As a psychologist and life coach who helps women find their voice in all areas of their lives, my clients frequently approach me to discuss weight loss.
So many women struggle with this and sometimes when I write or talk about it — it quickly turns into a negative discussion. Some women will suggest that I shouldn't use the words weight loss; one woman accused me of fat shaming, and another told me I lacked empathy.
As a society we have spent so much time focusing on women’s appearances that any discussion about dietary changes or exercise routines is automatically assumed to be part of an appearance discussion. Yet this isn't always the case. Here's why:
1. "Weight loss" as a term shouldn't have a negative connotation.
In today's world, "weight loss" is such a loaded term, but it doesn't need to be. There is nothing wrong with talking openly and honestly about your weight.
A lot of people might hear that someone wants to lose weight, and immediately think they're doing it to look "hotter." This isn't always the case, and even if it is, good for them. Who are we to judge someone's reasoning for getting healthier?
Most of my clients want to lose weight in order to feel better physically. Some women want to be able to keep up with their young children. Others want to lose weight to accomplish a physical feat, like running a half-marathon or taking up hiking. And some women were told to lose weight by their doctors, for health reasons.
When my clients come to me with this information, I try to help them address these goals. This requires an honest conversation about weight, and where they're at in this moment in time physically AND emotionally. My role as their life coach is not to judge them, but to help them set and achieve realistic goals. We talk about health and wellness goals and some of those discussions are around weight loss.
I ask my clients why they want to lose weight and I try to help them separate weight loss for appearance sake and weight loss to feel better. We also talk about not losing weight and pursuing healthy goals in other ways. Once they've decided what they want to do, I help them get there, without judgment and without criticism.
2. A doctor's goal is to keep you healthy, not pretty.
My doctor recently recommended that I lose weight. She never mentioned my appearance, but she certainly mentioned some medical issues that were presenting themselves due to weight gain.
Was my doctor fat-shaming me when she told me to lose weight? I don’t think so. Like many people, I have genetics that aren’t very favorable to weight gain. My grandmother died of complications related to diabetes, my father and his brothers carry a genetic heart condition, and my mother has suffered with Crohn’s disease for most of her life.
Excess weight only makes me more at risk for these conditions and for complications related to disease. A recent heart scare was a slap in the face and a dire reminder that my excess weight was harming my health. I needed to lose weight — and I’m pretty sure I’m not alone.
Am I fat-shaming clients when I suggest they start exercising? I don't think so. If someone tells me she wants to feel better, lose weight, and have more energy, exercise is one of the best solutions I can offer.
3. Discussing someone's weight with them doesn't mean you're fat-shaming.
Women shouldn't have to explain why they want to lose weight any more than they should have to explain why they don't want to. Shaming or judging one another for wanting to lose weight is still shaming. Can we agree not to body-shame but also to not weight-loss shame?
Here are my tips to change all of this negative discussion:
- First, decide for yourself how much you want to care for your own body.
- Ask yourself what and how much you want to eat.
- Figure out the right amount of exercise for you.
- Set healthy goals for yourself.
- Don't judge anyone else for their choices!
We are all in different places on our journey and that has to be okay. Let's talk about weight in a way that is both nonjudgmental and focused on a larger discussion of healthy goals. Losing or gaining weight might be a part of someone's goals — and that has to be all right for them, even if it isn't right for us.