Obesity is not just a physical health condition. For some, it’s the cause of an unhappy mind.
Sandra*, who is in her 30s, is currently obese. Like many other women across Australia, she has tried countless diets and methods of weight loss, all to no avail. For the past 20 years, she has struggled with her body image and hated herself for it.
“When I was in my 20s, I was a healthy 60 kilograms,” Sandra, who is of South American heritage, tells SBS. “But my weight has yo-yoed ever since and at my heaviest, I weighed 136 kilograms.
“With a lot of hard work, I used to be able to get my weight down to 100 kilograms, which made me really happy. But then the weight would come back on no matter what I did. So I would just give up. And that is really the cycle I’ve been living in for years.”
“It has drained me mentally."
Sandra’s struggle with excess weight over the past two decades has not just impacted her physical appearance. “It has drained me mentally. It’s an emotional rollercoaster to even try and loose five kilograms over three months and then there’s added guilt if I stray from a diet for just one day.”
Dieting got so mentally damaging that every time she would put on weight, she would just go and buy more large clothes instead of enduring the emotional pain of another failed diet.
“It got to the point where you couldn’t enter the bedroom with all the excess clothes everywhere in the room. When I used to open the drawers, I would see my clothes and depression would hit at its worst. So my room was kept with the door closed for months and months.”
Sandra says she has tried to shed the kilos but she's never been able to sustain weight loss gains. “I’ve tried multiple diets, seen dieticians and doctors, used a variety of pharmacy medications, and all without success. Nothing has worked long-term.”
In a final attempt to win a 20-year battle against the bulge, Sandra has just undergone weight loss surgery. She now has a gastric sleeve.
“I resorted to an operation. This isn't a solution, it’s only a tool to help me manage my eating and portion sizes. It is a decision I made, fully aware that my journey to a healthy weight will be a long journey, but I really want to be healthy and live a better life.”
Accredited Practising Dietitian, Fiona Willer says that while Sandra’s story is heartbreaking, it is also very common.
As a ‘non-diet’ academic and dietitian, Willer is involved in the community of health professionals who “push back against weight-centric body images” that harm – not help – so many overweight Australians.
She explains that the ‘no diet’ movement focuses on equally providing people of all weights with optional healthy lifestyle choices and ensuring they live in a safe place of acceptance – not self-loathing. The movement also focuses on health not diets and long-term lifestyle goals and achievements, not short-term fads.
"We want to encourage people to work on their health behaviours and enhance the health outcomes in their body – but only if they want to.”
“The stigma surrounding some people who live in a large body constantly pushes them to lose weight, even if it causes them harm or they end up delaying important treatments like IVF or surgery because they need to lose weight first before being considered,” says Willer.
Willer explains the difference between having a good diet and the term ‘dieting’. Dieting in this context implies constant fad dieting that shocks the body into losing weight but often ends up causing you to put on more weight once the diet has finished.
“Instead of dieting for weight loss, what we want to be is weight-neutral. We want to encourage people to work on their health behaviours and enhance the health outcomes in their body – but only if they want to.”
#NoDietDay: Sunday 6 May
Sunday 6 May is International No Diet Day: a serious day of recognition where people across the world can spend 24 hours saying no to the mental and emotional anguish that goes hand-in-hand with constant yo-yo dieting.
It's an annual celebration of body acceptance and body shape diversity. International No Diet Day is symbolised by a light blue ribbon and the Twitter hashtag is #NoDietDay.
“International No Diet Day is the biggest day on the calendar for the size acceptance community," says Willer. "It’s a day for us to remember that some people don’t have to pursue weight loss because of the harms that it may cause and because of the ineffectiveness of some diets.
“There’s certainly a strong social justice standpoint here. Everyone is awarded autonomy because we are talking about adults here who can choose to engage in any of the options made available to them.”
"In retrospect, I would have used the one day off to restart my life again.”
To celebrate #NoDietDay, Willer says says, people should “put away the meal plan and women’s magazines that promote weight loss dieting”.
“And if you really want to, grab your hammer and smash your scales to bits,” Willer says, jokingly. “They aren’t a good indication of health anyway. They are [a cheap way to measure health] and there are more sophisticated methods out there. That’s the reason we take blood tests and perform other tests on patients to determine their health.”
Sandra encourages other people battling with weight loss to use #NoDietDay to reset, move past the self-loathing and start a new path to a healthy life, free of emotional pain.
“If I ever had the choice to take a 'day off' from dieting, to live without the guilt of being overweight, I believe I would have tackled my journey to a healthy lifestyle differently. In retrospect, I would have used the one day off to restart my life again.”
Note: *Not her real name. Identity has been changed for privacy reasons.
If this story has raised an issue for you or you are in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.