When I initially started my coaching business, I attempted to straddle the line between helping people lose weight (the main reason people typically hire a health and wellness coach) and a more holistic, weight-inclusive approach. But as time went on, I learned through the help of some wise humans just how much harm I was causing by not fully committing to being weight-inclusive.
Having a deeper understanding of weight stigma and diet culture made me realize that helping people with intentional weight loss and aesthetic changes to their bodies was not in alignment with my values. As a result, I decided I either needed to change the direction of my business or close it down and find a new job.
Shifting to a weight-inclusive coaching model was the best thing I ever did for my business, but it’s not unusual for potential clients to be confused by what exactly this style of coaching entails. So let’s dive a little bit deeper into my coaching philosophy and why it matters.
As a Culture, We Emphasize Weight to the Detriment of Well-Being
Being weight-inclusive is important to me as a coach because we live in a thin-centric, fatphobic culture that prizes small bodies above all else. We are taught from a young age that the pursuit of the “perfect” body should be our life’s work and that we should hate fat.
The thin ideal says that we cannot achieve love, success, or happiness until we have lost enough weight. Almost all of the narratives about fat bodies we see in the media double down on this by emphasizing that fatness is something to be avoided, ridiculed, and overcome.
Doctors prescribe weight loss as the solution for ailments from ear infections to ovarian cysts, holding up weight loss as a magical cure for almost anything (even though there is no proven method for long-term, sustainable weight loss). Even fat patients who have ideal bloodwork and no other adverse health indicators still regularly experience medical professionals treating them poorly and prescribing weight loss.
We have declared war on “obesity” as a society, pathologizing and moralizing bodies in the process. This has led to fat people experiencing systemic discrimination across the board, from medical care to housing to employment.
Obsessing Over Our Weight Keeps Us From Living Full Lives
Our fixation with trying to get our bodies to conform to an impossible standard is damaging at best and downright dangerous at worst. Focusing on changing our bodies costs money, time, and energy, and when taken too far, it can be detrimental to our physical and mental health.
I have heard countless people utter some variation of, “I will finally do x when I lose weight,” where x could be wear a crop top, go swimming with their kids, ask out their cute coworker, or try a dance class. Yet, while they’re trying to reach a goal weight that may never come, life is passing them by.
I want to be clear that I don’t blame anyone for pursuing weight loss in a world that feels unkind and even unsafe for bodies that don’t measure up to society’s standards of beauty. There is immense pressure on all of us to prioritize the size and shape of our bodies over living a joyful, meaningful life.
Many people continue to pursue weight loss because it feels like the only escape from body shame and ridicule. We’ve been conditioned to believe that not trying to change our bodies means we’re “giving up” on ourselves and our health. But that couldn’t be further from the truth!
In fact, for many people, healing their relationship with food and their body is the key to a happier and healthier life. While making changes to our individual lives can’t fix systemic issues, it can improve our sense of well-being and self-worth so that we can direct our rage outward where it belongs, instead of turning it against ourselves.
What It Means to Be a Weight-Inclusive Coach
As a weight-inclusive coach, I understand that a person’s size and shape is determined by a number of factors, including genetic, hormonal, metabolic, social, behavioral, and cultural factors, many of which are outside of a person’s control. Consequently, I have no way to know how a client’s body will respond to the coaching experience.
Instead of prioritizing weight loss and aesthetic outcomes that may be unachievable (or may only be achievable through unsustainable and, ultimately, harmful means), I help clients clarify their goals and practice behavior change that is within their control. I treat each of my clients as unique individuals, and I do not assume anything about my clients’ physical/mental/emotional health, athletic ability, or lifestyle based on their weight.
I view my job as helping my clients approach their health and well-being from a place of self-care and self-compassion. I have seen my clients experience life-changing benefits from adopting health-promoting behaviors, regardless of whether any weight was lost.
My Clients’ Weight Is the Least Interesting Thing About Them
Let me be perfectly clear: I don’t give a f*ck what my clients weigh. I don’t care about their weight before our coaching relationship begins nor after it concludes. I don’t care about their body circumference measurements. I don’t care if they have an hourglass shape or how many stomach rolls are formed when they bend over.
What I care about is their relationship with food. Are they in touch with their hunger and fullness cues? Do they know what they like to eat and what foods are satisfying to them, or do they choose what they eat based on diet rules? Do they use food as their sole coping mechanism to deal with challenging emotions? Does food bring on feelings of guilt and shame, or do they feel neutrally or positively toward food?
What I care about is their relationship with exercise. Do they use exercise as a way to punish their bodies? Do they believe exercise is only worthwhile if it’s hard and it hurts? Do they move their bodies in ways that they enjoy, or do they only partake in exercise they are “supposed” to?
What I care about is their relationship with themselves. When they look in the mirror, are they looking for themselves, or are they looking for a supermodel that doesn’t exist? Is their self-talk negative and distorted, or is it kind and compassionate? Do they show their body respect and care regardless of its size and shape? Do they have clothes that fit and are comfortable? Do they have coping mechanisms in place to deal with life’s stressors?
Being a weight-inclusive coach means looking at my clients as complex, multifaceted individuals instead of as bodies to be tamed. Coaching in this way means that I understand that there is no beautiful, magnificent person waiting to appear when my clients lose weight—they are already those beautiful and magnificent people right now, as is.
Just Because I’m a Weight-Inclusive Coach Doesn’t Mean I Don’t Have Clients Who Desire to Lose Weight
The vast majority of my clients still desire weight loss or other aesthetic changes to their bodies. This makes perfect sense. It’s nearly impossible to go from revolving your life around getting your body to look a certain way to suddenly convincing yourself you don’t want that thing. In a society that objectively treats thin people much better than it treats people in larger bodies, the desire to be thin isn’t going to go away for most people, at least not without a lot of practice or until the culture changes dramatically.
And that’s okay. There is a big difference between abusing your body and mind to get your body to look different and holding space for wishing your body looked different while also recognizing that your body deserves respect and care exactly as it is right now.
When clients start working with me, they are committing to putting body change on the back burner for the time being to center self-care instead. They can always go back to trying to change their bodies should weight should they want to. After all, the weight-centric model of health and wellness isn’t going anywhere anytime soon.
But I believe that most people could use a safe haven from a world that tells them they will never be enough until they “fix” their bodies. Most people could use the opportunity to work with a coach who wants to help them redefine what health and well-being can look like for them outside of what their body looks like. For many of my clients, knowing that when they are with me they will not be judged or shamed for their bodies is invaluable. And that’s why I’m a weight-inclusive coach.
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