from Diets, page 29).
Growth Exercise:
How might our cultures focus on weight control and thinness part of a bigger agenda?
What are the differences we can notice in our own biases of the way we attribute characteristics to “thin” people and “heavier” people?
Identify times you have believed that being thin or achieving weight loss might make you happier- if you achieved that weight loss, did it ultimately bring you happiness?
If weight loss isn’t the answer, describe what true happiness might look like to you.
To learn more about the basic tenets of the HAES® approach, please visit:
Kratina, Nancy King, et al. Moving away from Diets: Healing Eating Problems and Exercise Resistance. Helm Publishing: Lake Dallas, Texas, 2003. Print.

Jaren Soloff is a San Diego based Dietetic Intern through Utah State University and received her Bachelors of Science degree in Dietetics from San Diego State University. Jaren's professional interest include eating disorders, prenatal + lactation nutrition and child feeding practices. Jaren firmly believes in empowering women by providing them with evidence based practices that support all women's innate ability to birth, breastfeed and nourish themselves and their children with confidence. Maintaining a non judgmental and safe space for women to share their relationship with food and body is the center of her practice. As an aspiring eating disorder Dietitian, Jaren is an active member of SCAN dietetic practice group and the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. You can reach Jaren via social media, or email at: