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4 Reasons Why I Take a Weight Neutral Approach

by Dana Bean, RD
Published: Updated:

TW: Mentions weight loss, unhealthy behaviors used for weight loss

I’m a dietitian and I don’t help people with intentional weight loss or measure it as a sign of progress. But why not? And how can we work on improving health with a weight neutral approach?

4 Reasons Why I Take a Weight Neutral Approach blog post photo

#1 – Diets Don’t Really Work

A crucial part in understanding my weight neutral approach is knowing that dieting (or trying to lose weight in any way) has not been shown to be a long term solution that sticks. Many find themselves in a place where they’ve had a desire to lose weight, gone on a diet, then eventually regained most if not all of the weight back. In many cases someone will end of at a higher weight than they started. This is not uncommon!

Actually, this happens to 95-98% of dieters if we look at anything longer than a year or two (more about the original study on this). With a failure rate that high, it’s pretty clear that this is not a willpower issue, but something our biology fights against.

The Truth About Metabolism

As shown in a study about “The Biggest Loser” contestants, metabolism significantly decreases in the long run after dieting. The study followed participants 6 years after the show and found that the amount of energy used per day was much less than before they started The Biggest Loser. This completely explains the whole weight regain thing, right!?

Our bodies don’t know the difference between a diet and a famine. So, when we start restricting, our body starts to conserve energy in fear it won’t get enough

This is an inevitable biological response to dieting and was crucial in the survival of our ancestors. We eat less, whether that’s due to intentional restriction or not access to enough food, and our bodies try to hold on and survive off of what it’s given.

#2 – Focusing on Weight Could Actually Detract from Health

Have you ever tracked your weight consistently? It can go from an innocent attempt to make a change to an all consuming behavior VERY quickly. It is normal for our weight to change within a range (and that range can vary). When we start to focus on that number though, it’s easy to lose sight of more important health behaviors.


Take water consumption for example. We know hydration is important for our health! When we are hyper-focused on the number on the scale though, someone might sacrifice their hydration for a slightly lower weight by drinking less fluids before they weigh. Some may use diuretics for a similar effect (though this can even more dangerous). These are unsafe behaviors and definitely defeat the purpose of weight loss “for the sake of health”.

Another example of how focusing on weight loss can negatively affect overall health is with nutrient intake. Many weight loss programs and diets restrict specific foods and food groups. Each food group offers important nutrients that our body needs to thrive, so cutting things out is going to leave us in a worse place overall. If someone eliminates foods high in carbohydrates for example, their muscles are not going to have enough fuel, their brain will function less efficiently, cravings will increase, and energy levels will be lower. Again, weight loss attempt is interfering with health.

Trying to eat as little as possible can also lead to overeating or binging later oftentimes later in the day and/or at the end of the week, or whenever the restriction is decreased. The lack of balance in many weight loss eating plans overall leads to a lack of important nutrients and an increased risk of being in the restrict/binge cycle.

Note: Even if a weight loss eating plan doesn’t exclude any food groups or even certain foods, the restriction in the amount of food as well as mental restriction can also lead to the restrict/binge cycle.

#3 – Weight Loss is Not Needed

Wait, what? But what if my doctor told me I need to lose weight? Or what if I have been considered “overweight” or “obese” all my life? The first problem here is the tool we are using to decide if someone “needs to lose weight”. It’s no secret that the BMI scale is incredibly flawed and really shouldn’t be used as a strong indicator of health. There are so many factors that determine someone’s size, genetics being at the top of the list.

It is much more worthwhile to direct our efforts to the data and behaviors that we do have more control over since weight is not a behavior. The idea is that we focus on other (more reliable) indicators of health and make changes there. So what can we use as more reliable indicators of health? There are so many options!

  • cholesterol labs
  • A1c and blood glucose labs
  • liver enzyme labs
  • activity levels
  • stress levels
  • sleep quantity/quality
  • alcohol consumption
  • drug consumption
  • food schedule
  • food habits
  • mental health status
  • relationship with food

The list goes on. What if someone is healthy in all of these areas but is considered “overweight” or “obese”? If someone has great labs, regular movement, includes a balance of nutrients in their diet, low stress, good sleep, etc… then why would weight itself consider them to be “unhealthy”?

This is part of the idea of Health at Every Size® (HAES), that people can be considered healthy (on a spectrum of health) without fitting into the “normal” BMI range and that a certain weight itself should not be considered a disease state.

When we are consistently in this place of healthful behaviors, our body is going to find its happy weight range. For some, getting to this place will mean losing weight, for some it will mean gaining weight, and for some weight may stay in a similar range. Having a weight neutral approach means all of these outcomes are ok, but we are not focusing on these as a goal.

#4 – We Can Focus on What Matters Most

Now that we know why we don’t need to focus on weight loss, we know a weight neutral approach can give back so much time, energy and brain power to spend on what DOES matter! The reliable indicators of health listed above give us a good start of some elements we can work on together.

Need help managing diabetes? Let’s talk about how to pair foods together to reach optimal post meal blood glucose levels. Feel like you eat “well” earlier in the day, but then feel out of control around food later on? We can troubleshoot! We can get to the root of what is going on instead of getting sidetracked by less important and less helpful routes. Using small and measurable goals ensures that you can feel empowered by the progress you make and on the path to reaching your overall health goals!

What If I Still Want to Lose Weight?

Honestly, I don’t blame you! There are so many pressures out there to be a certain size and to always be working on shrinking our bodies. Thin privilege exists and people in larger bodies may unfortunately be treated differently in our weight centric society. I hope it’s clear that you don’t have to lose weight to live a healthy, happy life (and pursuing weight loss can rob us of those). And you still get to choose what you do with your body!

But I want you to know that your internal happiness does not have to depend on your body size. Health is not dependent on your weight. Body image is not dependent on your weight. Happiness is not dependent on your weight!

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