For countless Americans, the New Year rings in renewed goals of weight loss, exercise, and trying the latest trend diet. But for the sake of both mental and physical health, advocates call for a weight-neutral approach to fitness.
A growing body of research points out the harms of dieting and suggests intentional weight loss doesn’t last, and many advocates and healthcare practitioners reject the assumption that weight is an indicator of health. Even so, weight loss motivation remains a hallmark of the gym industry and many exercise communities.
Here are some realities of weight loss and exercise:
The exact figure varies, but most researchers agree that at least 95% of weight loss attempts fail in the long term.
Dieting attempts can result in weight cycling—the pattern of losing and regaining weight repeatedly—which is linked to adverse health outcomes.
Independent of weight loss, exercise can improve health markers such as blood pressure and insulin sensitivity.
Increasingly, activists, trainers, and athletes are advocating for a move toward weight-neutral exercise.
Trainer Louise Green often hears the refrain, “As long as they’re healthy” attributed to her fat and plus-size clients. “We would never say that to a thin person,” Green, who founded the fitness brand Big Fit Girl, tells Reset. “There is definitely a double standard about the lifestyles of fat people.” Green cautions against equating weight with health — and health with value.
Mirna Valerio started running in the 1990s, and she began documenting her journey on the blog Fat Girl Running in 2011. She still regularly encounters people who assume she exercises to lose weight. One person recently stopped her during a trail run and said, “Fifteen years ago, my body looked like yours. Keep it up.”
“Each time I hear things like that, it’s traumatizing,” Valerio tells Reset. “But the greater truth is that I’m out here, I’m doing this for me.”
As for what we gain when we remove weight loss from the conversation: “A lot more people [are] becoming regularly active,” Green says. “If you can come from a weight-neutral position, you’re actually putting people into a success model where they can become more regularly active.”
This is part of Reset’s Bias Against Bodies series. Sarah Stark is a freelance producer for Reset. You can follow her @itssarahstark.