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  • Julie C.H. Brake, MS, RDN, LD

How Can I Eat What I Want and Still Lose Weight?

A client recently asked me this question, and it is one that I often hear. It is really a loaded question because it assumes that the goal is to lose weight. I did answer the question for the client, and I find it simple to respond. I thought I would take the time to write out a detailed reply to answer the same question many others may have.

First, let's tackle that assumption about weight loss. Do some people need to lose weight? Yes. Do some people need to gain weight? Yes. Can we know that someone needs to lose or gain weight just based on the number on the scale? Not usually. This is where many health care providers have different opinions. There are extremes of weight, both under and over, that indicate a need for changes in weight status, likely attached to the need for changes in other behaviors and/or health parameters. When research is closely examined, without bias, we realize that health risks are not associated with weight alone. We do have research about the body mass index (BMI), which is a calculation of a ratio of weight to height. The weight and BMI are simply part of an assessment that should include multiple other factors. A person who has no health issues and feels great should not be forced to lose or gain weight. We must assess each person as an individual and not as a number or statistic.

Next, let's consider how the body achieves and maintains weight. I will also present some spiritual perspective. A recognition that our bodies were wonderfully created allows us to appreciate how complex the human body truly is. God made us all with body parts that operate together to keep us alive and functioning. There are those with medical conditions that affect the way the body works, and those cases need to be managed separately. For most of us, our various body systems work together to tell us when we have physical needs, like food, water, shelter, heat, rest, and sleep. Our bodies want to be healthy and are made to send us these signals in order to do so. If we pay attention to these cues, the body will be overall healthy, with a weight that works for each individual.

On a side note, let's think about how our societal ideals influence this. If I view thin people as happy but myself am not thin, I will tend to think I could be happier if I were thin. If I view diets as a way to achieve health and happiness, I will tend to think I need to be on a diet to be healthy and happy. If I expect my body to always feel the same as it did when I was an ideal age, let's say 18, then when I am 40 I will think I am doing something wrong because it doesn't feel the same. We need to have a proper understanding of our bodies. We all have different body types and sizes, and each one is unique. Each one of us will be happiest and healthiest if we take care of the body that each one of us has. Everyone's body goes through natural changes throughout the life cycle, and if we try to prevent or affect that we will only end up disappointed and frustrated. Don't believe the lies that culture tries to sell you (sometimes literally SELL you!).

Finally, let's answer the whole question. How can I eat what I want and still lose weight? Well, if your body needs and wants to lose weight, it will send you the hunger and fullness signals to help achieve that. (The same is true for if your body needs to gain weight!) If we combine our knowledge of nutrition and include a variety of foods while paying attention to the cues our body gives us, we will be healthier. This will mean we will feel better and our body will achieve and maintain whatever weight is best.

Doesn't that sound better than yo-yo dieting?

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