Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Weight loss is like religion

I’ve often said that weight loss is like religion, but I didn’t think to write a post about it until recently.  I can’t be the first person to make that connection, but a few people I’ve said it to hadn’t considered that metaphor, so here it is.

When you align yourself to a certain religion or spirituality, you follow certain doctrines or moral codes in order to make a difference in the everyday lives of yourself and others, but also in order to ultimately end up favorably in the afterlife, yes?  When you’re actively trying to lose weight, you follow the same patterns – ascribing to guidelines to make yourself healthier day by day but also to end up at a goal weight.  In both religion and weight loss, you may put more importance on the day-to-day than you do on the ultimate goal or vice versa, but usually, both aspects are on your mind when you make daily decisions and try to figure out your place in the world (both from an existential standpoint and an eating/activity standpoint).

The downside to this parallel is that it’s a personal journey that many people happen to be taking at the same time.  Even though several people in a room might identify themselves as “religious,” their beliefs are unlikely to be the exact same, even if they’re of the same religion and denomination.  In the same vein, a group of people “trying to lose weight” will no doubt go about it in various ways. 

When you’re on a path as personal as religion or weight loss, it doesn’t help to have unsolicited dogma  and evangelism thrown in your face.  When someone gives you advice you don’t want to hear, often the only course of action is to tune them out (especially if you’re stubborn like me!).  On the flipside, if you feel you have the whole weight loss thing figured out, throwing out tips and advice without being asked for them can sometimes do more harm than good.

The best way to share your message with others, be it religious or health-centered, is to create dialogue.  Telling someone “you’re doing it wrong, here’s how you should be seeking salvation/dropping the pounds” will get everyone nowhere fast.  Just as religion is a touchy subject, so is everyone’s personal path to their ultimate health goal.  If you want to open the floor for discussion and advice-giving, find out what they know, why they’ve made their decisions, and what they value about those decisions.  Primal eating, intuitive eating, sugar-free diets, gluten-free diets, vegan and raw diets – these are several ways of eating and living that are hard to push on others unless they’re open to it (which, incidentally, leads to a post I’m working on next).

So ultimately, what’s my point?  That we should all be more sensitive to each person’s decisions and journeys to whatever their ultimate goals are.*  If someone is seeking advice, by all means, dole it out.  If they’re struggling with the current choices they’ve made or plan they’re following, ask them what’s bothering them and offer to help them sort it out.  If someone is going through a rough time, usually the least helpful thing to do is say, “well of course you’re having a hard time – you’re doing it wrong.”  Our personal views on religion and/or weight loss may not align with others’, but fussing at someone for carrying out their own beliefs will do neither of you any good.  Even if we’re making different choices, in the end, we’re all in this together.

*Of course, if you suspect a friend is engaging in disordered eating or abusing exercise, you may want to confront them about it.  However, even in this situation, creating a dialogue is probably the best way to go.  Coming down on someone, pointing fingers, taking accusatory tones – these are definitely not good ways to get your point across.  Change comes from within and can’t be pushed upon someone.

Do you agree with my weight loss/religion metaphor?  Have you found yourself in a situation where someone tried to push their weight loss or health beliefs on you?  Do you shy away from conversations about weight loss in real life because they’re too touchy and personal?