Today’s blog is all about why I don’t teach using thought work to lose weight – even though lots of other coaches do. If you’re ready to stop thinking about losing weight and start thinking about how to love life in the body you’re in, don’t forget to snap up one of the limited spots for our October retreat. You can sign up here!
Well, the easy answer is: It doesn’t work. But that would be a one-sentence blog post, so let me step back for a minute and explain.
If you’re in the self-help and coaching space, you’ll see a lot of weight loss coaches. These coaches are often wonderful people who mean well, and nothing I am writing here today is meant to dispute that. But all of us are products of our own time and our own cultural obsessions, and there’s no denying that weight and weight loss is the cultural fetish of our era.
Now, I’m obviously a coach too. And I do teach that we create our own results in life based on our thoughts, which motivate our feelings, which cause our actions, which drive our results.
So why don’t I teach that you can change your weight using your thoughts?
Here’s the essential difference between how I understand weight and how many other coaches do. Many other coaches believe that weight is a RESULT of your actions, and therefore something you can change if you change your actions (which you do by changing your thoughts).
I believe – as does the science, by the way – that weight is really about 80% a circumstance, meaning thing outside you that you can’t control. There are a lot of very complicated reasons that people are the weight they are, including biological predisposition, genetics, environmental effects on genetics (epigenetics), environment, chemical exposure, gut bacteria, use of antibiotics, childhood illnesses, chronic stress, inflammation, and, most importantly perhaps, a previous history of dieting.
(That’s because dieting is one of the few things shown to raise your “set point” which is the weight at which your body prefers to be, and to which it will always return if you don’t interfere with how it functions. In addition, when you gain weight you add fat cells – fat cells never die or go away, so while they may shrink a bit, you can’t get rid of them once you’ve added them).
So let’s say I’m right (meaning, let’s say the science is right). There are certainly some people who lose weight successfully and keep it off over the long term, right?
Yes, there are. The percentage of people who can maintain a large weight loss over a ten-year period is extremely small (the studies show somewhere from less than 1% to a max of 5%). That’s not because people are weak or lack willpower, it’s because millions of years of evolution have created an incredibly sophisticated and powerful biological system that we don’t even fully understand yet, and your attempts to defy that system long-term are, statistically, going to be very unlikely. Some of those people are weight loss coaches. If you pay attention, many of their clients are not.
Now, do I think that thought work – e.g. learning to become aware of your thoughts and feelings – can help you lose weight if you’ve been consistently overeating and using food to cope with everything? Sometimes, yes – in that case you were maintaining your weight at an artificially high state and your set point is actually lower than where you were. (Although note that the biology of having done this will still work against you in losing weight and keeping it off long term).
And quite honestly, I think that some people (although not many) can use their thoughts and actions to maintain themselves at a very artificially low weight for a very long time.
But at what cost?
The reason we’re all so obsessed with our weight is completely cultural – it’s not an objective truth about the world that thin people are superior to fat people or that being thin will make you happy. I’ve written before about the myth of thinness and the pack of lies that the diet industry sells us about what being thin will bring.
So maybe you can use your formidable energies and brainpower to maintain yourself at an artificially low weight for the rest of your life, if you’re one of the few people who can even get there. But I just don’t see that as a worthwhile use of your limited time and efforts in this life. Women spending their formidable brains and energies on controlling their bodies is what keeps women on the sidelines of life and men running the world.
Life’s too short and there are too many better things to do – and so many women can’t achieve those ideals no matter how hard they try, and spending all that energy trying is a waste when it could be spent on diversifying our ideas of beauty and health and loving ourselves exactly the way we are. After all, if you can’t change your body, you can still always change your thoughts.
 To be clear, I’m not saying that women being vain is what causes structural sexism. I’m saying structural sexism socializes women to focus all their energy on their appearance and thereby diverts that energy away from individual achievements and collective organizing and change.