I worked at a popular weight loss company for three years. I loved my job there. I LOVED my clients. I loved making a connection and sharing my knowledge. And I learned a lot about nutrition, about dieting and weight loss and what works and what doesn't. My job was to be a weight loss consultant, and I learned that job very well. I can design a 1,200 calorie meal plan, tell you which activities are most likely to make the number on the scale go down, and how many carbs are in a cup of rice. I can talk the diet game like it's my business... because it was. Volumize with vegetables. Don't go too long in between meals. Start with a bowl of broth-based soup. Are you drinking enough water? Did you exercise enough? Did you exercise too much? Let's look at your food journal.
This is not an anti-weight loss company post (although I could write that too). It's a letter to each and every woman that I unknowingly wronged. My heart is beating a little bit faster as I write this, and so I know this needs to be said. The words have been playing in my head for months. Sometimes it just takes time for me to get up the courage to say the right thing.
So here goes:
Dear Former Weight Loss Clients (you know who you are):
I'm sorry because I put you on a 1,200 calorie diet and told you that was healthy. I'm sorry because when you were running 5x a week, I encouraged you to switch from a 1,200 calorie diet to a 1,500 calorie diet, instead of telling you that you should be eating a hell of a lot more than that. I'm sorry because you were breastfeeding and there's no way eating those 1,700 calories a day could have been enough for both you and your baby. I'm sorry because you were gluten intolerant and so desperate to lose weight that you didn't put that on your intake form. But you mentioned it to me later, and I had no idea the damage you were doing to your body. I'm sorry because I think I should have known. I think I should have been educated better before I began to tell all of you what was right or wrong for your body.
I'm sorry because I made you feel like a failure and so you deliberately left a message after the center had closed, telling me you were quitting. I thought you were awesome and gorgeous, and I'm sorry because I never told you that. I'm sorry because you came in telling me you liked to eat organic and weren't sure about all the chemicals in the food, and I made up some BS about how it was a "stepping stone." I'm sorry because many of you had thyroid issues and the LAST thing you should have been doing was eating a gluten-filled, chemically-laden starvation diet. I'm sorry because by the time I stopped working there, I wouldn't touch that food, yet I still sold it to you.
I'm sorry because it's only years later that I realize just how unhealthy a 1,200 calorie diet was. I stayed on a 1,200-1,500 calorie diet for years, so I have the proof in myself. Thyroid issues, mood swings, depression, headaches... oh and gluten intolerance that seemed to "kick in" after about a month of eating the pre-packaged food. Was it a coincidence? Maybe.
I'm sorry because you had body dysmorphic disorder, and it was so painful to hear the things you said about yourself. You looked like a model, and all of my other clients were intimidated by you, asked me why you were there because clearly you didn't need to lose weight. And yet you would sit in my office and cry, appalled that a man might see you naked and be disturbed by the fat that didn't actually exist. I'm sorry because you should have been seeing a therapist, not a weight loss consultant.
I'm sorry because you were young and so beautiful and only there because your mother thought you needed to lose weight. And because there were too many of you like that. Girls who knew you were fine, but whose mothers pushed that belief out of you until you thought like she did. Until you thought there was something wrong with you. And the one time I confronted your mother, you simply got switched to a different consultant. I think I should have made more of a stink, but I didn't. I'm sorry because you were in high school and an athlete, and I pray that you weren't screwed up by that 1,500 calorie diet. Seriously, world? Seriously? A teenage girl walks in with no visible body fat and lots of muscle tone, tells you she's a runner and is happy with her weight... but her mother says she's fat and has to lose weight and so we help her do just that. As an individual, as women, as a company, hell, as a nation, we don't stand up for that girl? What is wrong with us? There ain't nothing right about that. Nothing.
I'm sorry because every time you ate something you "shouldn't" or ate more than you "should," I talked about "getting back on the bandwagon." I cringe now every time someone uses that phrase. When did the way we eat become a bandwagon? When did everyone stop eating and become professional dieters? I'm sorry because I get it now. If you're trying to starve your body by eating fewer calories than it needs, of course it's going to fight back. I used to tell you that then, when you wanted to eat less than 1,200 calories a day. The problem was, I thought 1,200 was enough. I thought that was plenty to support a healthy body. Why did I believe that for so long? I'm sorry because I wasn't trying to trick you or play games to get your money. I believed the lies we were fed as much as you did.
And it wasn't just the company feeding them to me. It was the doctors and registered dietitians on the medical advisory board. It was the media and magazines confirming what I was telling my clients. A palm-sized portion of lean chicken with half a sweet potato and a salad was PLENTY. No matter that you had "cravings" afterward. Cravings are a sign of underlying emotional issues. Yeah, sure they are. I'm a hypnotherapist with a past history of binge eating disorder. I KNOW cravings are a sign of underlying emotional issues. Except when they're not. Except when they're a sign that your body needs more food and you're ignoring it. Then they're a sign that your 1,200 calorie diet is horseshit. Then they're a sign that you've been played.
And that's mostly why I'm sorry. Because I've been played for years, and so have you, and inadvertently, I fed into the lies you've been told your whole life. The lies that say that being healthy means nothing unless you are also thin. The lies that say that you are never enough, that your body is not a beautiful work of art, but rather a piece of clay to be molded by society's norms until it becomes a certain type of sculpture. And even then, it is still a work in progress.
I owe you an apology, my former client and now friend, who I helped to lose too much weight. Who I watched gain the weight back, plus some. Because that's what happens when you put someone on a 1,200 calorie diet. But I didn't know. If you're reading this, then I want you to know that you have always been beautiful. And that all these fad diets are crap meant to screw with your metabolism so that you have to keep buying into them. I think now that I was a really good weight loss consultant. Because I did exactly what the company wanted (but would never dare say). I helped you lose weight and then gain it back, so that you thought we were the solution and you were the failure. You became a repeat client and we kept you in the game. I guess I did my job really well.
And now I wonder, did I do more harm than good? When I left, you all wrote me cards and sent me flowers. I still have those cards, the ones that tell me how much I helped you, how much I cared. But I'm friends with some of you on Facebook now, and I look at your photos and you look happy. And beautiful. And not because you lost weight since I saw you last. But because I see YOU now. You. Not a client sitting in my chair, asking for my assistance in becoming what society wants. But you, a smart and lovely woman, who really doesn't need some random company telling her there's something wrong with her.
So I'm sorry because when you walked in to get your meal plan, I should have told you that you were beautiful. I should have asked you how you FELT. Were you happy? Did you feel physically fit? Were you able to play with your kids? There were so many of you who never needed to lose a pound, and some of you who could have gained some. And maybe sometimes I told you that. But not enough. Not emphatically. Because it was my job to let you believe that making the scale go down was your top priority. And I did my job well.
I am sorry because many of you walked in healthy and walked out with disordered eating, disordered body image, and the feeling that you were a "failure." None of you ever failed. Ever. I failed you. The weight loss company failed you. Our society is failing you.
Just eat food. Eat real food, be active, and live your life. Forget all the diet and weight loss nonsense. It's really just that. Nonsense.
And I can't stop it. But I can stop my part in it. I won't play the weight loss game anymore. I won't do it to my body, and I won't help you do it to yours. That's it. End game.
This story appears in special Labor Day issue of our weekly iPad magazine, Huffington, in the iTunes App store, available Friday, August 30.
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