It’s said a picture is worth a thousand words. When companies try to sell us a weight loss program, we will often see a picture split in two of a person before and after their weight loss. Thoughts may come to mind that we too want that kind of transformation. ‘If only I could lose weight like that I would be happy and confident. All I must do is stick to this program, and I too will feel great!’ goes the common rhetoric.

The truth is, we don’t know what is really going on behind these pictures. What restrictions did the person have to endure to get to their “goal weight”? Since getting to their goal weight, what is it like for them to try to stay at this weight? Do they continue the weight loss program, slightly modify it or go back to how they ate and exercised before the program? From personal experience, this is a very scary and unnerving place to be.

You may be able to relate to this experience…. It’s taken determination and hard work to get to this goal. You reach this target and you want to relax and enjoy your hard work or maybe you set a new goal. Soon you find the weight creeping back up and all sorts of thoughts and emotions swirling in your mind and body. You want to control your weight. You would feel a failure if you put the weight back on. You feel the only option is to go back on the program and try harder.

What I am describing is an all too familiar situation people find themselves in when they start a restrictive weight loss program. In a recent article I read, writer Harriet Brown states that; “In reality, 97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years. Obesity research fails to reflect this truth because it rarely follows people for more than 18 months. This makes most weight-loss studies disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst.” This is an undeniable statistic that is also backed up by an observational study that involved following and collecting data on all the contestants from the 2009 ‘Biggest Loser’ show.

The contestants on the show were followed for six years after the series where they all lost 100’s of pounds. Only 1 of the 16 contestants did not gain a significant amount of weight back. This contestant says it’s a daily struggle to keep her weight off as her resting metabolism has never recovered since the show. The winner of the series who lost the most weight ever on the show has gained back over a 100 pounds. Just to maintain this weight he has to eat 800 calories less than a man at the same weight who hasn’t dieted because his resting metabolism is much lower.

Also, when hormones that regulate appetite were tested from these contestants, it was found that the hormones such as leptin, which makes us feel satisfied after eating, was extremely low. It was the opposite for the hormones that signal hunger, they were very high. Reading the results and hearing from the contestants’ personal experiences years after the show is infuriating and sad. They all struggle daily with their weight and feel their bodies went through lasting damage from the extreme dieting and exercise while on the show.

I know this is an extreme dieting and exercise program these contestants took part in, but I feel it is representative of what happens to our hormones and metabolism after dieting and over-exercising. Dieting and chronic cardiovascular exercise push the body to produce extra cortisol, essentially putting the body into a survival state. This high level of cortisol sends the signal to the body that we are in constant danger, and the body responds by slowing down the metabolism as a way to protect itself.

Another side of the story with “weight” is that the evidence is very poor for actually showing us that losing weight will lead to health benefits. Harriet writes that science doesn’t fully understand the relationship between weight and overall mortality. We are made to think it’s a linear relationship, meaning the higher our BMI (body mass index), the higher our risk of early death. But Katherine Flegal, an epidemiologist, has consistently found a J-shaped curve, with the highest death rates among those at either end of the BMI spectrum and the lowest rates in the “overweight” and “mildly obese” categories.

These facts really do throw a spanner in the works of the dieting circus.

This is why I am first and foremost passionate about inner transformation. I want to know about a person’s emotional and mental health. Are you doing what you are passionate about? Is there joy in your life? Can you express the tough emotions such as sadness, anger, jealousy, and depression? Supporting people to deal with stress and emotions is the key to a healthy functioning nervous system. This is where true lasting change occurs for our health and happiness.

We need to clear away the inaccurate health and weight loss information and prioritise activities we enjoy instead of what we “should” be doing. We simply need to start moving more to begin with. Let food and mealtime be about enjoyment, socialising, pausing from a busy life, creativity and not one of restriction and measurement. Be more present to what’s happening around us and focus on connecting with people in real life.

A picture can be very deceiving after all………….