One of the most common questions I get from prospective clients is this:
“If I practice Health At Every Size (or intuitive eating), will I gain weight?”
And here is the answer I pretty much always give:
“I don’t know if you’ll gain weight. Some of my clients gain weight. Some stay the same. Some lose weight. But I do know you will feel much happier and more at peace with your body.”
Maybe unsurprisingly, not everyone is too keen on my answer.
In fact, plenty of people decide not to work with me then and there.
I’ve learned over time that the folks who like that answer are often people who are already open to the idea of Health At Every Size. They’re so sick of dieting and hating their bodies that they’ve realized that feeling happier and at peace is really what they’re looking for.
But let’s talk about the weight thing.
It’s the 800-pound (or so) gorilla in the proverbial Internet room.
The Science of Weight
Honestly, this is the stuff I’m not so good at. If you’re really interested in the science of weight, I urge you to read Health At Every Size: The Surprising Truth About Your Weight.
The last time that I really studied biology, I was in eighth grade.
And I remember sitting there and learning that your body does this amazing thing: When you restrict calories, it thinks that you’re experiencing a famine, so it slows your metabolism and makes you get more efficient at storing fat.
I remember learning this and feeling the cognitive dissonance. I thought, “Why did my doctor put me on a 1200 calorie diet if it’ll just make me more efficient at storing fat?”
That question never got answered.
But that really does happen.
And the more you diet, the better you get at storing fat, the more attracted you get to higher fat/higher calorie food, and the more your internal thermostat gets messed up.
As this happens, your natural set point range (the range of weights that your body tries to maintain) gets higher and higher.
The only way out of this pattern is to stop dieting.
This often involves relearning how to listen to your hunger and fullness signals and much more.
My Life in Fat, 1981-2007
For most of my life, I was told (and believed) that I had to be hyper-vigilant against weight gain.
According to doctors and pretty much everyone else in my life, if I didn’t diet constantly, my weight would just go up and up.
This “reality” was reinforced by my own experience.
As a constant dieter, I was constantly in the process of losing and regaining weight.
And since I always began to regain weight even while sticking to my diet, I saw that as proof that I had to restrict more and more.
Like at least 95% of dieters, I gained back whatever I’d lose within five years – and often, it was much faster.
I would lose some weight on my doctor-prescribed mix of calorie-counting and shakes, or Overeaters Anonymous, or Weight Watchers, or Atkins. I would think that the diet that I was on at the moment was the answer, and if I just stuck to it, I would keep losing weight and become gloriously thin.
But then, the inevitable would happen. While faithfully sticking to the diet, the weight loss would stop and, soon after, the weight gain would begin.
Like at least 83% of dieters, I would often gain back more than I had initially lost.
Disgusted, I would start a new diet.
I took this weight gain as a sign that there was something wrong with me.
I took it as a sign that I needed to diet.
When I was diagnosed with PCOS in 2000, medical professionals further confirmed to me that PCOS would cause weight gain, and I had to diet to stave it off.
So here’s something that all of those experts were wrong about:
The only thing that ever stabilized my weight was not dieting.
My Life in Fat, 2007 to Present
In 2007, I made the decision to stop dieting once and for all.
It was one of the toughest – and yet easiest – decisions I had ever made in my life.
It was tough because of my internalized societal beliefs about how I should look and how I should eat. But it was easy because I was so fed up with dieting that I couldn’t conceive of going on another one.
At the time, I was a size 16 or so – still relatively thin for me. I still hadn’t gained back all of the weight from my last diet. Even though I understood that I’d probably gain more weight back and understood that this was not the death sentence I had been taught it was, I still secretly hoped I would magically stay at that size.
I remember being at the NAAFA convention in 2009 and being back at my starting weight for my last diet (around a size 18/20). I no longer hated my body and felt sort of silly that when I was last at that weight, I was so desperate to change my body.
My weight continued to rise until around the end of 2010.
The weird thing was that as I went up in dress sizes, I somehow stopped worrying about it.
I really trusted my body. I trusted that it was doing what it needed to do.
Toward the end of 2010, at a size 26 or so (and around 35 pounds higher than the starting weight of my last diet) the weight gain just stopped.
And it stayed the same until this spring, when, totally inexplicably, my body changed again, and I went down a size or two.
Now, mind you: During this whole process, I’ve just been doing the same thing. I’ve been practicing intuitive eating, eating what I want to. Sometimes exercising more, sometimes less.
I relinquished control to my body, and my body met me in the middle.
Being essentially the same size for about three years has been amazing.
Being able to wear clothes that I wore three summers ago is an absolute revelation.
It’s an experience that I had never had until now.
Of course, this is my experience.
For over six years, I’ve been doing this experiment called “not dieting” after twenty-four years of an experiment called “dieting.”
I wanted to share my experience with you because, as you can see, it took years for my weight to stabilize post-dieting.
As I mentioned at the top of this post, I don’t assume that my experience will be like yours. But I think it’s important for non-dieting folks to share the reality of their stories and experiences with not dieting.
I don’t know what size I’ll be next year or the year after.
That may seem scary, but in truth, dieters don’t know what size they’ll be either.
So for now, I choose body peace, body love, and homeostasis. Because that, unlike weight, is something that I can controllably maintain.
Golda Poretsky is a certified holistic health counselor and founder of Body Love Wellness, a program designed for plus-sized women who are fed up with dieting and want support to stop obsessing about food and weight. Follow her on Twitter at @bodylovewellnes. Read her articles here.