This famous old chestnut. This helpful little tip. It is frequently offered up by well meaning folks; often as part of a string of unsolicited advice delivered over a meal or at a happy event.
In my opinion, as a nutritionist and as someone with a long history of yo-yo dieting; this sentence, the title of this blog post, is amongst the worst advice you could offer to ANYONE.
For a start, the word ‘just’ at the beginning of the sentence would indicate that what the helpful person is suggesting is something easy, something which everyone should be able to do. It’s almost accusatory… suggesting that the path to weightloss is so simple. So why haven’t you done it yet?!
The reality is, for many, it is far from easy. It is complicated, it is fraught with emotion and it is no exaggeration to say that many people’s lives have been overshadowed by their relationship with food and their body for years.
Secondly, and I know I say this so often. Even I’m sick of hearing the words and of seeing them appear on screen… but I can’t stop until the message starts to sink in… and we’re a long way from that stage.
Unless you are a medical professional with access to detailed information regarding a patient’s markers of health: it is never appropriate for you to suggest that someone needs to lose weight nor how they should go about it. Never.
It is indescribably awful to hear those words from someone you love. Whether they are said in jest or from a place of concern about health; those words sting worse than a slap on sunburn… and some cut like a knife. Telling someone they need to lose weight will almost certainly not make them change their life. The pain those words cause is completely unnecessary. If anything, it is likely to make someone seek comfort in the way they know best; by using food.
My third issue is “eat less”. It’s just the biggest load of diet culture inspired rubbish. It perpetuates the belief that: diet = hunger and it is a harmful and damaging misconception. IF your goal is to reduce your weight the likelihood is you don’t have to eat less. You may need to consume fewer calories but that’s a very different matter and a qualified nutritionist can coach you to make changes in your diet which will help you reach your goal, whilst still consuming lots of food.
And finally those two little words: “move more”. I am a massive advocate for anything which promotes physical activity. My life has changed beyond recognition because I have finally realised the benefits of leading an active life. But what I have an issue with is the way exercise is packaged up as being some sort of regulatory feature; a way to compensate for eating too much or something to be endured so you can still have pudding.
It was recently suggested that one approach to tackling rising obesity levels in the UK was to include ‘exercise labels’ on food. These labels would advise consumers how long it would take to ‘burn off’ a portion of the food in question, for example 50 minutes of power walking for a bar of chocolate. I shared an Instagram post with some of my thoughts on this; spoiler alert – I’m not a fan.
Yes food is fuel. But it is so much more than that. For many it is happiness, it is comfort, it is celebrations with friends and loved ones, it is the highlight of many people’s days. It is not helpful nor is it appropriate simply to tell someone to eat less. Please stop.