Losing Weight . . . a Good Thing?

by Susan C. Litton, Ph.D.

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With our obsession on thinness, most of us have rather predictable times when we begin to think of losing weight. We start new diets as part of our New Year's resolutions, in preparation for weddings, class reunions and hot dates, before swimsuit weather, or when our clothes start feeling tight or the number on the scales gets too scary and depressing. Once we're triggered into dieting mode, most of us jump headlong into our favorite scheme for weight loss without taking the time to think it through. We do this despite the fact that we know the statistics for losing weight and keeping it off are gloomy at best. The reality is that most of us fail in our weight loss attempts and yet we keep doing it over and over again.

I think that the primary reason for our failure is that we're skipping a step. Instead of plunging headlong into dieting, we should take time to ask ourselves if this is really a good time for us to undertake a weight loss program. If, after some excruciatingly honest soul-searching, the answer to this question is yes, then choosing a method is relatively easy. Many people sabotage themselves by asserting that the time is right when it's really not. Such diets are doomed from the outset. Though seemingly innocent, these ill-advised attempts can result in health problems, eating disorders, additional weight gain and at the very least, severe blows to one's self-esteem when the plan fails.

Should I Lose Weight?

the objective part of the question

The 'should I' question is actually a group of questions, which can be broken down into two parts: objective and subjective. The main objective question concerns your physical health. Would your physician agree that it's in your best interest to lose weight? If not, then your goal should not be to lose weight, but rather to concentrate on learning to accept your body as it is. For most of us, the goal of self-acceptance is much harder to achieve than weight loss — which is why we tend to delude ourselves into thinking that our physician must somehow be wrong if they tell us that our weight is fine.

Many of us have developed the sense that there's something inherently wrong with us as we are. We're not really sure why, but we're convinced that it's true. In this uneasy state of believing we're bad or defective yet not knowing why, weight is a natural thing to pin the problem on. Everywhere we look, we find confirmation for the idea that fat is synonymous with bad. Since weight is readily measurable in the privacy of our own homes, we have instant, daily access to an amazing little meter on the floor that can tell us whether we're "good" or "bad." Most people who think they want to lose weight are primarily trying to find ways to feel better about themselves and have become deluded into thinking that weight loss is the answer. The cycle, most of which is typically unconscious, is:

  • Something causes our feelings of self-worth to reach an intolerably low level.
  • Rather than challenge the assumption, we accept it as true and attempt to figure out why we're so worthless.
  • We decide that the answer must be that we're too fat, so we set out to try to lose weight.