You've heard from me before about the dubious links between weight loss and health.
It's how we psychologically twist a need to be skinny or good looking into "self-care." It's also how we mix up "concern" with discrimination. But, sometimes, focusing on weight loss can be unsafe. .
The best example of this is...pregnancy.
This is a silly/obvious example but it will serve to illustrate the importance of paying attention to other weight gain more as symptom of another problem lurking in your body instead of itself being the problem.
So, in this example, you are Peggy. You had unprotected sex and you didn't get the best sex education for whatever reason so you don't suspect that you're pregnant.
And, so, you just start eating more. You are eating more ham sandwiches for lunch. Eventually, your other diet-conscious coworkers start noticing you eating more ham sandwiches and your growing belly. They tell you, "Well, Peggy, I'm just so concerned for your health. Don't you know that bread is soooo bad for you? You really shouldn't be eating that."
So, Joan, the head secretary, recommends that you skip the bread - eat iceberg lettuce and ham and cheese instead.
But, girl, your eggo is preggo. Despite her good intentions, whether or not you eat that bread, that baby is going to try to keep growing because that is what fetuses do. But again, you don't know that.
If you restrict food, you might be missing out on certain nutrients.
During pregnancy, what you need is more protein, iron, and B vitamins. Actually, meat is a great source of protein but it's also a great source of heme iron which is more absorbable than iron you find from vegetarian sources. Whole grains and enriched grains are rich in the B vitamins you need during pregnancy so you might lose out on those if you don't eat bread. On top of all that, you're getting fewer calories with one fewer sandwich which is what a baby really needs to grow.
What could be even WORSE is Peggy actually being "successful" at restricting her calorie intake. This ultimately hurts both her and the baby because both parties need nutrients. Even if the baby makes it to full term, the necessary nutrients would have been taken from Peggy in order to support that and could leave her with long-term health complications.
This can happen with other issues too
.For example, in some instances, celiac disease can result in weight gain because of bloating or constipation. The inflammatory response in the body can also raise your cortisol which could increase your body's ability store fat.
Restriction will not actually help you lose weight long term.
If you follow your coworker's advice, your body may not react well to this restriction. According to Linda Bacon, when fat cells are starved, they release a hormone called leptin that makes us hungrier, makes us less physically active and slows our metabolism.
What this looks like IRL is Peggy goes home and eats everything not nailed down in her house. This makes her uncomfortably full. Add a baby pressing on her gut and what you've also got is a bad case of bloating and heartburn.
Even when you're not pregnant, if there's something else going on in your body that is causing you to gain weight like sleep deprivation or stress, you are not going to solve it by eating less.
Our bodies have a protective mechanism in place to keep us from losing weight during famines. Your body is actually taking care of you when you're "being bad" and eating all the cold leftovers at 10 PM.
I strongly recommend this article from the New York Times about how tons of Biggest Loser contestants, even the ones who have stuck to their diet, are not keeping the weight off which means it's not a matter of willpower, but a matter of biology. There's something besides diet and exercise routines that regulates weight.
What Peggy should really have done was pay attention to her weight gain as a symptom, not as a medical problem in it of itself that she felt she needed to solve through willpower and diet and exercise.
This is supposing that weight gain is even negative for your body at all. Some of us are just meant to be bigger. If you start to see weight gain that you haven't had for your whole life, you might want to take a closer look at what it is.
Pregnancy is a simple example because it's clear that Peggy can't safely "fix" her pregnancy by eating less. But, this happens all the time with other illnesses and diseases. This can get especially scary if it's something really serious like cancer.
The most frightening thing about the wellness industry is that sometimes it shames people for not being perfect about diet and exercise so much that they actually run the risk of not seeking help for their medical condition because they've self-diagnosed their problem as "being fat."
So, if you're still inclined to go on a diet because you're "concerned" about your health, I would IMPLORE you to go see your doctor and find out what your medical condition truly is. Get well-researched information about your condition and what works to treat your condition.
Because there might be another problem besides the weight screaming for your attention.