Overcoming the fear of weight gain…
Many clients I first speak to feel excited at the thought of letting go of diets after years of failed attempts pursuing weight loss. They are excited (albeit a little nervous) to re-learn to honour their body, become more connected with their inner wisdom around food and free up brain space to live more fulfilled lives away from food obsession.
However, there is sometimes a shadow that can come hurtling over…
“but what about my weight? If I fulfil my hunger and try to foster a normal relationship with food, I will just end up eating all the time. This will just lead to weight gain, which frustrates me and makes me question whether that is the adequate pathway.”
By now you might have felt that you can’t keep going the way you are.
Either you’ve tried numerous attempts to lose weight, only to be back at square one…
Or, you’ve kept your weight down through restriction, but food thoughts consume you and steal the joy from life.
Does this sound right?
If so, you might be wandering “where do I go from here?”
This is where a Health At Every Size (HAES) approach can come in.
HAES is a weight-neutral approach to health care that promotes the pursuit of healthful behaviours (like eating vegetables, moving your body, getting enough protein, etc.) for the inherent health benefits of those behaviours, rather than for the explicit purpose of weight manipulation.
The reason being is that the pursuit of weight loss can often do more harm than good…
You see, after that magical 6 month period where most diet research is published, regardless of the type of diet, almost everyone starts to put the weight back on, and by 2 to 5 years later the VAST majority (95%) of dieters are back to where they started. To add to that, about one to two-thirds of people end up heavier than they were before they began. This fact is so well known that it’s included as “Level A” evidence (meaning it’s the highest level of evidence possible in science).
The pursuit of weight loss can leave people jumping on and off of different ways of eating, looking for that magic fix (calorie counting, cutting out foods or food groups, going vegan, skipping meals, counting points), and can actually do a lot of harm. The harmful side effects that dieting can create (including eating disorders, increased emotional eating, disconnected eating, lack of trust around food, food obsession etc.,) and the health side effects of weight stigma are also rarely spoken about.
Letting go of the pursuit of weight loss might sound crazy.
But I invite you to reflect on your own experiences and consider whether dieting has actually been a positive approach to health either?
For this reason, many people chose to follow a non-diet approach to health like Intuitive Eating.
And one of the biggest fears that can come with this is…
“Okay, so if I pursue this approach, how do I overcome the fear of weight gain? I just don’t think I could cope with that”
This is why I have asked Therapist and Body Image Expert Brianna Campos to answer this question with her top tips to overcome getting stuck in the fear of weight gain.
7 tips to overcome getting stuck in the fear of weight gain
1) Acknowledge that you are not alone.
One of the most common fears in people pursuing a non-diet approach is gaining weight. When we can recognise that we are collective with the same fear – we can work together towards an actual solution.
2) Identify the source of the fear.
On the surface, it might be fear of weight gain. But truly it’s the beliefs that come with weight gain that create the fear. Not the weight gain itself. What is the story you tell yourself about gaining weight? Does it mean you have failed? Do you believe it makes you less attractive/ ‘healthy” etc/ desirable? Carolyn Costin says that body image work is like a check-engine light. Turning off the light (weight -loss) doesn’t address the root issue. We have to look under the hood to discover where the issues stem from.
3) Make space for the fear by having a dialogue with it.
What is it saying to you? Ask the fear, what it’s trying to protect you from. Can you find ways that you know the fear is untrue (i.e. If by gaining weight your fear is that it will make you less likeable, reality test whether or not you would like someone less merely by their body size)?
ACTIVITY: Name one very important person in your life. Write out all of the things you love about them. Do these things have anything to do with their body size? Keep a running list of all the reasons why people love you too! I bet it has nothing to do with your size.
4) Explore what needs you may have.
Does the fear come from people making comments on your body size? Perhaps you need to set a boundary around that. For example, walking out the room, changing the subject or directly saying you don’t want to speak about weight loss/dieting, or you don’t appreciate them making comments about your body. Does the fear come from not wanting to buy new clothes if you get bigger? Perhaps consider trading out some older smaller clothes with flexible/stretchy newer clothes as you are making peace with your body.
5) Sit in the suck.
This is not going to be easy. You are undoing a lifetime of messaging around your body. Acknowledge that the fear is hard. Sometimes the fear will suck you in. This is okay. Acknowledge all the things about gaining weight that sucks and makes your life harder. Acknowledge the oppression you have faced or have witnessed because of their body. Acknowledge that your fear is REAL.
6) Reparent yourself.
The way we speak to ourselves is interconnected with how we feel about ourselves. As these moments arise where you realise you are “fearful” of weight gain do the following exercise.
1. Ask yourself: do I have the capacity to explore this right now? YES or NO
If no, put it in a container in your mind and tuck it away for therapy or journaling later.
2. If YES, ask yourself the previous questions:
a) What is the source of this fear? What is the story I’m telling myself or the beliefs I hold about my body getting bigger?
b) What is this fear saying to me? What is it trying to protect me from?
c) What needs could possibly be met?
d) Grieve. Allow yourself to be sad/ frustrated/ angry etc.
3. When you are ready, ask yourself: What might a loving parent say to their child if they were feeling this way? Or what words would be most impactful to hear right now?
7) Continue to commit to learning.
About fatphobia, body positivity and all the intersectionalities that come with body image work. Recognise it as a process that is not linear but one you can always keep learning & growing.
By reading this article, you’re already “doing the work”. Exploring where your values and beliefs have come from, and sitting with this discomfort is part of the process. If you’re at the start of your journey to heal your relationship with food, it may be helpful to put the desire for weight loss on the backburner. By removing this from the spotlight, you can focus on other ways to measure progress and begin to honour your body and make peace with food.
To have fear and anxiety around weight is normal and is something that you, your therapist and/or Dietitian can continue to work through. Dieting and weight loss focused language keeps us constantly planning for the future, what you ‘would do’ or be deserving of once you lose weight.
This can hold you back from enjoying, respecting and taking care of your body in the here and now.
When weight loss is on the back burner, you can focus on how to take care of your body in the here and now. What you need today to feel more comfortable, confident, and to get your needs met. What’s a goal or something fun you want to do short-term that doesn’t require changing your body?
While the fear of weight gain is normal, it doesn’t need to be your reality forever.
Ted Talk: “Body Positivity or Body Obsession”
People to follow on Instagram:
- #selfcompassionquotes #size(insertclothessize)fashion e.g. #size20fashion for your body size clothes inspo!
Who is Brianna?
Brianna (or Bri) is a Licensed Professional Counsellor in New Jersey. She has worked with Eating Disorder Recovery patients for the last four years and has a special interest in body image. She also teaches Introduction to Eating Disorders as an adjunct professor. She is passionate about Health at Every Size®️ and taking an all foods fit approach to finding freedom with food and learning to love your current body. You can find her on Instagram @bodyimagewithbri.