Finding a definition for “optimal” weight has puzzled large portions of our society for many decades. Words like weight loss, obesity, body mass index (BMI) and dieting have been part of our culture’s vocabulary day in and day out.
It’s striking that our perceptions of weight have shifted through generations.
For instance, for a long period of time, being curvaceous was a sign of beauty and a symbol of prosperity in many societies.
It was an unbelievable moment in my life when I first heard that Marilyn Monroe, a woman who most people would consider as beautiful, wore size 12.
Weight loss and beauty
In the late twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century, our understanding of beauty, as a society, changed yet again; we have been progressively inclined to see thin young models as beautiful rather than curvaceous women.
This drive of an altered perception of beauty brought us a wave of bulimia and anorexia in the 60’s and 70’s.
Henceforth, society has had two objectives, which aren’t always complementary, to promote weight loss.
Decades have past, and yet, promoting weight loss has continued to be at the center of attention. Consider, for example, the creation of significant numbers of diet plans, the establishment of weight loss companies—some ending up becoming very wealthy—and the determination of physicians in pushing for weight loss.
One would think that after investing so much money, time and resources, the problem of weight gain and obesity should have been eradicated by now.
However, the reality is far different; the number of overweight and obese individuals, especially children in the United States and around the world, remains high.
According to the Centers for Disease Control one third of U.S. adults and approximately 17% (or 12.5 million) of children and adolescents aged 2—19 years are obese. Estimated medical costs associated with obesity is around $147 billion.
Maintaining weight loss success…
We know that a majority of people who have tried successfully, common weight loss strategies—many of these concepts have been advertised as being the ultimate solution for weight loss—were not able to maintain the success.
Could it be that our entire approach to obesity and weight loss is misguided and far from being effective? Are we wasting our precious resources aiming at erroneous priorities?
My answer is clearly, yes. I believe that the visionless push to unstructured weight loss without workable and sustainable strategies has trapped our society in an unhealthy entanglement.
One of the biggest illustrations of this dysfunctional approach to the weight problem is when physicians counsel their patients about the benefits of losing weight and the management of weight gain in a thirty second introduction to a routine of eating less and exercising more.
This approach portrays a distorted picture of reality while ignoring the various causes of obesity; furthermore, it overlooks the diversity of individuals and their living environments.
Oversimplification of complex issues can result in frustration and failure. In fact, any long-term success of this type of shallow approach is questionable.
As a society, we continue to look for optimal and ideal weight based on body mass index. Is it the best we can do—pushing a population’s weight down, centering our goals based on a vague number that doesn’t account for gender, race and age as well as genes and the heaviness of bones?
I would also argue that our approach has facilitated a false feeling of health to millions of individuals who are within or near to the so-called normal BMI range.
Society has conjured the illusion that thinness equates to protection from heart disease, diabetes and other chronic illnesses. This keeps millions of people in an unreal fantasy and feeds into patients’ wishful thinking.
How about the rest of the population who are overweight and obese? They may have tried all available methods, such as weight loss diets, exercise, plastic surgery, drugs and not eating, and they are still unsuccessful in achieving the so-called BMI goal.
Don’t forget that we, as a society, have taught that achieving consistent and successful health requires passing through the “golden gates of weight loss.” How should these millions of individuals heal their deep frustration?
Yes, Obesity is bad but…
No doubt, obesity is bad. However, obesity is only one part of a bigger picture. I believe that as long as we, as a society and the medical profession, continue to overemphasize this lone fragment of a more comprehensive approach to health—including physical and mental aspects—we are lost.
Pressing the inevitability of weight loss as an essential requirement to achieving long-term health is akin to putting the carriage before the horse.
It’s time to take a deeper and broader view to health and abandon the literary visual and superficial classification of one person’s health based on appearance; in exchange, we need to place more emphasize on actual inner-body/mind processes.
We need to educate the population that most of the available weight loss concepts may result in some short-term weight loss without any long-lasting effects, and some may actually cause undesirable harm to people’s general health.
Future of weight loss management
Weight and disease management shouldn’t start at the time of diagnosis, but at the time of birth. The priority shouldn’t be to promote pure, intentional weight loss, but to prevent weight gain; furthermore, losing weight should be unintentional and achieved through education and comprehensive healthy approaches to body and mind.
Last but not least, we should put the BMI, as a tool for measuring our health, in a pleasant corner of our society’s health museum.
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