I remember when I was a personal trainer in NYC, sitting on the gym floor with my client Brooke, while she cried.
Brooke had gone on her honeymoon, and lost all the “progress” she had made in the months leading up to it– and by “progress” of course, she meant weight loss.
She wept openly, on the soft mat by the dumbbells, and in a shaking voice she told me that she was just so scared.
“Scared of what?” I asked her.
“I’m scared that I’ll never be able to lose the weight for good.”
I gulped. Brooke had been chasing a smaller body size for nearly twenty years. She kicked ass in the gym and ate super healthy, but her body size was, in her own words “not fat, just not skinny.”
She was sort of in between, according to NYC standards. A mid size athlete.
She had been training with me for four months, and in that time she had harnessed the short-term motivation of “getting in wedding shape” to diet herself into the smallest body she’d had in adulthood.
And it worked! Brooke’s wedding photos feature a glowing, happy, thin woman.
After four months of training and dieting however, she was exhausted and ready for a break. She didn’t hit the gym once during her honeymoon, and she ate and drank all the wonderful local cuisine with her new husband with gusto.
Over the three weeks they were away, Brooke watched the weight she had worked so hard to lose just… come right back.
Brooke had hoped her new thin body would be permanent; that once she reached her dream body, she would get to keep it.
But her body didn’t want to be at that weight. It wasn’t a natural weight for her, or even a healthy one. It was the result of weight suppression, thanks to the short-term motivation of her upcoming wedding, which she used to push and deprive herself in ways that weren’t healthy or sustainable in the long term.
So I knew, in that moment, that her fears were founded. Brooke probably wouldn’t be able to ever keep that weight off. Her dream body wasn’t going to be something she could “keep.”
Of course, none of us ever gets to keep our bodies, dream or not. We’re constantly fluctuating; we’re constantly aging and changing. No matter how “perfect” you get your body, it won’t stay that way for long. And whether or not you like your body, it’s temporary– both the appearance, and the very existence of it.
I took a deep breath, and gently invited Brooke into a conversation about why diets don’t work. We talked about how her body was just trying to protect her by returning her weight to it’s normal and healthy place, and we talked about her feelings of disappointment and frustration about it.
After all, this is the source of a lot of body image suffering: us rejecting reality. We hate reality. We’re made about reality. We suffer because reality isn’t what we want it to be.
After a while, Brooke calmed down a bit, and seemed to be understanding. Ok. Diets don’t work. This is normal and healthy. Ok.
But then she turned her streaky, puffy face to me, and asked “so if diets don’t work, how do I lose the weight?”
Since that moment, I’ve probably had dozens if not hundreds of people ask me the same thing. They learn that diets almost never lead to long term sustainable weight loss, and instead of saying “ok cool I guess I’ll stop trying to make my body smaller,” they say “ok so how do we trick the body into getting smaller another way?”
It’s so painful, these moments.
Because the answer is, of course, that you don’t.
This isn’t to say that nobody ever loses weight and keeps it off. If someone happens to lose weight as the result of a change in behaviors and lifestyle, that might be sustainable– as long as the behavior changes and lifestyle were sustainable, of course. And there’s nothing wrong with that.
But in the case of someone like Brooke, whose body wants to be a healthy medium size, this is certainly not the case.
So many people fall into the same trap Brooke did, of imagining that a smaller body would be available to them if only they could figure out how to change their habits.
The problem is that most of the time, they’re trying to adopt habits that aren’t sustainable for them in the long term. After all, nobody is going to be able to maintain a plan that makes them feel hungry and tired for the rest of their lives.
Not to mention people carry a certain amount of weight for lots of reasons that have nothing to do with unhealthy habits! (Think: medication, illness, disability, mental health issues, grief, metabolic changes due to dieting, food scarcity, natural body diversity). And if your weight isn’t the result of unhealthy habits, then weight loss won’t be the result of making those habits healthier.
Plus, people’s weight loss dreams are often informed by a desire to conform to society’s standards for attractiveness, acceptability, and a fatphobic view of “health”… which are likely to be much lower than their body actually needs to be to thrive.
So I want to invite you to reckon with this truth today, the way Brooke had to all those years ago.
You are not likely to ever permanently shrink your body to the size you want it.
Your “dream body” probably isn’t in the cards for you. At least… not for more than a few months.
How does that feel to acknowledge? What comes up as you sit with that? Are you immediately thinking about the people who have (seemingly) been able to keep the weight off long term? Are you tempted, as Brooke was, to just try to come up with a different plan?
Again, I’m not saying you can’t lose weight. I don’t know your story, your habits, or your life. I don’t know why you weigh what you weigh, or what size your body wants to be. It’s possible you’re in the very small percentage of people whose weight is inflated due to unhealthy habits, and that finding your way to new sustainable healthy habits for other reasons would have weight loss as a side effect.
But for most of you, this isn’t the case.
For most of you, you’ll never lose the weight and keep it off.
For most of you, your body doesn’t want to be as small as you want it to be, and it just… won’t let you.
And as uncomfortable and depressing as this might feel for some of you, it’s important to acknowledge and explore it.
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