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Lose a size by July 4

That was the subject of an email that I recently received from “Prevention” magazine.

I hate this.

Not only because it perpetuates what I think is a very poor reason to lose weight, but because I buy into it at least a little. I am tempted to think that a size smaller would be better than what I am now, even though I know that smaller than I am not is probably not healthier.

If it were just this one little email, I would probably have laughed. But the email is a symptom of a pervasive attitude in our society. What woman, even a healthy weight, doesn’t at least wonder after reading and hearing and seeing examples of the message: DO I need to lose a dress size? Am I good enough? When will I be good enough?

Why is fitting into a smaller pair of jeans not a good reason to lose weight? Because it ties into outward appearance, and there are two good reasons why this is a bad motivation.

1. It is temporary.

It is very likely that your motivation has a short term duration. You want to look good on the beach, at a wedding, a reunion, etc. Or you want to impress or show up someone. Once those goals are achieved, your motivation disappears. But even if you didn’t have such short term needs, you face another hurdle.

When you first lose noticable weight, people notice you. You get lots of compliments. But whether you keep it off or gain it back, the attention you recieved for your initial achievement fades. Why work so hard to keep it off, then? You might not actually think that, but the let down is still there and that motivation to continue working hard is no longer there.

2. It is subjective.

The one constant in fashion and beauty is that it is inconstant. Once upon a time, being large and pale was attractive because it meant you could afford to eat plentifully and didn’t have to stoop to outdoor labor. Now, those two attributes are characteristics of a lower socio-economic status. What is in fashion is what marks you as well to do – as successful. But that doesn’t always mean healthy.

What weight you or others think you look good at, and what weight is healthy may not be the same. You certainly can’t rely on dress or pant sizes to accurately portray your health – those change all the time. I literally have a size 10 pair of pants and a size 4 pair of pants that both fit me well.

While it is good to look your best, it is not good to base your health decisions on how you look and it is especially poor judgment to base them on a subjective, non-specific, and non-individualized suggestion coming from someone who could stand to profit from the poor body image they encourage by telling you that you can lose a dress size by some holiday.

But if those are not good reasons, then why should you lose weight?

Maybe you shouldn’t. Really. There is an ideal weight range for you, and if you are there, congratulations! Nothing anyone else says about your weight matters.

If you are overweight enough that it effects your health, you need to lose weight to feel good on the inside, and I’m not just talking self esteem here. You need to be strong, calm in the face of stress, have endurance, have low blood pressure, and low cholesterol. Those count much more than your dress size or what the the media says you should look like.

In short, who cares about what you look like on July 4th? You have the rest of your life and you owe it to yourself to be in the best health possible for you – to be fit, strong, and ready to take on anything.


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  1. I agree. There is too much emphasis, especially in the media, to “look” healthy. I’ve lost 35 lbs over the past 4 months, but it was because I needed to, as you said, for health reasons. I still look like a bag of flour, though. 🙂 It’s like those Dove soap commercials. A lot of people found it offensive, for some reason, but I found them to be realistic. It shows women happy with the way they are and look, unlike most commercials that have Kate Moss wannabes.

  2. I agree that looks as a sole motivator to weight loss is not a good idea, especially since as you say, it is temporary; but I actually do think that the way you look gives a great indication of how healthy you are, and that all those complicated formulas are not really necessary. Belly fat is unhealthy. Look in the mirror, or pinch your belly and you can honestly assess how healthy you are.

    I lost a lot of weight (240->135 pounds). When I was 158 pounds I was officially at a healthy weight (BMI 25). I still felt unhealthy, I still had a large belly. Now that I lost another 20 pounds I feel much, much better. I noticed quite a bit of aggression from other people when they noticed I was still losing weight, even though I already had a “healthy weight”. (I felt validated by Harvard’s Walter Willett, who explains in his book _Eat, Drink and be Healthy_ that a BMI of 25 is still quite unhealthy, but that they had to draw the boundary somewhere, and that it is better to be thinner).

    I find it quite hard to live in a society where everything you do is wrong. If you are fat, people criticize you, if you are thin, people criticize you, if you want to look better, people criticize you. I think the lesson is just to listen to yourself and your body.

  3. Mike: I also like Dove’s natural beauty campaign. I especially liked the 90 year old woman who was wrinkled and beautiful.

    Helen: Wow. Congratulations. I’ve had “too skinny” comments as well. What they don’t know is that I had a specific body fat composition goal: %20, that is concidered ideal.

    I’m not sure I agree with the BMI as a good indicater of health. There are so very many things it doesn’t take into account, the most obvious being body fat. Obviously a weight lifter having a BMI of 25 is very different picture than someone who is sedentary. Small boned, large boned: this can make as much as a 15 lb difference in what weight is healthy for you. Women’s Health Magazine has a great article about this:


    Anyway, I agree that what you look like can be a good indication of health. It just isn’t the only indication. I honestly feel that someone could be overweight, but if they are exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet, their overweight status isn’t going to have too much impact on their health. There is even some indication that healthy people with a little extra fat fair better recovering from surgery. Probably because they have good energy stores.

  4. Wanted to compliment on your site, it looks really good .


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