What Do You Really Mean When You Say “I Want To Lose Weight?”

Most people who tell me that they want to lose weight are not telling the truth.

It’s not that they’re lying to me, it’s that they’ve been fed lies by popular culture about what weight loss will mean for them.

Firstly, on a pragmatic level, very few of the people who tell me that they want to lose weight actually want to weigh less. What they want is to change the way that they look, which usually means reducing body fat and increasing muscle mass, but not necessarily achieving a particular number on the scale per se.

Even if someone approaches me with a more specific request to achieve a certain dress size, look or body fat percentage, they are still usually not being honest about what they really want.

When most people talk about changing the way that they look, what they really want is the plethora of benefits that they assume will accompany the change. They think that if they’re thinner or leaner, that they’ll be happier, more confident, more attractive, more successful, less depressed, less lonely, that they’ll have more friends/dates/sex/opportunities etc.

I don’t blame these people for thinking this way. Every industry – from medical to fashion to food to the fitness industry itself – bombards us with messages that equate the “perfect” physique with every kind of happiness.

I don’t dispute that the act of “getting in shape” (whatever “shape” that is) can be a transformative – yes, even “life-changing” – experience. But it’s not the altered appearance that is transformative, rather the consistent, disciplined effort that is required in order to create this change. You could apply that consistent, disciplined effort to anything – origami, gardening, toy photography – and experience this kind of transformation.

I’m not saying that using diet and exercise to achieve a certain aesthetic is not a worthy goal. If you want to look a certain way, it is your right take advantage of every opportunity you have to do so. But if you are expecting your new look to imbue your life with happiness, love or success, you’re doomed to disappointment. Not only that, but if you invest that much emotion into the outcome of your nutrition and exercise, it’s going to be much more difficult for you to be resilient in the face of the setbacks that will inevitably occur in the course of your journey due to the added pressure you’ve placed on yourself to succeed. (Imagine the difference between the consequences of fitting/not fitting your skinny jeans compared to having/not having love, self-worth and happiness.)

Remember that your body is only a body. If you need to improve your confidence, self-worth or social life, give these areas the direct attention that they deserve. Losing weight or being “thin” won’t give you these things. If you do decide to take action to change your body, make sure it is for the right reasons.

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