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Who is really telling you to lose weight? (And why they might not always be right)

This post has been sitting with me for awhile, not because I’m afraid to talk about what follows, but because I want to give it the time and discussion deserves. Today we’re talking about diets and the people who tell you to go on them. My idea for writing this came from a recent visit to my home gym in Pittsburgh. I went there all the time during high school, and while the bathroom had a scale, it was never super weight loss oriented. Things seem to have changed since I came back. I may be more sensitive to the issue now that I’ve recovered, but I also think that the gym went a little nuts. They hired a supposed “weight loss professional” who promises that the key to happiness is to lose a few pounds. Her magic weight loss plan works not through healthy diet and exercise, though, but simply by having breakfast for dinner and vice versa.

Um….what? That kind of sounded sketchy…and quite possibly like it wouldn’t work. I looked further into her credentials and found that while this woman is a “certified life coach” she has no training in nutrition or dietetics, nor is she a group exercise instructor or personal trainer. Yet, she was posing as an expert in weight loss and nutrition (and by working in the gym, exercise), when she truly had no credentials. I was startled….any person off the street can tell people what’s healthy weight loss? And they can write a book about it? Insanity!

So, I started looking into the people behind the diets we follow more. Houston, we have a problem. Weight Watchers, perhaps the biggest weight loss business in the U.S., hires the local group leaders based merely on whether they lost weight using the program. So when you attend these programs, you really aren’t in the safe hands of a nutritionist who can track what HEALTHY and SAFE weight loss is. Rather, you are working with someone who found success using a point system that may not work for everyone. Yes, I am aware the program works for many people – I cannot bash that. The issue is, though, that they hire people whose only qualifications are having lost weight to handle the weight loss of others. They may not understand the psychological effects of weight loss, or what happens when someone loses TOO MUCH weight.  That’s a problem.

The trend continued when I noticed a girl who I graduated high school with selling “weight loss supplements” (aka dangerous diuretics) on Facebook, promising huge weight loss in less than a month. She, despite having no nutrition or fitness credentials, was offering free consultations to people so she could tell them how to use the pills. Not only are diuretics unsafe to begin with, but to have someone touting these as a safe way for people with different anatomies and disease profiles to lose weight was totally wrong.

It happened on a national scale recently too, as well. Dr. Oz, ever the promoter of this new gimmick and that new method to lose weight, went to Congress to share information on removing bad diet pills from the U.S. market. He apparently forgot that he constantly implores his audience to lose weight, but Senator Claire McCaskill called out the lack of science behind his claims.

“The scientific community is almost monolithic against you in terms of the efficacy of the three products you called ‘miracles,'” McCaskill said. “When you call a product a miracle, and it’s something you can buy, and it’s something that gives people false hope, I don’t understand why you need to go there.”

Yes! Finally, someone in the government talking sense on weight loss. You can learn more about the issue here, but the point is, this isn’t just an issue stuck in my tiny town in western Pennsylvania. And, to be frank, the issue isn’t simply solved by only allowing “professionals” to tout weight loss. First, you have to realize that people are making unscientific, unsafe claims about ways to lose weight. Every body is different – different bodies respond differently to different foods. There is no universal HEALTHY way to lose weight…that’s for a person to figure out for themselves. Secondly, these same people telling us to lose weight hold the belief that weight loss is equivalent to health, which isn’t true. Markers like cholesterol levels, movement abilities, blood pressure and blood sugar – things doctors and nutritionists measure – are far better indicators of health.

Because the gym is for so much more than weight loss!

Because the gym is for so much more than weight loss!

As someone who loves to eat healthy foods, and as a fitness instructor with responsibility to protect participants from these flawed messages, I want this to change. We, as healthy eaters, as fitness professionals, as humans on planet earth, can the tout health benefits that come from food or exercise, but we cannot make claims about weight loss, weight gain or miracle supplements that claim to “cure” fatness. The truth is that each person’s body operates differently. Some will thrive on a low carb or gluten free diet – others will become emaciated. And, better yet, fatness isn’t something to be cured. Diseases that often, but not always come along with obesity are though. Instead of pressuring others to buy into your diet, think first. Then, change the conversation. Think about touting health benefits over weight loss. And if you must bring weight loss up, say this worked for me, but that doesn’t mean it will work for everyone. And for the love of god, please remember, the lower number on the scale doesn’t always mean better health.

What are your thoughts? Has someone ever told you to lose weight who wasn’t qualified?

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