Thursday, 18 February 2010

Losing weight: why should I actually bother?

I have a theory. Losing weight is like stopping smoking. For some people it's easy; for some people it depends where they are with their life and whether they're "ready" to do it or not; and for some it's never going to happen no matter how much stress and pain they put themselves through.

For the last group, the answer to the question "why should I bother?" is probably "actually, you probably shouldn't". Even with the right support, education etc. for some people the stress and effort involved for them to lose weight and keep it off is probably more damaging to their quality and length of life than the excess weight could potentially be (excepting the obese to the point of needing a crane to get out of bed). The stress and frustration alone can be so psychologically and physiologically damaging that it's better to keep that little bit of excess. There have been recent studies that have correlation between slightly extended life expectancy in the elderly and being slightly overweight compared with the current recommended guidelines. Of course this could be related to having extra padding around joints, bones and organs so that bumps, knocks and falls have less serious consequences, but without having read the studies in any detail, I couldn't say.

There is a great importance, in Western Society mostly, placed on being slim; probably overly slim at that. Yes, there is a growing percentage of the population who are overweight and yes, there is fat discrimination (which I certainly experienced, first-hand, in the past). And yes, the pressure to be slimmer can be overwhelming and pretty much dangerous in some cases. But the dangers of being a bit overweight are surely outweighed by the long term misery, stress and daily difficulties around food and eating? I, for one, had it pretty easy losing weight (keeping it off is harder, yeah) but I'm sure that if it had been a lot harder, I'd've been psychologically better off staying quite fat and probably better off physiologically too. Stress does bad things to your body as well as your brain and, in fact, can contribute to higher fat gains for the same calorific intake and expenditure compared with an unstressed person. I was lucky. I was one one of those people who was "ready" to lose weight and in a position to spend the time and effort controlling intake and learning about food, nutrition and fuelling my body "properly".

For that last group of people... they're probably much better off staying as they are. Maybe not 100% happy, but happier than they would be struggling, succeeding, failing, getting even bigger, struggling and stressing again, succeeding, and being unhappy with the constant battle.


  1. Hi Kate,

    Good article! That's the thing though, you were prepared and able to spend time learning about nutrition and calories rather than following a fad diet for a couple of weeks before piling the weight back on and deciding that "diets don't work". I agree that fat people would be less stressed and demoralised without the constant failures to lose weight but I dislike the myth that some people just can't lose weight no matter how hard they try - only a couple of percent of overweight people have an underlying metabolic disorder (according to one of our gastro lecturers).

    Being overweight puts you at higher risk of cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes and cancer (what doesn't though? ;) ), I've not seen the study that suggests that slightly overweight people live longer but I'll google. Anyway I expect you knew all this, I thought it was an interesting article and wanted to add my 2p :)

    Rach x

  2. Aaand I've just had it pointed out to me that you said all this in your previous blog post. Ignore me :)

  3. *applause*

    Actually thanks a lot for this. Before last year's horrible test results at the GP, which helped make *me* ready to lose weight and try keep it off again, I was reading a lot of fat acceptance blogs. I think they have a lot of good points, and the concept of health at every size in particular really resonated with me - and still dows. So I've felt a lot of cognitive dissonance trying to reconcile that with active weight loss on my part. This definitely helps me look at it in another light.

  4. I'm not so sure about a lot of fat acceptance stuff, but I'm pretty sure that there's such a thing as striking a balance between the risks of being overweight and perhaps living 1-2 years less long but being less blimmin' miserable long-term.

    I believe in looking at the risks and benefits and deciding for yourself the trade-off between risks are acceptable vs. the costs of mitigating those risks. But, I know that not everybody -has- that luxury or access to the right information and a lot of the time the information available isn't all that great and there are no certainties around the risks etc. Not even a large proportion of people do.