The 3 dangerous myths we believe about our body weight

Far too many people today face stigma and discrimination for being overweight.

What’s more, this discrimination is often rationalised as OK.

But please don’t be fooled: there is nothing that is OK about this.

The presence and tolerance of this discrimination is largely a result of these 3 dangerous myths we believe about our body weight:

1. Overweight and obesity are the direct result of overeating and inactivity. It’s your fault if you’re fat.
2. Being overweight is always unhealthy. For you to be healthy, you need to lose weight.
3. Sustainable weight loss is easy. If you just had the willpower to continue eating better and moving more, the weight will stay off.

Each of these 3 beliefs are very, very wrong.

First, scientific research shows body weight is a highly heritable trait. Our genes directly affect how our appetite and metabolism respond when we overeat, and in this way determine how sensitive we are to gaining weight. Indeed, the heritability of our body weight has been estimated by some to be as high as the heritability of our body height.

Second, weight loss is not a prerequisite for good health. Research shows good health is possible at a wide range of body weights, and that better health can easily be obtained without losing a significant amount of weight. Not only is it more important to live healthily and happily than it is to lose weight, but we are now seeing a growing understanding that dieting and the pursuit of weight loss often causes more problems than it solves.

Third, once we are overweight, our bodies fight hard to keep it. Decades of research shows that almost all persons who lose weight regain it within the next 5 years. Our bodies have a biological set-point that means our weight typically remains stable over the long-term, no matter how much willpower we may have.

We should all be made aware of the myths that we believe about our body weight.

Not just because we are currently buying into a worldview that is wrong. But because we are also currently buying into a worldview that helps to foster a discrimination that’s hurtful and dangerous.

When we are told and believe that how we are is wrong, not enough and less than, we feel lost, hopeless and worthless.

Slowly but surely, it breaks us down and damages the very core of who we are.

It is essential to understand too that harmful words are not helpful. Shaming and belittling others does not create greater motivation or encourage one into eating better or moving more. Indeed, research suggests shame may erase the very part of us that believes we can change and do better.

So, how can we help to reverse this stigma and discrimination?

Together, we can speak up. When we hear someone making comments about someone’s weight, we can tell them that it’s not OK and that it hurts. It doesn’t matter if the person they are talking about is us or someone else. It doesn’t matter if they are in the room or not. And it doesn’t matter if they are talking about someone specific, or just people in general. We can tell them that saying hurtful things is never OK by us.

Together, we can say sorry. If we have ever said something hurtful to someone based on their weight, it’s not too late for us to apologise. We all make mistakes and say things we regret, and it will likely do them the world of good to know that we are sorry and that we care.

And together, we can love ourselves. Research tells us that we judge people in the areas where we are vulnerable to shame, especially those who are doing worse than we’re doing. When we feel good about our body, we lose the need to make others feel bad about theirs. Loving ourselves also gives us the leverage to tell someone we know who has been affected what we really think about them: that they are beautiful, both inside and out.

Doing these things are important and they truly make a difference.

We are all deserving of being loved, and accepted, for exactly the way that we are.

The 12 steps to setting (and achieving) your New Year’s resolutions

Step 1. Brainstorm your dream list. Write a list of everything you may possibly want to achieve this year. Think big, without limits.

Step 2: Link each goal to your core life values. For each goal, ask yourself: Why is this important to me? What is it (exactly) that will make the sacrifice, discomfort and effort that’s required to achieve this goal truly worthwhile? If you don’t have a good answer, cross it off your list.

Step 3. Re-frame your remaining goals to capture your motivation. For example, the goals “Go to the gym” or “Lose weight” might become “A strategy to improve my fitness in an enjoyable and sustainable manner, which will be evidenced by having more energy and being able to enjoy playing with the kids when I get home from work.

Step 4: Decide on what’s most important to you. You can’t be an Olympic marathon runner and our Prime Minister at the same time. Of the goals you have left, decide which are most important. I suggest choosing your top 4, that you truly believe can be achieved together over the course of 1 year.

Step 5: Ensure there is a balance. If all 4 goals are about climbing the corporate ladder, is that really how you want to spend your year? Research shows our well-being is highest when we find a balance between relationships, religion/spirituality, work and generosity/focusing beyond ourselves.

Step 6: Re-check before you commit. Ask yourself: are these goals really, truly how I want to invest much of my time this year? (Hint: If you’re not screaming out yes, the answer is probably no.)

Step 7: For each goal, write a (very) specific action plan to get you there. Decide on the small and simple behaviours you will commit to regularly that will get you to your goal. They should be things to do (go to the cycle class on Saturday mornings) as opposed to things not to do (stop eating chocolate). Consider also any extra skills, knowledge and support you’ll need, as well as the potential barriers that may come up.

Step 8: Create a clear timeline for your action plan. Divide your behaviours into steps you can do on a daily (or at least weekly) basis.

[Important: if you’re not extremely confident that you can do the action plan, read this post, or change it so that you are.]

Step 9: Plan exactly when and where you will do the actions. Choose both a time and a place that you will come across every day (or week).

Step 10: Each day (or week) you encounter that time and place, do the action. I highly recommend creating a chart that you can mark off every night before bed so that you can see your progress.

Step 11: Put a monthly reminder in your calendar to review your progress. Don’t wait until the end of the year to realise that what you have been doing hasn’t worked. If you find that at the end of the month you are not making consistent progress towards your yearly goal, revise your action plan (and double check that it’s truly an achievable goal).

If the problem is that you are not doing your action plan, either i) make the action plan easier, ii) understand and question your thoughts that are holding you back, or iii) make changes to your environment to better support your desired behaviour. (Note: Don’t beat yourself up here. It’s normal to fail – the trick is to learn from it and change accordingly.)

Step 12. Celebrate! Decades of research shows that when you do this process, it works.

That is, if you have the courage to face the possibility of failure, you also have the ability to make your dreams come true.

Introducing you to the ultimate diet

No, it isn’t Paleo, Atkins or Lemon Detox.

Instead, the ultimate diet for you is a way of eating that you can stick with.

The truth is, there are many different ways to healthy eating. Science hasn’t discovered a superior diet type for us all.

But the substantial health benefits that arise from changing the foods we eat can only continue, of course, when the changes are adopted, long-term.

And once you find something you can stick with, the best news is this: you’re no longer on a diet at all.

Why what you are striving for matters

Research shows that the goals we strive for tomorrow have a powerful effect on the person that we are today.

When we strive for power, a control over others or the pursuit of material things, we typically languish. We get caught in a rat-race that we can never win, and can become easily distracted from what’s truly important in this life.

When we instead strive for connection, a sense of spirituality or generosity towards others, we typically flourish. Our well-being is high, our physical health good, and we find a sense of meaning, purpose and value within our everyday lives, allowing us to also enjoy the here and now.

If you want to be happy and flourish in this life, it’s not about asking what you can get from the world.

It’s about asking what the world can get from you.

One simple solution for feeling fuller

There is sound and consistent evidence that including protein in our meal can help us to feel fuller and better manage our weight.

Indeed, research suggests a higher protein diet may be one of the best dietary strategies for long term weight maintenance.

My experience is that whilst we are good at including a protein source at dinner, we too often skip protein at breakfast, and occasionally lunch too.

Some ways to include nutritious protein sources in our meals are:

  • Greek yoghurt with fruit and either muesli or a high fibre cereal,
  • Eggs or baked beans on wholemeal toast with vegetables, such as tomato and spinach,
  • Tuna or egg with a multi-grain salad sandwich,
  • Chicken or lean beef with a vegetable soup,
  • Legumes (beans and pulses like kidney beans, lentils or chick peas) at dinner, particularly if we are vegetarian or not eating meat (although they make for a great addition anyway), and
  • A small tub of yoghurt or a handful of nuts as a snack if we are hungry in between meals.

Note the goal is not to eat as much protein as possible, nor to eat just any food that contains protein.

Instead, it is about making sure we consciously include a nutritious protein source with each meal.

Increasing the ratio of positivity to negativity in your life

Negativity usually arises from an attention to the past or future.

When we attend back or forward in time, we often reflect about how it could have gone better, or anticipate how it could still go wrong.

Positivity, on the other hand, usually arises naturally from an attention to the present.

When we look around us in an accepting and non-judgemental manner, we allow ourselves to notice and savour the little things that help make life beautiful, wondrous and up-lifting.

Whether it is the song of a bird, the blossoming of a flower, the sound of our own breath, or the smiling face looking back at us, the present moment is almost always filled with positivity.

If you want to increase the ratio of positivity to negativity in your life, it starts simply by being conscious about where you are placing your attention.

How to find more motivation

We are motivated simply when we:
1. perceive something as important, and
2. have the confidence in ourselves that we can actually achieve it.

If you’re struggling with the motivation to move more or eat better, ask yourself: why does this matter to me? If I do this, how will my life be different in 3 months time?

Find something that is important to you. Something that truly excites and inspires. Once you’ve got it and it feels right, write it down and tell your world.

Next, honestly ask yourself: on a scale of 1 to 10, how confident am I that I can actually do this?

If confidence is lacking, how can you change that? How can you change the starting line so that you truly believe you’re capable of achieving it?

Sometimes success is not about finishing. It’s about starting. And you’ll be surprised what you’re capable of once you find yourself there.

The problem with pursuing happiness

Happiness is simply an emotion that arises from events external to us. When we get, achieve or do something we desire, we experience happiness.

Happiness is a pleasurable part of life, but the thing about happiness is that it almost always fades with time.

Well-being, on the other hand, is so much more than a single emotion. It is a construct that attempts to describe a life in which we flourish and thrive. Well-being includes the experience of positive emotions like joy, hope and love. But well-being also arises from:

  • growing as a person and accomplishing our goals,
  • pursuing challenging work that leverages our strengths,
  • developing deep and meaningful connections with others, and
  • giving back to them and the world in order to cultivate greater meaning and purpose within our lives.

The thing to remember is that if well-being describes the goal, happiness is usually not the path.

Rather, the path often involves hard work, failure, sacrifice, pain, risk, sadness, ridicule and heartbreak. These are almost always the prerequisites required for the personal growth, connection and meaning that allows for us to truly flourish and thrive.

Sometimes, it’s not about pursuing happiness or avoiding distress. It’s about learning to embrace the diversity of human emotional experience that comes with living the good life.

[Notes: i. Long-term happiness is defined and measured in the literature as life satisfaction. This too is more than a single emotion, and there are some ways to reliably increase life satisfaction, one which I have already mentioned. I discuss the others in future posts.

ii. The purpose of my blog is indeed to cultivate good health and well-being, which very much includes life-satisfaction, but also more. The use of the word happiness appears in my blog outline and numerous other posts as a substitute for well-being or life satisfaction, for simplicity’s sake.]

Is eating low-fat an effective way to lose weight?

Research has shown the low-fat diet can fare worse for weight loss when compared to numerous other diets, including:

One of the biggest developments in nutrition science is this: the conventional low-fat diet may be one of the least effective dietary strategies to both manage your weight and promote good health.

Why? The unifying theme that explains the advantage of each of the other diets is simple: they reduce the intake of carbohydrate-rich foods that are highly refined and low in nutrients. When we eat low-fat, we more often than not default to these sorts of foods.

Note that these foods include some sugary foods such as soft drinks, juices and confectionary. But they also include some starchy foods such as refined grains and flours like white bread, white rice, refined cereals and refined crackers. The constant spike in our blood sugar that a high consumption of these foods produce results in significantly poorer health over time, except in the leanest and most active of individuals.

Of course, it is far too simplistic to say that all carbohydrate-rich foods result in weight gain and poor health.

A vegetarian diet, for example, is typically a low-fat, high carbohydrate diet. It is consistently associated with lower body weight and better health. A key difference is the quality of the carbohydrates eaten. The vegetarian diet is typically rich in carbohydrates from minimally processed plant foods, such as legumes, fruits, starchy vegetables and fibrous grains.

The problem is not carbohydrates per se, but that the quality of our carbohydrate choices today are usually poor.

Sure, enjoy some highly refined and nutrient poor low-fat foods for enjoyments sake.

But please don’t eat large amounts of them because you think they are helping you to lose weight.

5 common beliefs that undermine our happiness

  1. I should be concerned about my fears and dwell on the possibility of them occurring.
  2. It is easier and best to avoid my life’s difficulties, than it is to face them.
  3. I must be loved, or well liked, by almost everybody in my life.
  4. I must achieve, be or have this for me to be worthy, adequate or loveable.
  5. It is always bad when things are not the way I would have liked them to be.

Notice it is not the external events, doings of others or our own shortcomings that directly result in our unhappiness.

Rather, it is how we perceive and understand these to be, that is the primary problem.

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