For decades, the diet and fitness industry has been focused on one thing: convincing you that you need to lose weight. An enormous amount of products, programs, and challenges exist to help people shed extra pounds effortlessly. Weight loss isn’t just marketed as a strategy to become more healthy, it’s also marketed as a way to finally be happy with yourself, and worthy of love and attention.
If you’ve ever participated in a diet or fitness program, you know there are plenty of ways to lose weight that don’t improve your health. Crash diets, diet pills, and exercising through injury and exhaustion are all examples of things that can be detrimental to your physical health while also getting the number on the scale to go down. (I’ve actually done all of these things.)
Additionally, many “experts” seem to completely ignore the fact that mental and emotional health are just as important, and play a big part in your physical health. If the diet you’re following causes your mental health to tank, it can be detrimental to your health long-term.
And perhaps the most important thing to consider of all—if you’ve chosen to go on a diet or engage with fitness because you feel shame about the way you look (which just so happens to be the most common motivator, and therefore, the most commonly used marketing tactic in the industry), you will always prioritize the short-term, fast-acting solutions.
It is very, very rare for someone to make sustainable, healthful choices from a place of self-hate. Unfortunately, when people feel shame and use negative self-talk to motivate behavior changes, they never achieve happiness or find contentment, whether they reach their weight loss goal or not. Shame produces more shame; it doesn’t produce satisfaction.
Despite these complexities, most people assume that in order to become healthier, you need to lose weight. Now, research shows that’s not the case.
According to a recent study from the University of Cambridge, exercise significantly improves your health whether you lose weight or not. In fact, the study recorded twice as many deaths due to lack of exercise as due to obesity.Exercise Improves Your Health, Whether You Lose Weight or Not
This research isn’t the first of its kind. Many studies have shown that exercise improves your body’s physiological functions, which leads to improved health, regardless of your weight. Exercise alone is associated with longer life expectancy, even at relatively low levels of activity.
On the flip side, because many people think being overweight means you’re unhealthy, it’s also assumed that if you’re thin you’re healthy. But this assumption is also false.
A study out of UCLA found that many people with “unhealthy” BMIs aren’t actually unhealthy at all. In fact, just under 50% of the people who were classified as “overweight” were quite healthy when considering metabolic health, and biomarkers such as blood pressure, triglycerides, cholesterol, glucose, insulin resistance, and C-reactive protein.
They also found that 30% of the people who were a “normal” BMI were actually unhealthy.
In other words, you can be a variety of weights and still be healthy. Judging someone merely by their weight or by where they fall on the BMI scale is an incredibly inaccurate way to assess someone’s overall health.
Exercising regularly can drastically improve your health and add years to your life. Period, end of story. Moving every day in a way that you love and serves your body is going to positively impact your health. You don’t have to be a certain weight to participate in exercise, and everyone who works out is not trying to lose weight (nor is that necessary).
Unfortunately, the overemphasizes on weight loss in the health and fitness industry has led many people down a path of never good enough. When dieting doesn’t work or weight loss isn’t maintained (which studies show happens for the majority of people who go on a diet), the whole thing is a failure. Shame is reinforced, and healthy behaviors that were adopted are typically abandoned because they “didn’t work”.
Understanding that weight loss and health are not synonymous can completely change your relationship with your body and your overall health. You understand that your health and worth aren’t reliant on reaching some specific number on the scale. You understand that health is a journey, not a destination. You understand that your body is always on your side, and working for you—not against you.
This frees you up to do what’s best for your body and pursue health without judgement. By engaging with movement and exercise, you are supporting your body so that it can function well. There is no need to force it to be something that fits someone else’s standard of fitness and health.
How would this shift in mindset change how you pursue health?