As health and exercise professionals, many of our clients have weight-loss goals. Are we doing our clients a disservice by helping them to achieve their weight loss goals? Research has shown that the current weight-focused approach does not result in healthier or leaner bodies. Studies have shown that long-term, intentional weight loss is rarely successful. Why should we support something with such a low success rate.
Many people may find this approach to be detrimental . This can lead to body and food preoccupations, disordered eating habits, and repeated cycles in weight loss and regain. Additionally, it can cause discriminatory and stigmatizing practices towards larger individuals.
Fortunately, there is a considerable amount of research related to adopting a weight-neutral approach. Not only does this approach potentially reduce the harms that are sometimes associated with a weight-focused approach to health, but it may also create more long-term success and improved health outcomes.
What is a Weight-neutral Approach and how can it help you?
Using a weight-neutral strategy means that you don’t have to lose weight or pursue thinness as your main goal. Respect for the body and learning how to develop healthy habits are the main goals. Weight loss is not a sign of health, unlike traditional weight loss methods. Instead of focusing solely on weight, we focus on behavioral changes that will help clients improve their health ..
Helping clients of all sizes to shift their weight loss goals from outcome-based towards behavioral change can increase motivation, enjoyment, and participation in exercise in the short- and longer-term.
One common misconception is that this approach is anti-weight loss, but there is a difference between weight loss and intentional weight loss. Our clients can set aside weight loss as their primary goal. They can also separate size and weight from health. Clients can adopt a strategy that emphasizes behavior change, healthy eating, exercise for well-being, and moving more to improve their lives, rather than weight loss. While changing your habits can lead to weight loss, healthy habits will improve your client’s overall health.
As health and exercise professionals, it is easier to concentrate on habits and behaviors than trying to control the outcome of weight loss. This is because there are many factors that can be controlled and those that cannot.
How can you help your clients adopt a weight-neutral approach?
Create programming that is not weight-centered. Programs that offer progressions and regressions for all body types will be more accessible, fun and sustainable for a wider variety of clients.
Pay attention to what you say and how you coach. It is important to help clients with movement coaching. You should replace phrases like “just a few more curls, and you’ll have summer arms” with “another curl could make it easier to take that bag of groceries into the store Take a tour through your gym. Are your spaces welcoming to all body types? Are you displaying signage that only focuses on one type of body? Are there any scales or measuring devices that could cause anxiety for people with marginalized bodies, particularly those who are unable to use them? How can you make a space that encourages movement and doesn’t put pressure on weight loss?
Despite obesity being a major problem, very little has been done to prevent or treat it. Instead, let’s put our efforts into behavior change to make a bigger impact on health and fitness.
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