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Why "Right Now" Isn't Always the Best Time to Start a Weight-Loss Program


Photo: Creative Caliph / Shutterstock

You've heard it before: "There's no time like the present to take control of your health." In a sense, this statement is obviously true. There's certainly no convenient time to make diet or lifestyle changes, since circumstances are never perfect and making new habits is generally a challenge. But if you don't have any urgent health issues, is now always the best time to prioritize weight loss?

When we came across this rant video from trainer and influencer Sohee Lee, it got us thinking: Is the advice that there's no better time than the present to lose weight/tone up/lose body fat—a nugget of diet "wisdom" so often seen on social media—actually sound?

"Many people, fitness and nutrition professionals included, may tell you that now is the best time to diet no matter what, and that there should never be any excuses not to lose weight," Lee wrote in her caption for the video. "I beg to differ, and I actually think that telling people this without appropriate context can set them up for frustration." (BTW, here's why more women are trying to gain weight through diet and exercise.)

In the full video, Lee goes on to explain that while she understands the intention behind the "tough love" attitude, there's no one-size-fits-all approach to nutrition, and telling people that now is always the best time could inadvertently set them up for failure. (Though she's careful to point out that people who are experiencing health complications related to obesity probably shouldn't wait to lose weight.)

Instead of defaulting to the "now is the right time" mindset, Lee suggests evaluating your current priorities. If fat loss isn't near the top, set it aside for now. Why? Well, it's pretty frustrating to be in a "dieting mindset" and not see any results because you simply don't have the time, energy, or desire to maintain the calorie deficit required for weight loss. Plus, she points out that dietary restriction and feelings of deprivation are correlated with yo-yo dieting, weight regain, and stress around weight and body image in general. Obviously, these aren't things you want to be dealing with, so if you don't have the ability to commit to healthy, sustainable weight loss at the moment, why force it? That doesn't mean you can't focus on living a healthy lifestyle without losing weight.

But do other experts in the field agree with this approach? "Waiting to lose weight is okay advice for everyone, whether they have more weight to lose or are at a 'healthy' weight," says Ashley Reaver, a registered dietitian. In fact, many dietitians look out for signs that clients are not ready to lose weight before putting them on a meal plan that would encourage weight loss.

"Some clients just aren't mentally or emotionally 'ready' to lose weight," explains Eliza Savage, a registered dietitian with Middleberg Nutrition. "It's something that they need to have the motivation and drive to do. Unfortunately, I can't be there every time they are tempted."

In particular, dietitians often want to check in on a person's motivation for losing weight. "As a health practitioner, I think it's important to understand the root desire for weight loss before prescribing any type of plan," Reaver says. "If the motivator isn't general health, then it's helpful to shift the focus there first." While there's nothing wrong with having aesthetic goals, it's better for those to be secondary to increase the chances of long-term success.

A little self-love, regardless of your current weight, is also key, Reaver notes. "One clear sign that a person may not be ready to lose weight is a negative body image. Using any derogatory descriptors about their body is a clear warning flag. Couple these adjectives with a lack of self-worth or inability to view any positive qualities about themselves, and a cycle of failed weight loss is likely to continue. Additionally, people with this mindset about weight loss are likely to experience guilt and stress, two emotions that can contribute to developing unhealthy eating behaviors, either severe restriction, binge eating, or both."

And then there are the circumstantial factors. "If there is a lot of stress in your life, such as a move, breakup, new job, or family issues, I usually suggest being lenient and patient with yourself until things settle down," Reaver says. "Compounding the stress from life changes with expectations for weight loss can be too much."

Of course, stress isn't a reason to put off weight loss forever. "After a certain amount of time, re-evaluate your stress and whether or not it is a healthy time to add in a weight-loss goal." But remember: Exercise is a pretty legit stress reliever (we love this stress-relieving HIIT workout).

Plus, there's the fact that even if now isn't the right time for weight loss, it's never a bad time to improve eating habits overall, especially if your goal is better health. "Weight isn't the only risk factor for disease," says Lauren Harris-Pincus, a registered dietitian and author of The Protein-Packed Breakfast Club. "Improving the quality of your diet is the simplest option to improve health."

Long story short? Now might not always be the right time to try to lose weight, but it's always a good time to incorporate more whole, plant-based foods into your diet, Harris-Pincus says. Need another reason to up your plant intake? Science says eating more fruits and vegetables can make you happier.


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