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Does Weight-Neutral Mean You’re Against Weight Loss?

By Camerin Ross

A weight-neutral stance is sometimes perceived as anti-weight loss. As Deb Burgard, PhD writes, [a weight-neutral approach] “is not against weight loss, it is against the pursuit of weight loss.” I express this idea to some of my clients by saying,

“I don’t think you need me to help you find a way to increase your desire or goal for weight loss—that’s generally overdeveloped in chronic dieters. What I can help you learn to develop is a weight-neutral attitude toward your size, shape, or weight so you can focus more on self-care, which is an underdeveloped skill for many of us.”

Self-care not weight lossI have empathy for my clients’ experiences and reflect the salience of their desire to lose weight. It’s also understandable that those who’ve participated in our diet-preoccupied culture perceive their body as not fitting the cultural ideal. Together we explore their specific triggers and pain, and what their fantasies tell them that having the “right” body will bring.

Sometimes, I use myself as an example, saying, “My mind follows an old story from time to time that I will win the battle with weight loss. The difference is that I’ve had a lot of practice noticing that I’m having those thoughts, and asking myself, “What’s really going on?” I can always trace it back to something that triggered the thought that my body needs to change to feel safe or accepted somehow. It a powerful, primal fear of being excluded, which, at its core, is about life or death. Over time, I’ve discovered that my weight loss fantasies served as placeholders for the life I would live when my body got smaller. I could stave off the fear and remain buoyed by focusing on images of the body ideal I saw reflected in the steady diet of photo-shopped ads, shows, and images. But time and time again, reaching the coveted ideal lasted only briefly before the weight began inching its way back up.

I’ve been on many weight-loss diets, losing many pounds, over and over. I’m a champion dieter but the struggle to keep it off was the reality that finally got me to stop dieting and eventually try a weight-neutral approach. I was done riding that merciless self-esteem roller coaster up and down. Learning that struggling to control my weight wasn’t a moral failing was hard to accept at first because I’d beaten myself up for years about my “failure” to keep weight off.

Today, when an emotion triggers negative body image and my thoughts tell me that losing weight will redeem me, I can turn my mind. I remind myself that my size, weight, and shape are a result of a complex set of functions: genes, biology, environment, and behavior.* Neither my deepest desire to live in a different body nor my strongest resolve to stay the course on the next “perfect” weight loss plan are going to change the facts. Researchers don’t fully understand all the reasons, but only a very small percentage of people who pursue weight loss keep it off long term. The rest have a choice: to continue losing and gaining, which for many is a recipe for permanently increasing one’s weight, or to stop the madness and reclaim their lives.

Redirecting my mind to what I know works to help me feel better about myself and better in my body means pursuing self-care behaviors: Moving my body in fun ways, spending time making a meal that I really want to eat and savoring the enjoyment, spending time with people, getting things off my To Do list, setting boundaries with people or situations, lowering my stress level, sleeping well, etc. My weight may or may not change yet I’m able to live the full life I used to wait to live.

Spending more time enjoying my life and less time obsessing about what I should or shouldn’t eat or wishing my body were different is liberating. The arc in my pendulum has slowed over the years and my body has found its set point range somewhere between my highest and lowest weights. Smaller changes in my set-point weight correlate with changes in my lifestyle and the functions above. It’s been my experience that pursuing self-care instead of weight loss has decreased the intense preoccupation I had about changing my weight before I could be happy.

Counting my breaths in meditation, measuring ingredients while making cookies with my grandchild, or tracking new mushrooms I found and photographed on a walk in the rain are much more satisfying and a lot more fun than counting, measuring, and tracking calories or minutes on the treadmill.

*A new book by Sandra Aamodt, http://www.sandraaamodt.com/ is a terrific resource for understanding the intricacies of weight, health, and bodies.

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About the author

Camerin has explored aspects of mindful eating for over decade and was thrilled to discover Michelle May MD's comprehensive work. In 2010, she studied coaching and became an Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating workshop facilitator. She works with individuals and groups, locally, in the San Francisco Bay Area and long-distance by phone and webinar. Camerin earned her PhD in clinical psychology in 2014 and completed the clinical training to lead Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating for Binge Eating workshops and therapy groups. She is a registered, supervised psychological assistant in California with Deborah Brenner-Liss, PhD. Passionate about the practice of mindful eating, Camerin loves helping people find peace and enjoyment with food and fun moving their bodies for pleasure. She honors size diversity and works from a weight-neutral, Health At Every Size® perspective. You can read more at: CamerinRoss.com and reach her at (415) 937-0403 or info@CamerinRoss.com.

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4 Comments

  1. Rebecca says:

    What a stellar piece, Camerin! I really enjoyed it. It made me think of a question I just heard someone ask a group of people who have been batting weight and their bodies for years. It goes something like this: “What if you woke up tomorrow and your body type was the cultural ideal, just as it is now. What would you do differently with your time, money, and energy?”

    • Evita says:

      Rebecca, thank you for sharing this poignant question. Camerin, wow …you are the best. As I was reading your post I felt one with it! It so resonates within. I can’t thank you enough. I am going on to your website next! Much love to you both…all reading who are this …always. Onward, in love with who we are…NOW! -e-

    • Camerin Ross says:

      Such a great question Rebecca! I’m filling my life with more fun, more peace and more loved ones 😉

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