We’re conditioned by the media and pop culture to look for tips, shortcuts, hacks, and work arounds for everything under the sun.
And let’s be honest. In a society where the phrase “delayed gratification” has lost all meaning, and patience is a forgotten virtue, it doesn’t seem like our obsession with instant satisfaction is going to end anytime soon. The most effective click-bait on the internet is a funny thing called the listicle – a combination of a list and an article. I won’t go into the psychology of the why these work on us so well, but work they do. We just have to accept we’re vulnerable to clicking on listicles, because we all do at some point or another – and that’s the proof.
The weight loss industry is insanely oversaturated with listicles. No matter who you are or what your internet browsing habits might be, I bet you see the ads everywhere. I have no idea why Ten Fat-Killing Secrets Your Doctors Don’t Want You to Know and Beat Your Bulge With These Three Foods – All Natural! ads show up when I’m checking the forecast on the Weather Channel, but there they are.
Correction: I do know why they’re there.
With overweight and obesity effecting two-thirds of our country, a media culture that perpetuates thinner than average as the norm and a fashion industry that starts plus sizes at 10 when the average American woman wears a 16, the reason is obvious: our culture is obsessed with weight and weight loss.
As the director of the only boarding school in the country specializing in the treatment of obesity in adolescent girls – Gem Academy – I’ve been plugged into both the nonsense fads and the solid scientific research in weight loss for the last decade. The amount of conjecture and conflicting information is staggering. It’s no wonder why there’s an audience for nearly anything that gets written.
A few days ago, I was describing Gem Academy to someone and they kept asking questions about our process:
“What will the girls will do first?”
“How long will that phase last?”
“Then what is second?”
“How long does the whole program take?”
As I patiently explained our individualized approach, they became frustrated. In my world, this happens a lot. I can’t come right out and say “Your understanding of weight-loss is all wrong. You’ve been brainwashed by pop culture and the weight-loss industry.” But that’s the true content of my message and the direction my answers point toward. During this conversation, it dawned on me that this is how change has been sold to people for decades:
Week 1: You do Thing A.
Week 2: You do Thing B
Week 3: You do Thing C
And there you have it: losing weight is easy as 1,2,3 … A, B, C. It works for you, it works for everyone – no matter who you are, where you come from, or what your medical history is.
Imagine the audacious shortsightedness required to suggest a disease currently affecting a third of our population, predicted to affect half our population within 15 years, can be cured by a guaranteed, one-size-fits-all, week-by-week treatment protocol.
It sounds nuts because it is nuts. Humans don’t work that way. Health doesn’t work that way. Weight loss doesn’t work that way. And treating a disease like obesity most certainly doesn’t work that way.
That’s why I decided to write this anti-listicle listicle. My Top 5 Reasons there are not 5 Top Reasons you’re not Losing Weight. Ready? Here we go.
- It’s not what we do, it’s why we do it.
We need understand the origin of the behavior we’re trying to change. We’re the most highly evolved species on the planet. Our behaviors don’t come from nowhere for no reason. Every habit we develop – whether it’s healthy or not in the long run – we initially develop because it serves us somehow. We’re not wired to do things that don’t benefit us. So when we’re playing a version of “Survivor” with our behaviors and deciding which ones to vote off the island and which ones to keep, we need to understand where the behavior come from, and take a close look at the behavior we want to replace it with. If we don’t do this, we’ll end up right back where we started – subconsciously trying to fill that original need.
- We try to make the complicated simple.
Listicles oversimplify everything. Follow These 3 Steps! or Drop this ONE Bad Habit! Losing weight is obviously not that simple. If it were, then there would be no weight-loss industry, no obesity, and no need for Gem Academy.
- It’s Not Because You’re Lazy.
If you’ve ever read the comments section of an article or social media post about weight loss or obesity, then you’ve had the misfortune of experiencing some of the most ignorant trolls on the internet. Guaranteed you’ll find a random, mean-spirited person spouting things like “Americans are just too lazy. It’s easy, people. Put down the Twinkie, get off your butt, and get some exercise!” To believe – and worse, to insinuate – that two-thirds of our population struggle with a disease just because they’re lazy, is well – the very definition of intellectual laziness. We need real dialogue about weight control, or a whole generation of girls out there might grow up thinking, “Maybe I am just too lazy. That’s me – I give up.”
- The Work is More Internal Than External.
If you’re struggling with obesity and you’ve tried everything, you may have an idea of what I mean, here. You have to be willing to look inside, understand who you are, how you got where you are, and collaborate with professionals to create strategies that work for you in your life. This is not easy. When you do the internal work, you face uncomfortable emotions – but you learn to process them in healthy and productive ways. You gain deep-self knowledge and understanding that you’ll never get by eating only grapefruit or taking two kickboxing classes a day for four weeks.
- The Deck is Stacked Against You.
You’re up against a host of biological and societal factors working in the opposite direction of where you want to go. Your brain and body send you compelling, impossible to ignore signals to do things you know aren’t good for you in the long run. While that’s happening, a multi-billion-dollar industry deploys all their available resources to trick you into buying their products. That’s a one-two punch that’s hard to unpack. Until you realize what’s happening and how much you need to unlearn before you can right the ship, you’ll be stuck in the same cycle for years, and perhaps decades.
Nothing about making a significant change is going to be easy. But that shouldn’t stop us from taking decisive action. Just because something is hard doesn’t mean we can’t do it. We need to stop selling ourselves and our children short. We need to stop believing that past failures prevent future successes. Besides – the things you failed at trying were the problem, not you. The eleventy-one quick-fix fads and shortsighted shortcuts you took a run at were were never going to work in the first place. They were doomed before you even started.
The best intervention modern medical science can offer is a holistic, individualized, comprehensive, and integrated approach. It involves making changes in behavior, biology, environment, and psychology. The title for that listicle reads
263 Things To Consider When Trying to Control Your Weight
No one is going to click on that. But you did click on the one that began 5 Top Reasons…and understanding why you did that is a great place to start a frank discussion about obesity, overweight, and weight control.