1. Weight loss is a simple matter of willpower
We’ve all heard that weight loss is easy. People just need some good old-fashioned will power. This myth is so ingrained in our culture that it’s assumed that a person with a fat body is lazy and undisciplined which can lead to discrimination in employment opportunities and by health care professionals.
“Most people try to use willpower and determination to lose weight. Weight loss is the wrong goal to have (we’ll get to that in a moment) but, nonetheless, willpower is not the right skill to use to achieve that goal,” says Dr Kausman.
“Willpower is a terrific skill to have but it’s a short-term skill. You use willpower for things like studying for exams. But you wouldn’t have enough willpower to force yourself to study for exams every day for the rest of your life.”
“Weight loss and healthy eating is the same. People just run out of willpower, they run out of the ability to deprive themselves. Willpower is not the right skill to use to try to achieve long-term sustainable change.”
2. You can shame yourself (or other people) thin
We raise our eyebrows when we see an overweight person eating carbs and wonder if we should say something to our fat friends and family ‘for their own good’. We think humiliating fat people in shows like Biggest Loser is ‘tough love’ and we ask our friends to police our eating and weight loss and hate ourselves when we inevitably fail.
“A much better skill to use to be the healthiest we can be is self-compassion,” says Dr Kausman.
“We should work on being kinder to ourselves. The research shows that if we can be kinder to ourselves then we tend to look after ourselves better. We will do things that will help us look after ourselves better rather than punish ourselves or set ourselves targets that are impossible to achieve.”
3. Doctors and health professionals are experts in weight management
“Weight management and the psychology of eating is a relatively new area of health,” says Dr Kausman.
Doctors, dietitian and psychologists are experts in many areas, but according to Dr Kausman weight management and the psychology of eating is very often not one of them.
“In a short period of time we have seen weight gain for a significant number of people, as well as a thin ideal that is almost impossible to achieve” says Dr Kausman. “The education and training for health professionals has not caught up to deal with this problem.”
“On the whole, GPs, dietitians and psychologists are very poorly equipped to support somebody who might come in and say that they feel they are above their most healthy weight and looking for advice on what they should do about that.”
4. The weight loss industry are weight loss experts
“The weight loss industry just has to die,” says Dr Kausman.
“All weight loss organisations are businesses that do a brilliant job of masquerading as health providers. They are not health providers. They are geared to what is going to make the most money and not what is most helpful for their clients, so they are never going to be helpful.”
“The mere idea of weight loss companies offering a life membership is a joke. The whole premise is ridiculous because it’s the opposite of what you want to be doing. They should be aiming to free people from the distress and disempowerment of counting, measuring and weighing.”
“I don’t want my patients to be a member of my practice. I want to work with them to make this issue really quiet in their life. Whereas the weight loss industry wants to hang on to you, disempower you to keep you as members,” says Dr Kausman.
Kausman is not alone is suggesting that weight loss companies do more harm than good. A 2007 article in American Psychologist which reviewed 31 weight loss studies reported that, ‘One study found that both men and women who participated in formal weight-loss programs gained significantly more weight over a two-year period than those who had not participated in a weight-loss program’.
“The evidence is really crystal clear that dieting doesn’t work and that it can lead to eating disorders. Yet these weight loss organisations have managed to stay one step ahead of the general public’s, but also health professionals’, awareness about these issues. But they are being wound in as we speak,” Dr Kausman says.
5. Diets lead to weight loss
“What we know — and we now have the science to prove it — is that dieting doesn’t work, certainly in the medium to long term but often in the short-term as well,” says Dr Kausman. “We also know that, for most people dieting causes weight gain. And that the most common path to an eating disorder is weight-loss dieting.”
“We need to shift the focus away from weight as the goal and onto looking after ourselves. We need to stop focusing on the end point and start valuing the process.”
Dr Rick Kausman has been running a weight management and eating behaviour clinic for 25 years. He’s a director of the Butterfly Foundation, a fellow of the Australian Society for Psychological Medicine, and the author of If Not Dieting, Then What?