The 3 Weight-Loss Proverbs That Just Didn’t Work for Me

updated May 30, 2019
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(Image credit: Jenny Chang-Rodriguez)

After decades of being the fat girl in every room — the girl who’d be pretty if she’d just lose a lot of weight and the woman who’s never stuck to a diet long-term, always shamed for eating the bad foods and mocked for eating the good foods — I’ve had enough. I’m big and beautiful and way healthier and happier than I’ve ever been.

Eventually, I found a way to my own idea of wellness. After going on an elimination diet and, in tandem, examining all the reasons I was so big for so long, I lost enough weight (70+ pounds) to make a big difference in my mind and my body. I was finally ready to love all my imperfect, messy, complicated parts and, ultimately, myself. Now, I’m sharing what I’ve learned about all those so-very-typical weight-loss recommendations the world has been telling me (and probably you) since nearly birth.

Proverb #1: Eat everything in moderation.

Eating in moderation may work for some, but it never worked for me. Enjoying just a little bit of cake only tempted me into swallowing the entire cake tray.

You see, I never learned sound food habits in adolescence — just sneaky tricks for hiding all the indulgent foods from my face because that’s how my parents monitored my weight (with no luck, obviously). In reality, I had to eliminate specific foods in order to get some control over my body, including refined sugar, animal protein, dairy, and booze. Over time, I added some foods back in, but only after I had figured out my way to avoid over-indulging in them. A little wine is okay, but a lot of wine sends me straight to the fridge for snacks, pronto.

Now, after a spell living through some self-imposed food restrictions, I eat what my body tells me to eat and it’s more likely to tell me to eat a dish filled with greens versus a plate of brownies — especially if I want to focus and do whatever I do all day long (like write! And coach!). I am in a better place to moderate now —but only after a lot of hard work to get thoughtful about why I eat.

Proverb #2: If you’re fat, you’re not healthy.

Since childhood, I’ve been repeatedly told that it was not acceptable to be fat. My parents said this to me with their words and their restrictions; the average-sized kids at school said this by refusing to play with me or bullying my big-little body; my doctor said this every single time I was on the scale; and a steady stream of friends, nutritionists, and personal trainers tried real hard to cure me of my unacceptable fatness.

When the body positivity movement came to life, it was so confusing to me. It was the antithesis of everything I had been told for 30-ish years. I wanted to embrace it because I wish I had been happy in my body just as it was years ago. If I had been taught to love my body when I was younger, I might not have used food to comfort myself to the point of obesity. I might have found other coping skills for feeling unloved, unworthy, and insecure.

All this time my focus had been on the wrong problem. The look of my fatness was far less important than the fact that I wasn’t feeling great. I experienced tingling limbs, chronic pain, and low energy, and that was more concerning than what I actually looked like.

When I finally learned to accept me, I decided it was okay to be big; there’s no need for me to conform to anyone else’s idea of health. My kind of real wellness includes being happy to be me, finding smart ways to handle my insecurities, and quelling any looming list of potential health issues. Self-love helped me understand that my health is paramount and way more important than whatever anyone thinks of my body.

Proverb #3: You need to “eat less, move more” to lose weight.

“Eat less, move more” sounds so simple. I’ve heard it repeated, mantra-like, from every doctor and concerned family friend since puberty. However easy it rolls off the tongue, that statement covers two things that are actually a little more complicated.

Making one new habit stick is its own kind of feat, but two new habits at once were impossible for me. Since I wasn’t exactly sure of how to eat less and experienced pain when I moved more, it felt impractical to try to tackle both simultaneously. So, I separated the two ideas. The key for me was eating way more plant-based foods — and saving the “move more” for another time.

I lost all the weight over the course of one year by eating more nutrient-dense foods. While I ate less calorie-wise, my dishes overflowed with seasonal vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and grains and hardly left me feeling like I was indeed eating less. I ate more and more often. By eating a varied assortment of all the vegetables, I lost enough weight to make me feel so good, at last.

It’s only now, three years since that major weight loss, that I’ve begun to move more. I started yoga eleven months ago for some back pain and now don’t know where I’d be without those mindful, sweaty moments each week. While I hope to make yoga and more movement a forever habit, right now I’m just doing what feels good and that means I’m finally eating a bit less and moving a bit more — it only took me years to do both simultaneously.

A proverb to live by: What works for someone else might not work for you.

All of this common weight-loss advice might be fine for some people — it’s just not essential for everyone. And you know what? That’s OK! My answer to real wellness was complex and very much the opposite of what everyone said. While I’ll continue to listen to ideas from health educators, my real work comes through trial and error and listening to my own body.