Separating “Health” and “Weight” for Binge-Eating Recovery

womens-running-02-435While diet-culture tells us that the pursuit of weight loss is the most effective way to become “healthy,” most clinical studies show that diets—that is, forced attempts at weight loss—almost never last long-term, are a leading contributor to binge-eating, emotional eating, and weight gain over time, and are the primary risk factor for food obsession and disordered eating.

In other words, the thing we’re all being told will make us healthier (trying to be thin) is probably actually making us sicker (and often fatter) in the long-term.

Given this information, successful recovery from binge-eating (and all “food issues”) usually involves tweaking our “health” strategy to exclude forced attempts at weight loss—since it’s pretty clear that these attempts lead to poorer health long-termand instead, pursue healthful living in a weight-neutral way. 

Thankfully, there are a million ways to pursue “health”—outside of the weight-control paradigm that works for pretty much no one. 

How about eating more fruits and vegetables?

Or managing your blood sugar?

Moving your body when you can?

Managing stress?

Getting more sleep?

Responding to your hunger cues?

Working on your spiritual life?

without expecting (or demanding) a change in size as a result.

Is it possible that you’ll lose weight when you pursue certain weight-neutral health behaviors?

Sure, it’s possible…but it will only happen if your body actually wants to lose weight, or more specifically, if your weight is currently above your unique, individual set point weight.

Weight is complicated, and contrary to false diet industry promises, not fully within our control long-term. More on this here.

This all being said, when your goal is to perform your health behaviors irrespective of your weight outcome, you are substantially more likely to perform them on a regular basis, stay consistent, and are less likely to rebel, act out with food emotionally, or suffer from obsessive and critical thoughts about food and your body.

In other words, those people with the best long-term health outcomes (and successful recovery from disordered eating—including binge-eating), are those who are able to separate the pursuit of “health” from the pursuit of “weight control” in their own minds.  

Of course, the pursuit of “health” itself can become obsessive—or “unhealthy”—for some, which is why I also strongly recommend including *mental health* in our overall picture of what “health” is, so we don’t forget to take care of our minds and hearts as part of our overall “health” equation.

Ultimately, the hard part for most folks in recovery from binge-eating, disordered eating, etc., is actually practicing separation of weight and health, honestly and earnestly, in our day-to-day lives. Exploring our own authentic “health values,” outside of the crushing diet-industry screams of  “lose weight! lose weight!” is an ongoing process for most—and one that typically requires a whole lot of self-compassion and self-trust.

Contrary to some common misconceptions about the non-diet approach, the non-diet approach isn’t telling us to “never eat vegetables” or “never go to the gym;” but rather, the non-diet approach asks us to evaluate why we’re eating vegetables or going to the gym, and challenge our instincts to try to control our body, in favor of weight-neutral self-care.