On today’s yearly Black Friday, when our consumer nation rears its product-hungry head, consider being a smart consumer when it comes to your body. But first, let me tell you about a recent purchase of my own.
I just bought a spanking new smartphone. It cost me a good chunk of change. I brought it home and (admittedly, unlike with some previous phones) I was very careful to make sure it stayed in good condition.
2 weeks later, however, the phone stopped working. I hadn’t dropped it in the toilet, the dog’s water bowl, or forgot it in my jeans in the washing machine. In fact, I hadn’t dropped it at all. The phone still looked brand, spanking new. No visible chips or scratches. Not even a finger smudge.
You see, I’ve broken phones before. Dropped one under 4 feet of chlorine water during my daughter’s swim class. Dropped another onto large rock steps in our backyard. Let my daughters play games on one, later realizing my younger daughter was sucking on the rubber Otterbox protective case like it was a paci. Not so good for the phone, apparently!
But not this most recent one! As is my pattern, I didn’t purchase the extra insurance, telling myself I could do this! I could harness the willpower to be careful with the product I had purchased. I would just need to be careful and vigilant.
So you’ll understand my surprise when after 2 weeks of careful use, with no sign of visible damage and no incidents of trauma to the phone, it just. stopped. working.
My boldness as a consumer immediately kicked in. I spent good, hard-earned money! I took good care of this phone! I’m going to demand my money back or a new phone! I marched myself back to the store, prepared to aggressively plead my case and was pleasantly surprised to find that the salesmen were quite helpful in response. The pristine condition of the phone made it pretty hard for them to be anything else. The manager took a look at the phone and agreed “yeah, I can see there’s not one little sign of physical damage to the phone. And no sign of water damage. It’s pretty rare with these phones but every now and then, this just happens. The operating system must have had a flaw to begin with. We’ll give you a new phone, free of charge.”
You can imagine my relief……..…and smugness!
As consumers, we place trust in companies and depending on the size and reputation of the company, we attach a simple belief to what we purchase: This product will work.
So I’d like you to consider this: If a new smartphone came out but consumer research clearly indicated that only 5% of the phones worked effectively, how likely would you be to purchase one of those phones? How motivated would you be to spend a few hundred dollars toward a product that you were essentially guaranteed—statistically, at least—would fail?
I’m guessing pretty unlikely?
But let’s imagine how this scenario applies to another type of industry: weight-loss systems and products.
The weight-loss industry—or as Deb Burgard aptly renamed the weight-cycling industry—is a multi-billion dollar industry that lures vulnerable individuals into the false hope that weight loss—along with happiness, well-being, success, moral superiority—is something that can be achieved by investing money into a prescribed regimen or magic pill. With this false promise comes the harmful message that individuals cannot be trusted to make decisions for themselves regarding their hunger, satiety, and fullness. Particularly vulnerable to this cult of self-distrust may be individuals who have already learned over time—whether through familial messages, traumatic experiences, or failure/shame experiences—that their own internal wisdom cues cannot and should not be trusted, whether with food, their bodies, relationships, or general decision-making.
But research continues to show that diets do not work and that weight loss is not typically possible for the majority of people. In fact, research generally shows that 95% of people who lose weight by dieting will regain it in 1-5 years. That means that only 5% of people are able to keep the weight lost off. That’s a pretty low “success” rate. Not only are very few people able to actually maintain the weight loss, at least 1/3 to 2/3 of people on diets will regain more weight than they lost within 4-5 years. Traci Mann, who has been researching the science and psychology of dieting for over 20 years answers the question of “Would dieters have been better off to not go on diet at all?” with a Yes. Not only would the weight be about the same had they not dieted, but their bodies would not experience the wear and tear of weight cycling and they would not face the shame of feeling they had “failed.”
But beyond the science of why the weight-cycling industry is a false dream, here’s my own personal biggest beef with this cycle. When my phone broke—without me having done anything to damage it—I didn’t blame myself. I didn’t cower in shame. I didn’t begin to feel awful about myself and what I am capable of. I gave the onus of responsibility where it rightly belonged: back to the company.
But when individuals purchase a weight loss product, they often are not told the statistical likelihood of their “success” or “failure.” They place their full belief and trust in that product, as well as their hope, their self-esteem, and their self-concept. When the product ultimately fails (because research shows, they all eventually do), who do you think these individuals blame? Not the product. Not the company. Not an industry that peddles false hopes and dreams.
They blame themselves.
Some sit in my office and tell me what a failure they are. How much of a disappointment they feel to their loved ones. How they wish they could hide their bodies from the outside world.
But the cycle doesn’t stop there. Next, that self-blame and shame can begin to bleed into all other parts of their lives. I see their confidence start to drop. They tell me what failures as parents they are. How they feel like an imposter in their work environment. Their motivation to take risks and experience life is encumbered. Not only are they faced with grieving the loss of the false hopes they had attached to the idea of weight loss, they often are hindered from working toward health. Not only do diets and weight-loss efforts typically not work, they often do not promote health but rather become a large obstacle to health.
Y’all, I am tired of it. I’m tired of having to fight upstream. Of having to work against a culture of shame. I want my clients to feel empowered. To be able to get to know their bodies. To experience the fullness of their bodies and what their bodies are capable of. To work toward health. This IS possible but it is made significantly more difficult in the face of outside “noise” that disrupts individuals’ ability to trust themselves. Learning to block out the external noise and trust one’s internal cues is a difficult and courageous task. One that is sometimes easy to avoid and instead place one’s faith in a weight loss product.
It's not that individuals are "dumb" or "stupid" when they invest in weight loss. Quite the contrary; individuals who invest in dieting are often *good* learners, diligently paying attention and studying the information given to them. The problem does not lay in the consumer or learner, but in the messages being taught and sold that coerce individuals into a rigid belief system that the only way to be *good* is to be smaller (#False).
But even when individuals faithfully follow diet regimens, the weight seems to come back. I wrote “seems” but it isn’t that simple. Our bodies’ physiology is complicated and the reasons for why weight loss doesn’t “work” are multifaceted and, for the large part, out of our control. Dieters are fighting upstream not just against science, but against a complicated myriad of factors unrelated to willpower or moral goodness. Our parents’ generation, had an easier time than we have today maintaining the same weight. Individuals today following the exact same diet and exercising the same amount will still be about 10 percent heavier than people were 20-30 years ago, pointing again to forces outside of our control.
Hearing that Oprah bought stock in Weight Watchers doesn’t make me angry. It makes me sad. For her. For those that follow her. I don’t mean this to sound condescending or shaming. I mean this with compassion and empathy that she has faced the same pressures and false messages that we all do. And with compassion and empathy that she has certainly faced more tremendous pressure than most of us to look and be a certain way, on a global stage. She undoubtedly made a smart financial move investing in the program, but she moved further away from the opportunity to make peace with her body and to learn how to better listen to what her body is telling her.
So, whether you’re out standing in long lines today, doing your holiday shopping online, or spending time at home with family eating delicious leftover Thanksgiving fare, take a moment to think about how to be a *better* consumer when it comes to your body. If you were told that a product only worked 5% of the time, I imagine you wouldn’t invest in that product to begin with.
Invest in your body by saying NO to dieting.