The Negative Side of Weight Loss (High on Life Podcast, Episode 9) By: Sasha High MDOct 13, 2021
There is a negative side of weight loss that comes from the diet industry and is rooted in weight bias and fat-shaming. That’s not what I’m talking about today but I hear about it from clients all the time:
Clients have told me about experiences where they had to weigh-in in front of an audience of people and if they hadn’t lost weight, they’d be publicly reprimanded. I’ve had others say that they were told by their healthcare provider that they were lying about their food diaries when their weight loss wasn’t as much as was expected of them. So many horror stories. If you encounter a weight loss program that tries to achieve results through shame – run. That is not the way. Run far, far away.
These types of negative experiences are wrong and absolutely shouldn’t be tolerated – I’m planning a separate episode all about weight bias and fat-shaming.
Today what I want to talk about is the negative experiences that you do have to go through in weight loss because it’s just part of the journey.
Let’s jump in.
1) The first negative is that you have to be willing to sacrifice in the moment, in order to gain in the future.
What does that mean? Well, there are going to be times where you’ll want to eat something but you’ll have to choose not to. You’ll have to allow the urge or desire for food to be present in your body without responding to it by eating. And this can be uncomfortable, quite frankly. In fact, one of the reasons that people give into their cravings is because it’s very uncomfortable not to – and most people don’t know how to handle that discomfort. So that’s the negative side, you have to be uncomfortable and be okay with it.
One of my favourite speakers Craig Groeschel says:
“Discipline is choosing what you want most over what you want now.”
This absolutely pertains to weight loss – you have to choose what you want most (whether that’s improved health, more energy, longevity, etc) over what you desire right now. You might be saying “Why should I have to deprive myself? I should just live in the moment and enjoy my life!” And that may create feelings of deprivation.
Except that indulging all of our urges and desires in the moment actually robs us of life and enjoyment in the future. This is why knowing your core values, knowing your compelling why for wanting to lose weight, recognizing what you are GAINING by losing weight is so essential. You have to keep your eyes on everything you are gaining – rather than what you are missing out on in the moment.
Now this goes back to the brain, right? I explained in episode 2 all about our primitive brain and how it’s motivated to seek pleasure and avoid pain. Our limbic system very much motivates and gives impulses to want to eat the tasty food. But our limbic system has no awareness of our future self. It does not provide rational thinking or consider what is in our longterm best interest. So when we live our lives by impulse, there tends to be longterm consequences.
We have a private Facebook group for patients in our program, and one patient who is just starting out recently asked what I thought was such a great question, he asked the group: What is one thing you’ve learned that you wish you’d known your first week?
I saw this and I was like – wow, love this, what a great question to ask others who have embarked on the same journey. We had some amazing responses but one in particular I want to share with you:
“I wish I knew that this wasn’t the end of the world. I was pretty devastated starting this. That choosing me, does not mean missing out, it means living and enjoying myself.”
So good. This is what it’s all about! How many of you believe that choosing to lose weight means you’ll be missing out? I know this is a common sentiment because I hear it all the time.
This isn’t about denying that yes, there is some sacrifice. But if you focus on what you’re missing, you’ll miss all that you’re gaining. Yeah, you’re going to say no to some tasty foods that your brain really desires in the moment, but what are you gaining? I’ll share with you an abbreviated list of what my clients have reported: more energy, mental clarity, less brain fog, less bloating, no more cravings, no more being ruled by food all the time, feeling confident again, resolution of fatty liver, better diabetes control, normal menstrual cycles, walking up multiple flights of stairs without being winded, keeping up with their kids, going for a bike ride with their kids, being able to go hiking, kayaking, gardening, skiing, golfing, on a rollercoaster…. The list continues. These are all the gains. And it is so important to focus on the gains, rather than the temporary sacrifice.
Now I also want to make clear that not indulging urges doesn’t mean giving up tasty food forever. Firstly, healthy food is tasty and if it isn’t to you, you need to invest in some cooking classes. And secondly, successfully losing weight doesn’t mean giving up everything that you enjoy forever. It just means making conscious choices about your food and deciding when you’re going to indulge, and when you’re going to practise restraint.
2) The second negative of weight loss is that you have to be willing to feel uncomfortable.
This means that you have to feel the discomfort of urges like I just mentioned, but I’m also referring to emotional discomfort.
One of the factors that causes us to take in more than we need, which can lead to weight gain is emotional eating. Now – before you think “yeah, but that’s not me, I don’t cry into a bucket of icecream”, I want to challenge you.
Everyone emotionally eats. Everyone. If you’ve had cake at a birthday party as part of the celebration, you emotionally ate. Pumpkin pie at Thanksgiving, a large turkey meal at Christmas, popcorn at the movie theatre… it’s all the same. It’s eating out of celebration or reward – i.e. emotional eating.
We eat in response to both positive and negative emotions. It’s very common. And anytime we eat for purposes other than nutritional requirements, it’s overeating. In the obesity medicine world, we call this Hedonic Eating. It’s eating that is driven by our pleasure centre that can override our brain’s normal hunger and fullness signals.
If you are trying to lose weight, you need to become hyper-aware of when you’re eating for reasons other than nutritional requirements. To do that - you’ll have to feel your feelings instead of eating your feelings. How many of us – myself included – when we come home after a long day will grab a glass of wine to “destress”. Or maybe you find yourself snacking a little more after dinner when you’ve had a hard day.
The reason this is so normal is because we have a misled belief that life is supposed to feel good and happy all of the time. We grow up believing that we’re supposed to be happy. We see curated social media images of others living happy and perfect lives, and we think that’s what we’re supposed to aspire to as well.
So we develop an intolerance to negative emotions - we think they’re bad and need to be escaped. And the easiest escape is food or alcohol.
Brooke Castillo, who was my life coaching instructor, teaches the most mind-blowing principle called the 50:50 principle. I’ll do a whole podcast episode on it at some point, but essentially it’s the idea that life is 50:50. 50% of the time we are happy and have positive emotions and things are good, and 50% of the time we suffer and have pain and disappointment. That’s just life. It doesn’t matter whether you’re rich or poor, highly educated or not, it’s the same for everyone – 50:50.
Learning this concept brought me so much freedom. It’s like – ahhhh… okay, wow, it’s normal that I feel disappointed sometimes, or sad, or frustrated… that’s just part of the human experience.
So what does this mean for you? It means – what if it’s okay for you to just feel stressed? What if you don’t have to escape the frustration that you’re feeling. You can just sit with it, notice it, recognize that it’s just an emotion, it won’t kill you and it also won’t last forever.
One of our clients recently said: “Before I started this program, I would have thought I have no emotional problems - because I just covered them up with food. What I've learned is that negative emotions are a part of life. I need to feel that way sometimes .”
Yes – exactly. It’s okay that sometimes we feel negative emotions. But so many of us aren’t willing to just feel. That’s why we turn to food. It’s a temporary relief from the negative emotions. It gives a hit of dopamine which provides some temporary pleasure, but frequently just compounds our negative experience because now not only do we have the initial stress, we now also have the disappointment and shame from overeating, and in the longterm perhaps the negative health consequences from overeating.
What I want to propose to you is that learning to sit with discomfort is a crucial skill needed to achieve longterm successful weight loss and health.
In fact, discomfort doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Discomfort is the price tag for growth.
If you can learn to feel stress without reaching for a snack, then you can learn to process the stress and find helpful ways to manage it – rather than adding to the net negative result in your life by overeating.
If you can learn to feel bored, without needing to fill the boredom with food, then you may give your brain an opportunity to discover something really valuable that you can create from that boredom – maybe it’s a new hobby, or a side business, or personal growth.
If you can learn to feel disappointed, without masking the disappointment with food, then you can find real solutions that may move you forward in your life.
The fact is - the only problem that food is supposed to solve is physical hunger. When we use food for anything else - it usually does a terrible job and has some negative downstream consequences.
3) The third negative of weight loss is that it is going to take longer than you expect. Pretty much guaranteed.
Most people have very grand ambitions when they start on a diet. You know, they imagine they’re going to lose 40 lbs in the first 6 months or whatever it is. They want to see “results” right away – and by “results”, they always mean the scale.
Yes, it’s nice to see the scale moving right away.
Yes, it’s nice when the scale moves consistently in a downward direction week by week.
Yes, it’s nice when the scale goes to the target number, the goal weight, that you have come up with in your head.
That’s all nice. Except it so rarely happens like that.
Some people lose 10 lbs of primarily water weight in the first week, and then things plateau for a bit, other people slowly lose 1-2 lbs a week, other people don’t lose any weight at first but they feel better, they have more energy, the have fewer cravings…
Everyone is different. But the point is, when your sole focus is the scale, you miss out on all the other benefits of practising healthy behaviours and all the wins you’re collecting along the way, and you’re more likely to quit.
Think about pregnancy – when you get pregnant, you know it’s going to be a long process. You have the baby in your belly, but it’s not ready to come out yet, it takes month – nearly 10 months (I know everyone says 9 months, but let’s be real it’s actually closer to 10!) for the baby where sometimes it seems like nothing is happening and other times your belly all of a sudden seems to be popped… it’s all part of the journey. It takes time and you can’t rush it, you just have to be patient.
It’s the same with weight loss. It takes time, you have to be patient.
What if you took the time limit off your journey and just recognized that whatever you’re doing to try to lose weight and improve your health actually is what you need to be doing forever? Because that’s the truth of the matter. There’s no end-point with weight loss or healthy behaviours. You need to be able to continue eating the way you’re eating forever, if you stop the weight will come right back on.
If you’re doing restrictive dieting, that statement is going to sound terrible to you. You’ll be like: “ugh, what?! I can’t eat like this forever. This is horrible.”
But when you figure out an eating plan that is reasonable, that fits your life and family, that isn’t perfect but allows you to make the healthiest choices possible with some planned indulgences once in a while, you can absolutely enjoy eating and enjoy the journey of losing weight and keeping it off without it being a terrible experience.
It’s also why I encourage you to always search for and celebrate your wins. If your sole measure of success is the scale, you’ll be on an emotional rollercoaster and likely quit before you make any significant headway. But if you can learn to celebrate your choices, celebrate taking care of you, celebrate when you went for a walk even though you didn’t feel like it, celebrate not giving into a craving, celebrate having more energy and better sleep… all of the non-scale victories, then you give yourself reasons to enjoy the process. And when you enjoy the process, you’re way more likely to stick to it in the longterm.
So three negatives of weight loss that you have to embrace:
1. Short term sacrifice for long term gain
2. Feeling the negative feelings without trying to escape them
3. Patience is needed, because it will take longer than expected
I hope this post about the negatives was actually positive and encouraging for you in your weight loss journey! If you’ve been dieting and struggling with your weight and you need help to make this process easier and more doable so you can thrive in your life instead of being obsessed with the scale – we’d love to work with you. Join our Best Weight Program now!