Forget your “lowest” weight.
A dietitian explains why trying to achieve your lowest possible weight is likely not the healthiest solution for your body—and what you should be focusing on for better health instead.
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CW: Today’s newsletter mentions weight loss and management, and how to find a healthier relationship with food after cycles of dieting. If this is a triggering subject for you, feel free to skip down to the recipe at the bottom.
I admit, today’s newsletter was only meant for my paid subscribers. Typically I keep the exclusive interviews under my pay wall (selfish plug to subscribe if you haven’t), but after having this conversation, I couldn’t help but share it with my whole list. This interview was powerful and insightful, and I think dives into a topic that we all have struggled with to some degree.
Today’s interview is with Lisa Moskovitz, RD, CEO of NY Nutrition Group, author of The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan, who recently posted a video that inspired the conversation you’re about to read. Lisa made a point that your healthiest weight may not be the lowest weight you’ve experienced in your body, so I contacted her and asked if we could dive deeper into the subject.
Here’s the incredible interview that took place. I hope it inspires and educates you in the same way it did for me.
KH: Why does diet culture make you believe that your lowest weight is your healthiest weight? You had mentioned that in your video and I thought it was just, brilliant. So why would you consider this a myth?
LM: From what I observed, the approach people take to lose weight tends to [involve] following plans that really center around weight loss. And it’s kind of like “weight loss is the goal, that’s the end goal” and it gets into their head that they need to keep pursuing it. It’s something that’s awarded—it’s commended. And they associate it with this feeling of accomplishment. So if you’re getting positive feedback from something you’re going to want to keep doing that and keep going and see how far you can push it. It’s also just what we are told is the ideal, or the norm, or what it “should be.” It’s what we’re compared to or what we’re told—whether it’s the BMI chart which is incredibly outdated and quite frankly unscientific. Or just the images that we see throughout the media that people see as attractive or ideal, which most people cannot attain in a healthy way. They have to do extremes, they have to really restrict, they have to cut out a lot of food groups and really cut down on calories and other nutrients in general in order to achieve that.
I really just think it’s this idea of this perfect appearance, physique, weight, and where we match up to that is what makes us feel like we’re never enough.
That you should lose as much weight as possible, in any way possible, at any cost. And that’s the messages people hear all the time, because a lot of time people get their information and advice from platforms where there is very little explanation or context and it’s not personalized, but that it’s just a possibility. So people are going to say whatever they want because there’s the possibility for it and people are damaged by it. It’s really just what we’re matched up against, what we’re compared to, what we’re told is ideal, is where people get this idea that they are supposed to be the lowest they can possibly be. And when people actually achieve that weight—like on their wedding day where they had weeks of really bad stomach virus-like symptoms and their stress was through the roof and they really were not eating and taking care of their body at all, when you’re at that place what’s the most harmful is the positive feedback. “Oh, you lost so much weight,” or “oh, you look so good,” people congratulating or commending—I think it’s a lot of that social praise that people get that makes it feel like this is a good thing for them and that’s where they are supposed to be because, you know, that’s the lowest they weighed. So they can get there, which means they “should” be able to get back there and sustain that—but it’s just not always the case.
Yeah, and there’s this belief that even if you can reach that certain low that’s actually where you are supposed to be, but it’s just not true.
It’s not always true—I mean there are some exceptions to that. Unfortunately, if you’ve ever been lower than where you are now, the hardest part is not comparing yourself to that. That’s the hardest part. “I was there that time, that one day, that one number for like a minute,” and that is forever etched in their brain as the goal to achieve. And not even just the goal, but the requirement. People turn these weight loss goals into requirements and they aren’t even goals.
So when it comes to actually figuring out what an actual healthy weight is, what would you say would be a good indicator for somebody to know that?
I would say there is a lot of different things that would go into determining that. It’s not just one thing. It’s going to be a combination. One of the questions I usually ask [my clients] is what was your highest and lowest adult weight ever, and where have you been able to get down to? Where are you now? And what was your highest weight? It’s also about what their habits look like too at that point. So, again, if you were only “down there” [in numbers] that one time, like right after going on that diet or 18-years-old, or a wedding or an event or whatever, then that might be a sign that is not a healthy or sustainable weight for them. So it’s understanding that healthy habits will get you to your healthy weight. Unhealthy habits will get you to your unhealthy weight. So it’s really important to determine that. So if someone says “well I’ve never really had a healthy relationship with food, I’ve never really ate healthy in general,” then we can’t even use their weight history. So weight history is important—and I’ll also look at their height, and also seeing how their body responds to healthier eating habits. Sometimes it’s just trial and error, let’s see how your body is responding.
And then your healthiest weight will find you when you’re focusing more on your habits and behaviors and less on a number on a scale—you shouldn’t have to go looking for it that hard.
Yeah, yeah, that totally makes sense. So obviously weight is a big indicator that people will connect their health to, but there are just so many other things that your health is connected to—like what you were saying about how your body feels. What are some other measures of success people can focus on in terms of, you know, trying to get healthier?
For sure. People want that immediate gratification, that immediate number on the scale. So it’s much harder to focus on these non-tangible indicators of progress. For example, are you sleeping better? Do you have better energy? How is your concentration and your cognitive performance? How are your clothes fitting you?
The number on the scale doesn’t consider or take into account body composition. You’re just seeing the whole lump some, but you don’t even know how much of that is body fat or muscle mass, how much of that is water. So I do prefer paying attention to body composition for that reason. So if you see that your clothes are fitting you better, that might be a sign you are losing weight—even if the scale doesn’t say it. Sometimes the scale is the last to join the party—you could be gaining muscle and it may not show on the scale.
And even just looking at your relationship with food. Do you feel less anxious and guilty about eating? That’s also a great sign that you’re making progress in other ways, and that’s also much healthier for you than having a relationship with food that falls around rules and fears and judgment.
Also, blood work! That can also be another sign you’re making progress in other areas.
Yeah, that is absolutely true. So you were talking a bit about your eating habits and feeling less anxious around food. What would be some tips you would give someone to get started when trying to free themselves of some of these toxic diet culture myths and focusing on nutrition in a holistic, healthier sense?
For sure. I think the biggest thing is...what are you being exposed to the most? What are you listening to? Who are you around? What accounts are you scrolling through on social media? What are you listening to and hearing on a daily basis? Because that’s going to have the biggest impact. I even say that with my own clients, I say “look, we talk once a week for about an hour, but that’s just a fraction of your week.” If you’re leaving these meetings and all of a sudden you’re going back on Instagram or going back to your friends and family who chat about unhealthy eating or dieting, or watching this show and commercial that does this or that. It’s hard to escape it, but it’s also hard to make that progress when it’s constant. So it’s about identifying what in your life is helping you and what’s making you feel better, and what in your life is not and making you feel worse. And I think that identification is major and it goes along with that self-awareness.
I also think that a journal can be profoundly helpful and useful. It’s free, anyone can do it, and it really helps with that self-awareness. So writing down not just what you’re eating but how you’re eating these foods, how you’re feeling after, rating your hunger and fullness levels, including in any other feelings or emotions or stress levels because that’s a big part of a healthier relationship with food.
And then looking at the self-talk and the “food rules.” Are you following rules in your head? Usually, that stems from people who have been on a lot of diets in their life. They pick up on all these rules like “don’t eat after this time” or “only eat fruit by itself” or “make sure you start off the day with lemon water” or “don’t have any carbs with dinner” or “make sure you avoid gluten.” All of these little rules people really, really hold on to. They’re hard to shake, and it continues to create unhealthy habits and anxiety and stress around food. And a lot of time it can lead to overeating because you think “I don’t know what to eat, I’m so overwhelmed because I can’t decide and listen to my body, so I’ll either not eat or eat everything.” It’s this all-or-nothing mentality that people get into. So I think it’s really important to do that, to really explore yourself and your attitude around food through journaling.
I would also say that working one-on-one with a professional is the best way to get more help and personalized attention and advice that can really help you on an individual level.
And other than that, I would just say focusing again on giving yourself more permission around food, and not labeling foods as good and bad. A cute little saying I love to say is “learn how to incorporate a delicious treat and not turn it into a diet cheat.” Learn how to look at foods as enjoying them and having them, and it’s not bad or cheating or “going off your diet.”
I just wrote The Core 3 Healthy Eating Plan book and I actually go into this in the entire first third of the book. It’s all about how to have a healthy relationship with food in your body and I talk about four distorted eating archetypes and the pitfalls and the solutions and stuff like that, too.
So you talked about giving yourself permission around food and I think that’s so important because you mentioned in your video like, including satisfying and nutrient-dense foods in your diet. And so just to close us out, tell me why that’s important to have both of them. Like you were mentioning desserts, why is it important to include them?
So it’s important because at the end of the day, what we eat can still have an effect on our physical and mental health. So balancing out your plate, making sure you get all of the nutrients you need, and also focusing on what to add in. That’s also something I like to mention, I think that’s a very distinct quality.
If you’re focusing on what to add in to your diet versus what to take out, it does make such a difference with your relationship with food and it really does help with trying to find that healthier weight.
Did you get enough protein today? Did you get more vegetables in today? Did you get enough fiber in your diet? Focus on nutrients that are essential. Our body can’t make them on our own, we really need them for gut health, immune system, metabolic health, mood, concentration, sleep, and heart health. All of these things are helping our physical wellness.
So really focusing on what you can add to your diet versus what to take out can make such a difference and make it less overwhelming and quieting the noise. We’re just kind of simplifying it.
Will I ever have too many pancake recipes on this blog? The answer is no—never!
These whole wheat blueberry pancakes were developed based on some previous single-stack pancake recipes I threw together in the past. It’s a close comparison to my Single Stack Carrot Cake Pancakes, but with blueberries, obviously. This recipe clearly calls for whole wheat flour instead of oats, which is another go-to starch I use in other pancake recipes of mine.