Self-compassion over weight loss goals? Hormones say yes

Weight loss goals- woman stepping on home scale to check weight loss
LatestLifestyle

Weight loss goals (#weightlossgoals) are all over social media right now. But as fun as it is to watch reel after reel of transformations, there’s a way better focus for your new year and your health: self-compassion. Here’s exactly why you should make it your priority in 2022 over diets and weight loss.

Let’s face it: our society places too much value on weight

Weight loss goals- illustration of diverse crowd of arms raised toward different thought and speech bubbles on diets

Know what the top New Year’s resolution in the United States is? Weight loss goals come in at number one. In fact, Americans spent $72 billion on weight loss and weight loss products in 2019 alone. The problem with this? For one, we’re teaching young girls that thin is better. (The average age a girl starts to diet is just 8 years old.) And two: as a nation, we’re spending a ton of time, mental energy, heartache, and money on something that doesn’t necessarily make us healthier or happier.

Here’s the thing: if you feel losing a few pounds will genuinely help you feel your best or improve your health, then by all means: have at it slowly, sustainably, and safely. But many women choose to lose weight just because they think they should or that it’s what they’re supposed to do. Most of us who have dieted can think of a time when we picked a goal weight right out of thin air. Another common way? We think of a period when our lives were going great and mistakenly associate the weight we were at with the reason life was good. So, we make that number our goal. Then, we go to great lengths to try to force our bodies to meet it—even though it’s not realistic or healthy. Even though we’ll have to practically starve to do it. Sure, we think it’ll make life easier or better. But does it really? Part of enjoying life is about giving yourself permission to be your healthiest, and that includes savoring different types of food, listening to your internal hunger cues, and loving your body enough to nourish it rather than glorify hunger.

Weight loss goals can derail your hormone balance goals

Hormone imbalance symptoms that can come from weight loss goals- Illustration of various hormone imbalance symptoms

The reality of most diets is: they put hunger, thinness, and control on a pedestal. They make us prioritize those things over viewing food as enjoyment and fuel. So it’s little wonder that, in the process of trying to reach our weight loss goals, most of us end up restricting calories and foods. At first, it doesn’t seem like a problem because you don’t have to restrict much. Just shaving a snack or so or drinking more water seems to do the trick. The scale moves easily. You feel amazing, and there’s a reason why. You get a surge of dopamine. (Dopamine’s your motivation and achievement hormone that feels really good.)

But after some time, you have to eat less and less to get that dopamine kick and see the scale move. Or, you feel like your legs look smaller—but it looks like weight is shifting to your mid-section instead. And why do you feel so bloated, anyway? Here’s the deal. Women’s bodies are extremely sensitive to changes in energy intake. Lowering your calories too far or too quickly, not eating carbs, or even switching up your diet completely can send your body into a stress state. Higher adrenaline and cortisol mean that your body starts to prefer to store fat around your belly. It also makes your digestion slow and increases another little-talked about hormone called antidiuretic hormone or ADH. Suddenly, you retain more water.

Meanwhile, all that increased cortisol causes other hormone balance problems. You’re hungrier. You’re tired. Anxious. Having trouble sleeping. Your hair is shedding. Your period’s weird. All of this happens with too much cortisol. The main reason: progesterone gets stolen to continue cortisol production. Progesterone and estrogen check and balance each other. Without enough progesterone, your estrogen takes over. (Hello, estrogen weight gain!) And your thyroid hormone—which regulates your metabolism—declines too.

The only weight loss most of us need? To lose the weight loss goals for self-compassion

self-compassion-over-weight-loss-goals: illustration of woman looking in mirror and smiling, holding a heart in her hands

It’s time we stopped associating weight loss goals with success and a way to seek control in an uncontrollable world. With how many restrictive diets ultimately fail, we’re setting ourselves up for disappointment and defeat—and hormone imbalances that last much longer than any diet. Instead, we need to allow ourselves some self-compassion when it comes to food and whatever the scale says.

Is it hard? Definitely. We’ve all been so conditioned to hear and say, “Can’t. I’m on a diet.” But just because we learned something doesn’t mean we can’t unlearn it. Going through life being afraid of food and weight gain and not enjoying what you eat isn’t healthy and it’s not necessary. Feel like there’s no way you could ever stop dieting? Check out this article by non-diet-dietitian Wendie Taylor on why we should all eat intuitively. It’s hard at first, but a mindset shift is the first step toward self-compassion. Once you make that shift, you can actually nourish your body and hormones without labeling anything as good or bad or off-limits. That makes it easier to see weight loss for what it is: just weight loss (and nothing more).