Does it get harder to lose weight the older you get?
For many women who have already reached this point in their lives, the answer is an obvious YES.
Yet the question still remains of why this is the case, and if it is absolutely necessary. What is the science behind it? Can you avoid weight gain? How much of a challenge is it to keep the same shape and weight as before?
As it turns out, the answer is a bit unfortunate. There are real biological events that happen in your body as you age – particularly as a woman – that naturally lead to weight gain. But, fortunately, the more we know about them, the more equipped we are to take counter measures.
Here are the 4 most important reasons women in menopause gain weight:
1. Estrogen regulates appetite and fat storage
Arguably the most important facet of weight gain in menopause is decreased estrogen levels.
Estrogen receptors are located all throughout a woman’s body. They are particularly concentrated in the brain. This is important, because studies have shown that one type of estrogen receptor–estrogen receptor alpha (the other type is estrogen receptor beta)–plays an important role in energy homeostasis. That is – estrogen regulates how much energy your body burns.
In 2007, in a series of animal experiments described at the 234th national meeting of the American Chemical Society, researchers demonstrated how important estrogen is to the regulation of food intake, energy expenditure, and body fat distribution.
Professor of Psychiatry Deborah H Clegg led a group of researchers investigating two ER-alpha rich portions of the brain. There is a part of the brain called the ventromedial nucleus. This area has been long recognized to play a role in energy regulation.
Clegg and her colleagues used a new laboratory technique called RNA interference. This enabled them to deactivate the ER-alpha receptors in the ventromedial nucleus (but not other parts of the brain) in rats. When they did so, the animal’s energy levels and metabolic rates plummeted. The animals also developed insulin regulation issues, an intolerance of glucose, and weight gain, even though their calorie intake remained the same.
This is so important it bears repeating:
Without estrogen in the ventromedial nucleus, rats ate the same amount of food as normal but developed severe weight gain, glucose issues, and low energy. Without estrogen, keeping everything else the same, they gained weight.
Plus, their weight was not evenly distributed. Instead, it went directly to the visceral, or abdominal area of the body. This area is linked to a much higher rate of inflammation and disease than fat in other locations.
Lowering estrogen activity in the brain throughout menopause and after has the same effect on women: the body natural starts to burn less fat, and to keep storing it in places like the abdomen.
2. Estrogen and progesterone combat insulin and cortisol
As I discuss at length in my program for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution (check it out here) – estrogen and progesterone play important roles in modulating insulin sensitivity.
Importantly, estrogen helps make you more insulin sensitive. As estrogen levels drop in menopause, this can be a big problem for keeping fat storage to a minimum, and especially around the abdomen, where it can be a health concern.
Importantly, estrogen and progesterone also help modulate cortisol levels. When estrogen and progesterone levels fall during menopause, it’s entirely likely that over time, the body shifts toward storing fat when calories are high (as opposed to building muscle), and reduces the amount of fat burned when calories are low (and burn muscle instead). This is an effect both of reduced cortisol suppression as well as reduced insulin sensitivity.
3. Muscle mass deteriorates more quickly than it used to
Oxidative stress, inflammation, and inactivity are important reasons that muscle mass decreases as women age.
Yet estrogen is also quite important. Estrogen helps move calcium into bones and therefore supports a strong skeleton.
Estorgen also helps build muscle.
Now, this might not make a lot of sense, since body builders are always talking about the importance of testosterone. Yet even male body builders recognize the importance of estrogen. The body needs a certain amount of estrogen to maintain androgen (male sex hormone, like testosterone) receptors, which then go on to stimulate muscle growth. Furthermore, estrogen receptor beta appears to encourage muscle growth itself. The process of muscle loss while aging – called sarcopenia – has been shown to be slowed by estrogen treatments (and estrogen receptor beta activity) in rats. Interestingly, these muscle-stimulating affects occur in both male and female mice.
4. When exercising the body doesn’t burn as much fat as it used to
Unfortunately, due to declining muscle mass and insulin sensitivity both, it becomes harder for the body to burn calories during workouts.
This is unfortunate, but also not without its solutions. Women who switch to high quality weight-bearing exercises (which you can find, or example, in Noelle’s amazing Strong from Home workout program) do maintain muscle mass, and therefore high quality, effective workouts. They just have to good about it. This is partly why I recommend Noelle’s program so highly – it helps you craft a fitness plan that is the perfect amount of cardio, weight training, and challenge for you.
You can be sure that the more you focus on maintaining muscle mass, the more intense and beneficial your workouts will be.
What to do about it
As I just mentioned above, you can help preserve the efficacy of your workouts by choosing ones that focus on lifting heavy weights. You can get an awesome program designed just for this purpose with Noelle’s wonderful Strong from Home.
You can also do everything you can to keep inflammation to a minimum. This will help keep your body from building up stress hormone levels and storing fat in your abdomen. This means eating a nutrient-rich, anti-inflammatory diet full of organic vegetables and fruits, organ meats (here’s a supplement in case you do not like to eat liver), eggs, fermented foods (on this page are my favorites) and the rockstar superfood cod liver oil can go a long way.
Finally, you can work on supporting your estrogen levels. I do not recommend hormone replacement therapy. Sometimes, a small dose for a short period of time can work great as an interim fix. But in the long term, it is probably best to focus on supporting estrogen with simple diet and lifestyle choices. You can do this getting plenty of high quality carbs (such as fruits and starches) and fats (such as olive oil and coconut oil) which can help boost estrogen production.
You may also be served by playing with your intake of phytoestrogens. Phytoestrogens are estrogens found in plants. They occur in high doses in soy and flax, and in lower but still sometimes effective doses in legumes such as black beans and chick peas. For some people they hurt estrogen production, but for many women in menopause it can actually help. Start with a small dose, such as a bowl of chickpeas or hummus, once a day to see if it helps make a change.
I talk in more depth about the effect of hormones on weight maintenance in my manual for permanent weight loss for women, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution. If you’re looking to find a way to keep losing weight as you age, this may be a great resource for you. Plus, it’s 100% risk free – you can try the plans without any hassle or risk. Check it out here.
Importantly, I personally have not gone through menopause! Everything I’ve shared here I’ve learned through research. Please if you have any comments or ideas or experiences share them below!
I’ve been a blogger the natural health scene for several years now. This means that I have seen half a dozen New Years celebrations come and go. As I have done so, I have helped usher literally thousands of people through their New Years Resolutions.
Some have done amazingly well.
Many, unfortunately, have not.
There are many reasons, I think I have learned, as to why. There are many mistakes that people commonly make. Yet one of them is the most glaring to me, and also one of the easiest to fix.
This is the mistake:
People set weight loss targets – or goal weights.
Why is this a problem?
Setting a weight loss goal, say, of “I am going to lose 30 lbs by June of this year” or “I am going to finally reach my goal weight of 130 lbs” makes it harder to lose weight and keep it off.
It tends to keep your mind focused on the number on the scale. This draws you into making comparisons, judging your progress, and obsessing over how well you are doing. You may end up focusing on your appearance. This is bad because it keeps you away from the healthier and more sustainable alternative, which is to focus on other benefits of eating healthy and losing weight such as gaining energy, developing fitness, and freeing yourself from common complications of heavier weights such as joint pain.
When I was at war with my body fat for the first twenty or so years of my life, I constantly focused on my goals. I measured my hips with a tape measure after every workout. When I did that, I noticed immediately if I had done “good” – that is, if I went down a half an inch. This was cause for celebration – which might lead to me feeling confident and eating some ice cream (here’s a link to the good stuff). I also noticed immediately if I had done “bad’ – that is, if I went up half an inch. This was cause for frustration and disappointment, which might lead to me feeling terrible and eating ice cream. Even if I resisted eating the ice cream for a while, it always won in the end.
When i was finally successful at reaching and maintaining a healthy weight that felt good on my bones – I had done so because I stopped obsessing over my goal. I stopped day dreaming about where I might be some day. I know that sounds weird – if I didn’t think about my goal, how could I be motivated? But trust me.
What I did was focus on a system. I decided to think about health. I decided to eat well. I developed a plan (which I describe at length in my manual for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution) and I followed it. I might have vaguely noticed my “progress”, and I do still vaguely keep track of my size — mostly by whether or not my clothes still fill — but this was not my obsession.
It was okay for me – and it would be okay for you – to distantly keep an eye on how you are doing. But that is entirely besides the point. If you start on a program that you trust, and know that it is rich in health benefits no matter your size, then it is good for you, and it is the system worth focusing on, not the goal.
Don’t think about where you are going, or what you want your body to be. That would be focusing on the destination. Instead, think about the how of your every day life, and the benefits that it is bringing you on a day to day basis. This would be focusing on the journey. Sure, you might drop weight in the long run, but in the short run are you not experiencing better sleep, clearer skin, less painful menstrual cramps, or anything else?
The key to losing weight is dropping the obsession over losing weight. This doesn’t mean you can’t try, or shouldn’t care, which I talk about at length in this blog post: My 6 Favorite Reasons for Losing Weight. What is does mean is that the goal is best as secondary, in the background. Implementing a system, doing it well, and enjoying the benefits along the way is the best way to keep yourself both mentally and physically happy as you move into a new year and a newer, more energetic, more alive you.
If you do happen to be looking to lose weight in a sustainable, permanent, and healthy weight this year, I personally have had great success – as have many of my clients and my audience – with the methods I explain in Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Women’s Solution. If you are possibly interested but not sure, don’t worry. You can try it on for size and if you don’t like it you’ll get
All my best and love to you on your new years journeys, whether they be weight oriented or not. Other great suggestions, and ones that I am personally thinking much about, might be committing yourself to more service, donating more money, or finding and developing your passions.
Implement systems; not targets. Don’t think about your goal, think about
The health care system in the UK is becoming overly expensive and overly burdened, almost to a tipping point.
So now – in an effort to stay afloat – nearly a third of UK hospitals are now denying health care to patients with a BMI over 30.
These hospitals have restricted knee, hip, and other lower body replacement surgeries from obese patients and active smokers, saying that the interventions are “wasted” on the obese.
There are so many unfortunate things about this scenario. One of them, however, is in my opinion the worst of all.
It’s that they might actually be making the problem worse.
Fat shaming causes overeating.
This is something we have been saying here at Paleo for Women for a very long time (read my book on it, here).
Four years ago, I wrote a post on what I call the ‘binge-restrict’ pattern of overeating. This is what happens to people who are fat shamed.
When fat shamed, you feel guilty about your body. This motivates you to starve yourself. You “eat clean.” You do a bunch of whole 30s. You might even “feel great.”
But after a while it wears on you. You begin to obsess over what you’re restricted from. You feel hungry and irritable all of the time, perhaps. And you develop very, very, very strong cravings.
So then you ultimately (and inevitably) fall off the wagon, and overeat.
This makes you feel guilty again, so you starve yourself again. Then you develop cravings again. Then you overeat again.
And again, and again.
Restricting food intake has drastic consequences, especially with an unhealthy mindset.
This is exactly what happens with “obesity awareness”
The more that our culture shames people for the size of their bodies, the more we doubt themselves.
The more we doubt themselves, the less capable we are of making changes that focus on health instead of weight loss.
And the more we doubt ourselves, the more we hate our bodies, and resent our bodies, and therefore develop unhealthy relationships with food. We fall into binge and restrict patterns.
Here at Paleo for Women, I often talked about this phenomenon as though it was definitively true. And I did believe that it was.
But now we know more certainly that it is, and that it affects our society on a broad scale. It didn’t just happen to me. It didn’t just happen to Noelle. It didn’t just happen to you. It happens to cultures as a whole.
It is happening to the world.
With such big players like the UK and US health care systems at bat, there is a lot at stake.
This article interviews Researcher Eric Robinson regarding his study of obesity awareness. He says of obesity and the intentions behind it that:
““There is quite a substantial body of research showing it is not really very much fun being an overweight person in this climate,” said Robinson. “It is a stigmatised condition. Realising you are an overweight individual is in itself likely to be quite stressful and make making healthy choices in your lifestyle more difficult.
“It is a tricky finding for public health intervention work. You would hope that making a person aware they are overweight would result in them being more likely to change and lose some weight.”
What Robinson and others instead found is that, from a study of 14,000 adults in the US and the UK, perceiving yourself as overweight actually has the opposite effect. Thinking you are overweight doesn’t incentivize you to lose weight.
Instead, it is strongly associated with weight gain. And this is entirely independent of people’s actual size. It has everything to do, instead, with their own perceptions of themselves.
In the study, the authors write that, “Individuals who identified themselves as being ‘overweight’ were more likely to report overeating in response to stress and this predicted subsequent weight gain. These findings are in line with recent suggestions that the stress associated with being part of a stigmatised group may be detrimental to health.”
So now we know. This happens to people. It wasn’t just me. It isn’t just you. It’s all of us. It’s a part of how we work. It is basic human psychology – that we do, for any number of reasons, overeat in response to negative body image.
But what do you do about it?
You may find yourself then in a bit of a Catch 22. If you already have these feelings about yourself, what do you do?
Does this study actually help? Can it help you choose love, or self-acceptance, or weight loss for the sake of health or energy, instead of for validation?
I think that it can. It can affirm your humanity. It can provide proof for your suspicions. It can help you throw off the condemnations of people around you, and perhaps start looking for ways to stop thinking of yourself in a negative light.
You may want to sit down and think seriously about the relationship between your size and your health. “Health” is no longer a good excuse to starve one’s self. As it turns out, the relationship between health and weight is much more complex than we ever thought. It is totally possible to be healthy and to be overweight.
You may also want to think about the “health at every size” movement. Since it is possible to be healthy at any size, becoming a part of a community of people focused on living well instead of restricting food intake could be great for you. I wrote about why I love Healthy At Every Size in this post.
You may also want to consider thinking about food intake in terms of setting minimums, not maximums. In this post, I describe the way that I like to do macronutrients. Instead of saying “only 100 grams of carbs a day” or “only 50 grams of fat a day” or “no more than 1800 calories a day” I set minimums: “at least 100 grams of carbs a day,” I say. “At least 50 grams of fat.” “At least 2000 calories.”
You might also want to think about fitness in a new way. Many people do work outs because they have to, because that’s what you do in order to lose weight. But what if you engaged with fitness because it was fun…because you found an activity that makes you come alive? I talk about that a bit in this post on why I will never run a marathon.
I have provided a few of our resources in the paragraphs above that I think could be helpful for your relationship with your body fat percentage, whatever that may be. Of course it is all insufficient – our need for self-affirmation and love in this society is truly never ending. So perhaps I should just leave with this thought:
They may that you are not enough. You may sometimes feel like you are not enough. But what you are is beyond enough. You are acceptable, and then some. You are a powerful human being with a body that lives and breathes and thrives no matter how rocky your relationship has been in the past, no many how many hardships it has been through. You are a body that is strong and lovely and your home, and seriously screw any body, any resource, any lingerie company that may make you feel otherwise. You can be healthy at any size, and you deserve it as much as you might deserve anything. You deserve to be nourished more so than anything, to let food be your friend, to let your body be your friend. Your body really does love you. All you have to do is let yourself love it back.
(“Your body is a natural body with natural needs, that, when loved properly, loves you right back” is actually the “golden rule” of our community’s best-selling manifesto, Sexy by Nature. Check it out on Amazon!)
Last week I published a post “My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight.”
I also, and importantly, began that post with a HUGE disclaimer:
“This post is intended to be very sensitive and also a bit in jest but not really.”
Yes, most certainly!
That post and this post are somewhat hyperbolic. I do not mean to say, at all, that anyone is acceptable or unacceptable based on the motivations they have for wanting to lose weight. Not at all. Your reasons are fine! I have no desire to cast judgment on people for the way that they feel. I personally have probably had just about every single motivation for losing weight out there — or at least all of the negative ones.
But I understand entirely why I had them, and I have so much empathy and sympathy for the woman I was.
And some days, I still feel like that.
So all of the reasons for wanting to lose weight are of course completely acceptable. Since I have a program out that helps women lose weight (Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution), I wanted to be clear why I think weight loss can be a good thing.
I wrote a post on that last week, which you can see here.
And on the flip side of that, sometimes wanting to lose weight can be a bad thing that negatively affects us.
To that end, today I bring you a somewhat flippant but also totally serious post: my definitive list of some of the worst reasons to want to lose weight.
1. Thigh gaps
Thigh gaps are a terrible reason to want to lose weight!
Whether a woman has a thigh gap – regardless of how little body fat she has – is entirely dependent upon her genes. Some women’s legs bow out more from the hips than others. That’s just a simple fact of genetics. Some women have very little body fat but still have thighs that touch, simply because their knees are situated closer together, as a necessary fact of their skeletal structure.
So if you spend your days staring at yourself in the mirror, measuring the distance between your feet on the floor, and measuring the distance between your thighs, stop it. Don’t. I did this for ten years of my life. I was enamored with the thigh gap before the official thigh gap even existed… back when I was around 12 or 13 years old. I had no idea that it was a physical impossibility for me, and if I had, it might have saved me years of anguish.
Of course, physically impossible is not the only reason a thigh gap is a bad reason to want to lose weight.
It is also a bad reason to want to lose weight because no particular socially-constructed idea of what a woman’s body should look like should ever be your motivation for losing weight.
Thigh gaps, six pack abs, hourglasses, bikini bridges, J Lo’s body, J Law’s body, any woman’s body… your body does not have to look any particular way in order to be sexy. It really, truly doesn’t.
(If you don’t trust me on this one, read my best-selling book on it, might change your mind ;))
2. Last Five Pounds
Please, someone, for the love of everything that is holy, tell me why any of us care about “the last five pounds.”
There is nothing healthy about losing the last five pounds, for one.
In fact, it seems as though it might be entirely unhealthy to lose those pounds. This is especially the case for women, whose bodies are extraordinarily sensitive to caloric restriction and intense efforts to lose weight.
So if it’s not about health… what’s it about?
Conformity to a standard ideal?
Demonstrating your level of discipline?
Demonstrating your level of moral superiority?
Showing off for your girlfriends?
I think the answer to all of these questions is “yes.”
Fortunately, they don’t have to be. You don’t have to be ideal to be attractive. In fact, I think the opposite is true, and being uniquely yourself is the most attractive thing you can do.
You don’t have to demonstrate your ‘discipline.’ Your diet may be disciplined, and that’s fine. If it is, good for you, you don’t have to be super slim to show that off. And if it isn’t, that’s fine, too. Mine certainly isn’t, and I’m personally proud of myself for escaping the trap of discipline I was stuck in my whole life.
You don’t have to demonstrate your moral superiority. No one is ‘better’ or ‘worse’ if they look a particular way or eat a particular way. That’s just straight up stupid. Don’t let your peers or the media make you think otherwise. Being a good person is about being compassionate, empathetic, kind, strong, proactive, and the like. Save your energy for the tasks that the world actually needs us to perform, not shaving off pounds to meet some random social standard.
We often feel like we need to lose weight because our friend groups put pressure on us. You don’t have to cave to this. You can either get new, better friends (I endorse this!) or you can stand up to your friends and feel proud of yourself for doing so. There’s no need to compete, here. You’re all beautiful and awesome in your own ways. If they disagree with you, tell them otherwise or kick them to the curb.
3. Because mom/friend/boyfriend/husband said so
No one else deserves to tell you what to do with your body, period.
I work with a lot of women who suffer under the scrutinizing gaze of their mothers. I find this to be more sad than I could possibly say.
I know a lot of women in the world who suffer under the scrutinizing gaze of their boyfriends, and who try to meet some ideal in order to please their boyfriends and get the validation they have promised.
This is terrible. There are a few ways to handle this: you could confront your aggressor and attempt to have a rational conversation about how your body is your own and not somebody else’s to judge, and explain why their words make you feel bad; you could tell your aggressor to piss off, that is, if they aren’t receptive to your concerns, it may be time to liberate yourself from them as much as you can; or you can ignore your aggressor whenever they make you feel judged. This isn’t the most permanent or helpful course of action, but it can be helpful in the interim while you try to figure out what to do.
The bottom line here is that your body is your own, and you are perfectly lovely and smart and kind and good and beautiful in all the ways, and the people in your life should see you as a whole person, rather than a collection of physical parts.
For most of my life, I lived under the delusion that if I lost weight, people would find me more physically attractive, and like me more.
To a small extent, that is true, because we live in a society that so highly values thinness.
But that is really only to a tiny extent.
I learned this personally when, after starving myself for several months, I became quite thin. While I was thin, I gained confidence. When I behaved with confidence, men efflusively complimented me and asked me out. When I was having a “bad body day” on the other hand and had hardly any confidence at all, men kind of ignored me, even though my body was exactly the same.
Then, when I regained about fifteen pounds and kept my confidence, I found that men continued to compliment me and be enamored with me.
The moral of this story is that it wasn’t my particular body size that drew people to me, but the effervescent and fun person I became when I learned how to be confident. This applies to men, to women, to romantic interests, and to platonic friends. People love when others are confident and fun. They really, in the grand scheme of things, couldn’t care less about your body. The most important thing is that you are happy, and that you can share your happy delights with those around you.
5. Because overweight people don’t “deserve”…
Buried deep in most of our subconsciousnesses are notions that overweight people don’t deserve to eat, don’t deserve to be happy, don’t deserve to be loved.
We think these things because society has rammed them down our throats. Corporations that sell weight loss products, clothing, make up, perfumes, and the like all make more money the worse we feel about ourselves. Advertisements promise us that if we buy a particular outfit we will be attractive and all our woes will go away…. corporations aren’t selling clothing to us per se, but rather the dream of all the positive qualities we might have if we decide to buy their stuff.
So they deliberately manipulate us to keep us feeling down on ourselves. This is a very, very real thing.
One thing you can do to help mitigate feeling this way is shutting yourself away from media, catalogs, and the like as much as possible. Ignoring them will help lessen the din they can create in your head.
And the rest of the time you simply need to remind yourself that your amount of body fat has nothing to do with how good of a person you are, how productive you are, how rich and full your life is, how much you have to be grateful for, and so much more. You are not your body size, and your body size does not mean you deserve less.
You deserve everything that is good and beautiful, because you are human.
6. Because being overweight is “immoral” and “lazy”
Just like thinking we don’t deserve things, we tend to think that body fat is a signal that someone is lazy.
This could not be further from the truth.
I know plenty of super slothful, super lazy humans who eat crappy food and are quite thin.
I also know plenty of heavier people who are super hard workers, ambitious go-getters and world changers, who eat almost nothing but beautifully clean paleo diets.
No one’s body fat percentage reveals anything about their food habits. No one’s food choices say anything about how moral or lazy they are as a human being.
7. Because men think its hot
So lots of heterosexual women want to lose weight because of the opinion of men.
And I understand to an extent – our society does, for one, have a fair number of men who hate, who literally hate, overweight women. I don’t really understand why, except maybe these men just don’t like that overweight women haven’t conformed to the patriarchy demand that all women become as thin as possible.
But for men who are reasonably well educated and a part of your social groups, having a super slim body really doesn’t mean much of anything.
When it comes down to it, heterosexual men like women, and if anything particularly sways them to find them attractive, it’s the embodied, confident way in which women inhabit their bodies that excites them the most, not fitting into a perfect size. It’s the happy way in which women who are comfortable with who they are are more than happy to be themselves.
The race to super lean bodies is less driven by men than it is by women. Ask almost any man and he’ll say he’s more than happy to be with a woman who’s got some meat on her bones. It’s only we women who impose on ourselves the idea that we have to be thin in order to be attractive or loved.
So let go of that illusion, and see for yourself. I personally have been a reasonable slew of different body sizes, ranging from about a size 00 to a size 9 (though admittedly never a “plus size” so I can’t report on that end of the spectrum, and please take my apologies for my ignorance), and have found that I have literally zero difference in my reception from men in terms of attractiveness. Zero difference.
And even if I did, your love for yourself and your body is worth so much more than that.
So much more than that.
Men are not the answer. Validation on the street is not the answer. Knights in shining armor are not the answer.
You alive in your own skin – and happy – that’s the answer.
So that draws me to the end of my totally definitive list of less than awesome reasons to want to lose weight.
Obviously there are so many more out there! What do you think about my reasons? Do you have your own?
While you’re at it, head over to the post: My 6 Favorite Reasons to Lose Weight, and let me know how you think these stack up against those.
And, if you are on a weight loss journey but want to do it healthfully and while coming to love yourself and your body even more, check out my program for women’s weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution. If not, even better.
First, let me just say: I hope you understand that this post is in part in jest – because obviously there is no definitive list of anything, and to call weight loss motivation “favorite” “positive” or “best” or not is egregious, presumptuous, and quite self-righteous.
But I also really do want to address the various motivations we might have for wanting to lose weight. While I will not condemn anyone for caring about any of the reasons, positive or negative, for losing weight, I do really believe that some motivations for losing weight are more mentally and physically healthy than others.
I consider it my duty to be honest about when I think that is probably the case and when it isn’t.
And I do definitely believe that weight loss can be a positive goal. People ask me about this a lot. They are curious: if I am such a big fan of the concept of being healthy at any size, how can I have a program designed for weight loss?
Well, because I think there are some solidly good reasons out there for wanting to lose weight.
To that end, I have written up a short list of (usually) healthier reasons to lose weight versus (usually) less than healthy reasons to lose weight. Today I am publishingly the “good” list. Next week is the less than awesome list.
And, of course, in the end, every single one of these motivations has everything to do with how positive a mind-set you have, and how at peace you are with yourself and your body while you do it.
So here we are, tada! The definitive list of better – or acceptable – or really just my favorite, reasons for wanting to lose weight.
1. Health (or “health”)
I do believe it is possible to be healthy at any size, depending on your genes, your diet history, your health history, and the way in which you eat and live. I wrote an extensive post about how our believe that body fat causes poor health is a myth, which you can read at the post: Can Being Overweight Be Healthier than Normal Weight?
Nevertheless, it is possible for body fat to play a role in some health issues. For example, abdominal fat tends to secrete inflammatory molecules, which contribute to systemic inflammation, and which has been linked to cardiovascular disease.
Losing body fat also appears to help improve insulin resistance in studies. It is unclear whether it is the actual loss of fat itself or the improvement in diet and exercise that normally accompanies weight loss that is truly to be credited for improvements in health, though it is quite possible that weight loss is a direct influence in one way or another. I believe that both the dietary changes and the actual weight loss play a role.
Health is a good motivation to lose weight, so long as you are reasonably confident it’s a culprit in your symptoms or health risks. This can’t apply if you are shooting for the “last five pounds” however. It may not even apply the last 10, 20, or 30 pounds.
Most people who lose a significant amount of weight profess to feeling more energetic. This is in part because it requires less energy to maintain a smaller body, so your body spends less energy on a moment-to-moment basis after you lose a significant amount of weight.
This is also because you actually weigh less, which causes the pull of gravity on you to decrease slightly. This can make your muscles feel relatively stronger, and your step be relatively springier. People who lose significant weight often confess to feeling actually physically lighter, which can be a nice way to help leap out of bed in the morning.
3. Physical Fitness
When you become significantly lighter, it becomes easier to jump higher, to run longer, and to do pretty much anything that requires you to move your body. With a smaller amount of mass the body has more energy to perform stronger and longer.
Of course, it is entirely possible to be overweight or obese and be physically fit. There are plenty of amazing athletes with fat on their bones. But for people who really prioritize athletic performance and who are engaged in sports which are better for lighter people (like running, as opposed to shot-putting), physical fitness is an acceptable and healthy reason to lose weight.
Physical fitness is also a ccommon reason to want to gain body fat. Many people who lift weights ignore body fat percentages altogether. Their bodies need fuel in order to build muscle. They will eat heavily and frequently in order to make sure their bodies get the fuel they need, and they’ll say screw it with regards to body fat. Sometimes its just a part of the athletic package, so I simply wish to stress here that body fat and physical fitness can go both ways.
4. Joint pain
Being significantly obese can put extra stress on the joints, particularly in the lower body and the knees. Reducing body fat in order to alleviate joints is non-negotiably a good reason to want to lose weight.
5. Wardrobe maintenance
This reason is more practical than anything.
Sometimes, after a stressful period, or after pregnancy or what-not, women find that they have outgrown most of their clothes.
If you loved your old wardrobe and don’t want to spend a fortune replacing it, weight loss–done in a sustainable and self-loving manner–can be a great way to save yourself the trouble.
Now I don’t mean that if you have a whole closet full of “skinny” pants back from the days in which you starved yourself, then you should hurry up and drop the weight again. I certainly have one of these closets, but I keep it just in case that sort of weight loss accidentally happens. Rather, I mean: a wardrobe at which you happily sustained an intuitive diet and lifestyle may be worthwhile of such pursuits.
One reason for weight loss I continue to feel emotionally moved by is physical intimacy.
This was something that never occurred to me, but was rather described to me by an amazing paleo friend of mine, who just so happens to be a best-selling author, and rather a big deal.
This friend of mine lost more than 100 pounds. She told me that one of the best things that happened when she lost weight was that she got to feel physically closer to her husband. When she hugged him, her head and her heart were closer to his. Weight loss made it easier for her to feel physically unified with her husband.
This was such an unexpected and beautiful aspect of her journey… I just had to share. Physical intimacy can be one particularly nice reason to want to lose weight. Obviously it is possible to be physically intimate and and close with body fat – obviously – but for some people this might feel like a pleasant part of the weight loss journey.
And with intimacy I draw my list of favorite reasons for wanting to lose weight to a close. This is not an exhaustive list by any means… I think really that no matter what your motivation is for losing weight, if you do so in a way that is in loving harmony with your body and never punish yourself or compare yourself to others, you’re doing all right. I know that is easier said than done, but in the end, your health and your body fat are yours and yours alone, and you deserve to feel awesome about your body all of the time.
You will note that in most of these items I said they applied to “significant” weight loss. The “last five pounds” won’t make a difference for athletic performance, joint pain, health, or the ability to be physically close to another person. Of course I have no issues with women who would like to lose a few pounds here or there. I personally maintain a specific body composition (which is certainly a bit squishy and jiggly) on purpose… but I do find that most of us become neurotic about the way we look on our bad days.
If we can focus on things like health, energy, and intimacy, we may be able to increase the number of good days that we have. The best reasons for wanting to lose weight are those that you can’t see, because they make us feel and perform better, and have longer, healthier lives.
I do not expect perfection from anyone else in this regard, nor of myself. We live in a tough world, and it’s hard to feel comfortable in our bodies when we are so scrutinized and labeleld by the outside world.
But I encourage you to do your best, and to remember always that your weight loss journey is about the way that you feel in your body and the things you can physically do, not about the squishiness on your middle or your day dreams about a thigh gap.
If you so elect to lose weight and want to do so in a manner that is both physically and mentally health, I have a program specifically designed to make that easy for you: it’s Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution. You can check it out and see if its a good fit for you here.
Of all the ways in which people try to lose weight in America today, counting calories is probably the most popular.
It is also probably one of the most misguided.
Well, I’m not sure I can say that, given that I know that something called The Grapefruit Diet exists.
Nevertheless, so far as I am concerned, calorie counting is extremely flawed. It is bad for health. It’s bad for spirit. And it’s bad for weight loss. Here are some reasons why — though the list is by no means exhaustive.
1) Counting calories is time consuming
Counting calories is time consuming. You either have to search for calorie amounts on google for every food you eat, or carry around one of those little pocket calorie guides. I used to do that. Nothing like a good old-fashioned calorie counter in your back pocket.
Then you have to measure your food, and then do math.
And you can’t simply weight in after the fact, but need to parcel out your food beforehand, so you can make your target goals. Of course, you may be one of the more loosey goosey calorie counters and simply tally how much you’ve eaten after the fact, but that’s time consuming too because after you’ve done all the math you will probably spend a fair bit of time worrying about it.
Moreover, one of the most obnoxious things about calorie counting (and body image issues in general) is that it’s such a mental time drain. You have so many creative, brilliant things to bring to the world! What a terrible drag it would be to dampen that light and energy so that it can be channeled toward grape rationing.
I can’t even.
2. Energy needs vary by day
Part of the reason calorie regimens are so dangerous is that they impose strict rules on daily eating, even though energy needs vary greatly day by day.
Energy needs vary for a whole slew of reasons: exercise, how much you’ve slept, whether you’ve worked out recently and are rebuilding muscle, how much stress you are under, how much time you spend standing or walking on any given day, if you are sick and how active your immune system is at the time, and even the time of the menstrual cycle are all important factors.
Each of these variables means that every day requires a different number of calories to be eaten.
When calorie counting, you will almost certainly, every single day, miss that mark.
This is a problem physically because it can teach you to ignore your body’s basic hunger drives. Doing so may signal to your body that you are starving yourself at times, or overeating at others. When you are out of sync with your body’s caloric needs, you open yourself up to stress hormone problems and sex hormone problems, which can lead to infertility, irregular periods, mood swings, low libido, and many other problems down the line.
This is also a problem mentally because any sort of leftover hunger or restrictive feelings can make you feel deprived, which can feed feelings of deprivation, frustration, yearning, and obsession.
Much easier than dealing with the physical and psychological problems that come from calorie counting is simply learning to interpret and eat in harmony with your body’s hunger drives. It may take time and patience to learn, but the rewards are great.
3. It’s controlling aspect is addictive
Most people who become serious calorie counters also have type A personalities. They are perfectionists. They like to have their worlds managed in particular little boxes which can be controlled and manipulated to their liking.
Sometimes, people start to get a high on this kind of control. I was definitely one of them. I loved when I could demonstrate my mastery of the world, my moral superiority, and my discipline. I felt the power in myself, and I delighted when I could demonstrate that kind of control in front of others, too. Counting calories was a great way for me to feel like I had control over myself, my bood, and my body. I loved the feeling.
My humble advice in this regard is to be mindful about it. Do not let the obsession overtake you, and be wary of the ways in which it can. Avoiding calorie counting altogether is the best way to do this. Maybe knowing that type A perfectionism underlies your calorie counting habit can help you deconstruct it, and ultimately let go.
4. It can make you care more about weight than health
One of the major problems of calorie counting is that it prioritizes weight over health.
Calorie counting is all about weight loss (and that’s not to say it’s effective, more on which in the next point).
It gives priority to eating less. The smart, effective, and healthful way of eating would instead be to give priority to eating better.
In fact, it can be actively detrimental to your health to make weight loss your focus over and above high quality eating. Our society thinks that skinnier people are healthier, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Thin people regularly get diagnosed with diseases and die early deaths; overweight people regularly live long, healthy lives. Sometimes, being overweight actually increases your health.
5. It will in all likelihood make you gain weight in the long run
Calorie counting is inherently contradictory. It may make you think that you are going to lose weight, but in actuality most people who lose weight by calorie counting eventually gain it back.
When you prioritize quantity over quality, it is nearly impossible to maintain. This is for a wide variety of reasons:
For one, high quality nutrition helps you feel full. The body sometimes feels hungry specifically because it is missing out on important nutrients. Focusing on high quality foods in this way will help you feel both healthier and more satisfied by your food.
For another, rigidly controlling food intake forces the body to be in a permanent state of hunger, to some degree or another. Doing this causes the body to up-regulate it’s production of hunger-stimulating hormones. The more of these hormones you have swimming in your blood, the hungrier you will feel, and the more you will feel like you need to eat. When you eventually cave to these increasingly pressing signals, you will in all likelihood overeat, since the hunger signals that have built up are so strong.
Once you overeat, if you are a calorie counter you will in all likelihood restrict your calorie allowance for the following day even more, which can further exacerbate the hunger hormone problem, thus sending you into a spiral of restriction and overeating.
This kind of pattern, in which the body is restricted and then overeats, causes weight gain. In a state of restriction, the metabolism slows down. Then when you overeat, you store even more fat than you would have before.
Slowed metabolisms are a very real problem for being who diet or have dieted in their past. It is very hard to overcome a slow metabolism once it sets in from calorie counting. The ideal situation would be to never restrict calories in the first place. If that can’t be avoided, you can help boost your metabolism by starting to eat as intuitively as possible, and relaxing the controlling grip you have on your diet and your body.
It is totally possible to lose weight without counting calories. In fact, it is even more effective and permanent not to.
Also, If you want to lose weight, but are wary of calorie counting (and for good reason!), I provide a great way for loosely keeping track of your food intake without counting calories in my program for weight loss, Weight Loss Unlocked: The Paleo Woman’s Solution.
And that’s a wrap for me! What do you think? There are plenty more reasons to never count calories again! What are yours?