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Weight Maintenance May Be a Healthier Goal Than Weight Loss, Says Dietitian

You might have to take weight loss off the table in order to gain a better relationship with food.
FACT CHECKED BY Samantha Boesch

The weight loss industry is a multi-billion dollar machine that has many of us believing weight loss is the pinnacle of health. We now know that the industry contributes to a significant amount of disordered eating behaviors, negative body image, and unrealistic weight goals.

There are many reasons why one may not be ready to pursue weight loss. Dieting and intentional weight loss is a stressor on the body. You have to be primed to make this kind of change, and chronically focusing on weight loss through restriction and extreme dieting can wreak havoc on your physical and mental health.

Alissa Palladino, RD tells us, "There are many times when weight loss is not an appropriate goal. We've come to glorify weight loss as the 'be all, end all' goal and tend to use weight status as a proxy for good health. But that is not always the case—especially when a weight loss goal is pursued by unhealthy methods or by restrictive diets that result in weight cycling, which can actually lead to worse health outcomes."

In fact, sometimes taking a break from your weight loss goals can give you the rest you need and actually improve your longterm success. A 2017 study published from the University of Tasmania found that men who took a two week diet break saw greater success with their weight loss goals.

Elyse Krawtz, RDN, CSOWM, LD expands on this topic, "Intentional diet breaks are a strategic and important part of sustainable weight management because they fight directly against an unsustainable 'all or nothing' mindset and provide a taste of what life will really be like after weight loss. It's important to learn how to maintain your weight so that you can intrinsically know how to do so after you lose weight."

As you can see, weight loss may not always be the healthiest goal for you, depending on where you are in your life and what your body needs at the time. Here are some examples of when it might be better to focus on weight maintenance rather than weight loss.

When working to heal your relationship with food

You might have to take weight loss off the table in order to gain a better relationship with food. Just because you aren't focused on weight loss doesn't mean you can't focus on health-promoting behaviors and weight maintenance.

Palladino explains, "Instead of focusing on weight loss, I recommend focusing on health-promoting behaviors, such as including more vegetables with your meals, replacing sugar-sweetened beverages with water or sugar-free alternatives, fitting more movement in during the day, and getting adequate sleep. These behaviors are associated with the improved health outcomes that most people are seeking when they attempt to lose weight, regardless of any impact they actually have on a person's weight. Plus, behaviors are actually within our control whereas the number on the scale is often not."

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During the holiday season

friends eating holiday dinner

"During the holidays, it's better to focus on weight maintenance than weight loss. With more special meals and social gatherings, trying to stick to a reduced-calorie plan can lead to more stress. Some people may turn down invitations so as not to be tempted to eat foods that are not part of their plan. Others may avoid eating at parties only to overeat later due to hunger or the feeling of deprivation," Kim Kulp, RDN tells us.

Instead, focus on filling up on plenty of vegetables, protein options, and enjoy your favorite seasonal foods in moderation.

Times of stress

Sharon Puello, MA, RD, CDN, CDCES explains how seasons of high stress can make weight loss overwhelming. She says, "When someone is under a high amount of emotional stress, it's probably not the best time to be focusing your efforts on weight loss. The behaviors that promote weight loss, like calorie reduction and increased exercise, can actually lead to increased levels of stress and be counterproductive to weight management efforts."

Instead, she recommends adopting stress management routines and working on diet quality to provide sufficient nutrients to help the body handle the physical manifestations of stress, while maintaining one's weight until stress levels are more manageable.

During times of illness

sick women sneezing into tissue while laying down

Intentional weight loss should not be focused on if you are already sick. Focus on rest, recovery, and eating to support your health before you consider intentional weight loss.

Too much weight loss due to illness can be harmful to your health. The body starts to burn muscle and protein stores, which can cause wasting. If you have experienced a significant amount of weight loss due to an illness, talk to your doctor.

Because you want to—you don't need a reason!

There are many valid reasons for not pursuing weight loss, but you also don't have to have a reason! If you don't fit neatly into one of these boxes, that's alright! Choosing not to pursue weight loss is a personal choice, and you get to decide if it is right for you.

Caroline Thomason, RDN
Caroline is a women's health Registered Dietitian and diabetes educator based in Northern Virginia. Read more about Caroline