Whenever I meet with a new client, I always ask about his or her weight history - the various weights they’ve maintained as an adult, and the circumstances around each. I recently had a client who wanted to get back to a weight she had briefly sustained in the past, but when we discussed what was going on in her life at the time, none of it was healthy. She had just gone through a bad break up, was strictly dieting, and exercising excessively. When I asked if she was happy then, she stopped, thought about it, and said, “No, but it was the best I’ve ever looked.”
This is something I’ve seen among many of my clients through the years – a tendency to filter out the negatives attached to what it took to achieve a past weight they think of as their personal best. When this is the case, I often ask my client to make a list of the pros and cons related to what it took - and what it would take again - to achieve that weight. That's key, because many tend to focus on the pros of being at that weight and they'll cite things like, “I felt comfortable wearing a bathing suit,” or “I felt skinny,” but they forget about the cons tied to what they had to do, or what they had to give up.
By making a list, one of my clients realized that every time she’s been even close to her ‘dream weight,’ she had to resort to an extreme diet that left her tired and irritable, with out-of-control cravings. It also meant she had to avoid social events, which left her feeling isolated and depressed, and inevitably, it would all become unbearable and end in a late-night binge of forbidden foods, and regained weight.
This is why, in addition to asking about weight, I also ask my clients about the type of relationship they’d like to have with food. Nearly all say things like, “I want to be able to eat the foods I enjoy,” “I want to have a strategy but also flexibility,” “I want to be able to go out to eat,” and “I don’t want to be trapped by my diet.” Those are all things I want for my clients as well, but achieving this type of relationship with food may mean rethinking your weight goal. Sometimes it’s as black and white as asking yourself these three questions:
1. In order to achieve my ‘dream weight,’ am I willing to accept the cons, which include all the things I had to do when I was at that weight, like adhering to a very strict diet that I probably can’t maintain?
2. Can I make peace with being one size larger than my ‘dream weight’ if it means being able to enjoy the foods I like, not feeling restricted, deprived, trapped or unable to go out to eat?
3. If I revise my goal and commit to a more balanced approach, am I more likely to reach and maintain a healthier weight, rather than hit a lower weight I can't maintain and continue to yo-yo?
Major food for thought! So what’s your take on this topic? Have you looked back at a past weight through rose-tinted glasses? Please share your thoughts or tweet them to @cynthiasass and @Shape_Magazine!
Cynthia Sass is a registered dietitian with master's degrees in both nutrition science and public health. Frequently seen on national TV she's a SHAPE contributing editor and nutrition consultant to the New York Rangers and Tampa Bay Rays. Her latest New York Times best seller is Cinch! Conquer Cravings, Drop Pounds and Lose Inches.