Ever slimming, never slim?
We all know someone who has lost weight, maybe a lot of weight, and who is succeeding in keeping it down – though maybe we don’t yet know who that person is. It may take a chance conversation or a random find on social media to discover what he or she looked like “before”. Saying “I wouldn’t have recognized you” will probably be taken as a compliment, a source of satisfaction and perhaps of pride.
I have spent several years with such people, studying weight loss maintenance, trying to understand what they did and how they did it. It is often thought that all weight loss ends in weight regain, but this is not true: successful losers exist, and they are much less rare than we think.
During the HOMAWLO study (HOw to MAintain Weight Loss, (1)), I worked with people who had lost 10, 20 or 30 kilos. But not all of them had reached the weight they wanted. Many people lose weight, sometimes a great deal of weight, without becoming “slim enough”. Sometimes their weight does not meet current medical “norms”, sometimes their figure does not fit current “beauty ideals”, sometimes the target weight they had set themselves remains out of reach.
Such people are at risk of something that may be worse than yo-yoing body weight: stigmatisation.
Stigmatisation means blaming and/or shaming people for being fat. Since slimness has been set up a core value of society, this can be harder to bear than the body weight itself. Such shaming is not only cruel and unfair, it is counterproductive, because stigmatisation increases the risk of weight regain (2).
The harshest judgements are those which such people pass upon themselves. They condemn themselves for “not being able to manage” to lose “just” two more kilos, or five, or ten. When in fact maintaining weight loss, any weight loss, is a heroic feat! Whether or not the result is “slimness”.
Maintaining weight loss is hard. This is one of the topics covered in my book « Changer de poids, c’est changer de vie. Comment maintenir votre perte de poids », published in March 2020 (3).
Yes, there are successful losers, and yes, it is possible to maintain weight loss, but no, not everybody ends up slim.
To help people who are fighting to keep their weight down, the first step is to understand that their non-ideal weight is no “fault” of theirs. The next step is to be respectful to everyone, regardless of body shape.
1 Kruseman M, Schmutz N, Carrard I. Long-Term Weight Maintenance Strategies Are Experienced as a Burden by Persons Who Have Lost Weight Compared to Persons with a lifetime Normal, Stable Weight. Obes Facts. 2017;10:373–385.
2 Puhl R, Quinn D, Weisz B, Suj Y. The Role of Stigma in Weight Loss Maintenance Among U.S. Adults. Ann Behav Med. 2017;51:754-763.
3 More info here.