What’s Your Leanest Livable Weight?

By Orcunkoktuna (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Traci Mann, PhD and professor at the University of Minnesota (and co-author of several of the papers listed on my Scientific Lit page), was featured recently in this LA Times article talking about why we should give up dieting. I’m pretty excited, as you can imagine, anytime a HAES®-minded professional gets some serious traction in the media!

Professor Mann doesn’t mince words right out of the gate:

“You can stop dieting and still be healthy,” Mann said in an interview about her new book, “Secrets From the Eating Lab,” an overview of dieting, willpower and health. And if you’ve lost weight on a diet only to regain it, she said, “it’s really not your fault” but more likely the result of your biology, stress and the allure of “forbidden fruit.”

Preach sister! The article went on to say:

If you want to stay thinner than your body’s natural range allows, Mann said, “you’re going to be dealing with that five or six times every day — meal times, snack times, when you should be exercising. It’s going to have to become a huge main focus of your life. That just seems crazy to me.” (emphasis mine)

Crazy doesn’t even begin to cover it. This was the life I led for a chunk of time, and it left little time for other, happier pursuits. Like blog writing!

Professor Mann advocates for something she calls the “leanest livable weight,” which she describes as “a weight you can maintain while having a normal life. If it’s a weight you cannot maintain, that is not your leanest livable weight.” I don’t love the use of the word “lean” because I think it implies a certain image of thinness, something that many of us will never come close to achieving. But I understand what she is saying and frankly it’s coated in enough honey that even HAES® skeptics might find it palatable. And I’m all for making the non-diet message as accessible to as many people as possible.

As I thought more about this concept of leanest livable weight, it struck me that I was there: my life is livable, normal (well, normal for me) and enjoyable, and my weight is now stable. My leanest livable weight means I get to enjoy two slices of pizza for lunch and some frozen yogurt after to celebrate a friend’s birthday. That’s livable.

Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again will apparently include some tips to help improve eating habits. One example was to eat a vegetable before (not with) a meal to cause you to eat less of the meal. So, while I think eating vegetables is great, I’m not necessarily for “tricking” my body into anything. If I eat less than I need, I’ll know it in an hour. If you like your vegetable with your main entrée, eat it that way and just focus on how your stomach feels as you eat. That said, starting your meal out with a salad isn’t the weirdest or most unpleasant thing a person can do. I’m crossing my fingers that her eating tips aren’t restrictive in nature and are just easy things to do to encourage better eating.

I can’t say whether I recommend this book or not because I haven’t read it yet, but it looks promising, and I’ll get behind almost anything that shows the diet industry for what it is: pure profit on a shoddy failure of a product. I just purchased it online so I’ll let you know in a few weeks if it’s worth a look from a HAES® perspective.

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If Not Dieting…Then What? A HAES Primer

So far I’ve talked about not dieting. You might be thinking, well, if diets don’t work, what should I do to be healthy?

While there are many factors that affect health, many of them not entirely within our control, I like to focus on the factors we can influence, namely eating and exercise. The Health at Every Size (HAES®) philosophy helps us to do that. Here are the principles of HAES® from the Association for Size Diversity and Health’s website (sizediversityandhealth.org):

  1. Weight Inclusivity: Accept and respect the inherent diversity of body shapes and sizes and reject the idealizing or pathologizing of specific weights.
  2. Health Enhancement: Support health policies that improve and equalize access to information and services, and personal practices that improve human well-being, including attention to individual physical, economic, social, spiritual, emotional, and other needs.
  3. Respectful Care: Acknowledge our biases, and work to end weight discrimination, weight stigma, and weight bias. Provide information and services from an understanding that socio-economic status, race, gender, sexual orientation, age, and other identities impact weight stigma, and support environments that address these inequities.
  4. Eating for Well-being: Promote flexible, individualized eating based on hunger, satiety, nutritional needs, and pleasure, rather than any externally regulated eating plan focused on weight control.
  5. Life-Enhancing Movement: Support physical activities that allow people of all sizes, abilities, and interests to engage in enjoyable movement, to the degree that they choose.

If you’ve been living with a diet mindset, this can be a lot to digest (pun intended. Dietitian humor is the worst!). As a long-time dieter, my first reaction was “What?! Not eat for weight control? No way.” As it happens, I was pretty hungry the whole time I was learning about this and I think that’s probably what put the nail in the coffin of my dieting mentality. “You’re right!” I thought. “I don’t have to be hungry to be healthy!” I stopped my self-imposed famine then and there and have been feeding my appetite ever since.

The bottom line here is that HAES® takes the focus away from manipulating weight and puts it on behaviors that support health.

I have met some folks who want to know if they can incorporate HAES® into a weight-loss strategy. The answer is a resounding…no. HAES® and intentional weight loss efforts are mutually exclusive. Weight loss may happen as a result of a HAES® approach as your body seeks its way to a more natural weight for you, but making weight loss a focus of health changes will prevent you from finding peace with eating and self-image. In short, you’ll never get to a non-diet life if you keep focusing on your weight.

While HAES® is the overarching non-diet philosophy, I sometimes feel it doesn’t tell you exactly how to get there if you’ve been floundering in Dietland for a long time. This is where Intuitive Eating (also called attuned eating or normalized eating) comes in. I’ll talk about that in my next post!

Want to feel freedom with food?

Tired of feeling ruled by food? I can help you get free. Learn more here.

Subscribe and get my free guide, Why you overeat …and what to do about it.

Click here if you just want my newsletter!