TW for discussion of dieting and, in the comments, eating disorders.

Let us grant for a moment that being fat is unhealthy. (I’m not really sure whether it is, as I haven’t looked into the subject, so I’m stuck with the heuristic of “well, a lot of people with impressive-looking degrees say one thing, and a lot of people with blogs say the other.”)

The thing is that sustained weight loss is really hard. Of the people who have lost more than thirty pounds and sustained it for more than a year, 90% exercise at least one hour a day and 78% weigh themselves at least once a week. I think that overweight and obese people could very reasonably look at these results and say “actually I would rather not exercise that much, thank you, I’ll take the health risks.”

At the same time, focusing on weight loss means that some people will choose demonstrably unhealthy methods of losing weight, such as juice fasts, fad diets, eating so few calories that they’re literally starving themselves, smoking, etc. On a less disastrous level, a weight loss emphasis also results in really terrible advice about diet in women’s magazines (“eat candy canes, not cheese, candy canes contain fewer calories!”– this is not a straw man, this is an actual article I read).

On the other hand, a lot of advice typically given as weight-loss advice is still good for you even if you’re not looking to lose weight. It is not like eating lots of vegetables, cutting down on your sugar consumption, and exercising regularly are suddenly bad ideas if you happen to do them and still be obese afterward. For that matter, it’s not like eating nothing but cupcakes and refusing to exercise are mysteriously good for you if you happen to be thin.

So I am puzzled about why we continue to emphasize weight loss as opposed to “eat more plants and less sugar and do some form of exercise on the regular.” Why do we say “do X to lose weight!” as opposed to “to live longer” or “to be stronger” or “to be healthier” or “to be happier”? Other than diet industry profits, of course, because people trying and failing to lose weight buy lots of diet books and unused gym memberships. Which is just sad.