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Why do we blame ourselves when we can't lose weight?

We're inexplicably hard on ourselves when it comes to our weight, but it's not our fault, says women's health expert Dr. Aileen Alexander

A young woman is weighing herself in a weighing scale
25 March 2024
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Over the years I’ve met hundreds of women desperate to lose weight and keep it off for good. They’ve tried everything from calorie counting to cutting out carbs, some have tried more extreme approaches such as forcing themselves to drink rancid meal replacement shakes or injecting themselves with weight loss medications.

Others have risked their lives for weight loss surgery only to regain the weight they lost a few months or years down the line.

When we are 'unsuccessful' in our weight loss, goals, it has a huge impact on our self-belief, self-esteem and self-worth. This leads us to believe they are at fault for not putting in enough effort or having enough willpower. This simply isn’t true.

Smiling woman in white jeans
Dr. Aileen Alexander is a women's health expert

Science shows that more than 80% of weight loss attempts fail in the long term. So why, despite these alarming statistics, are women blaming themselves for their inability to lose weight and keep it off? And how do these failed attempts impact women’s mental health?

Weight loss as self-punishment

One of the core mistakes I see women make is believing that weight loss means self-punishment. I’m not surprised, because traditional diets have indoctrinated women into believing they need to restrict themselves by cutting out their favourite foods, forcing themselves to eat diet replacement meals or tolerating hunger in order to lose weight.

brunette woman smiling in a tee
Dr. Aileen Alexander says the weight loss industry to to blame for low self-esteem

The problem is that these approaches are not enjoyable nor are they healthy. They’re damaging our relationship with food, which leads to guilt after eating, fear of food, binge eating, comfort eating and other unhealthy patterns. 

When we 'fail', we blame ourselves rather than the process. This erodes our confidence in the process, making us feel like we're at fault and the cycle repeats.

INSPIRATION: I was once 17 stone but walking changed my life 

A desire to fit in

As women, we’re hard-wired with the desire to fit in. We’re taught from a very young age to try our best but not show off, to look pretty but not too pretty, to speak up but not take the limelight.

We are constantly comparing ourselves to others and highlighting our own flaws. We hold ourselves to exceedingly high standards and are taught from a young age to put others before us. This pattern is generational and has been reinforced by societal and cultural norms.

READ: How I repaired my relationship with exercise 

We bend over backwards to help a friend or turn ourselves into a pretzel to meet a deadline for work before caring for ourselves. We give our best to work, family and friends often at a huge energy and emotional expense and leave our own needs and self-care at the bottom of the list then, beat ourselves up for not trying hard enough and failing. 

Over the shoulder shot of young woman using mobile app to track nutrition and count calories with smartphone while eating breakfast. Health eating lifestyles concept. Morning ritual.  Welcoming a brand new day.© Getty
Tracking calories doesn't tend to help with weight loss

An improvement in self-estee​m

Although self-esteem tends to improve for women by their early 30s, it often plateaus and declines as perimenopause begins to set in. Rebuilding this is no easy feat, particularly for someone trying to lose weight by traditional dieting methods. So how do we change this?

1. Notice the flaws of dieting

First, we need to see the flaws in the traditional dieting approach and accept that the methodology isn’t fit for purpose, nor is it healthy.

2. Find supportive communities

Second, we need to create communities where women feel safe and able to open up and share vulnerability, so they see that they’re not alone.

Group of mature women doing Yoga outdoors in France together while on a wellness vacation. They are all standing holding their mats ready to get started. The yoga instructor is giving advice on the exercises they will be doing.© Getty
A community can inspire us in our health journey

By building these safe communities we can re-educate women about how to build self-esteem in a healthy way rather than punishing themselves by restricting food in order to drop a few lbs on the scale.

This is where the diet industry is failing women. Focusing on extreme and restrictive approaches to weight loss doesn’t work in the long term.

3. Embrace self-nourishment

Weight loss shouldn't be about about self-punishment and instead should be a journey of self-nourishment.

Woman holding bowl with products for heart-healthy diet, closeup© Getty
Nourishing ourselves will help us to lose weight

Learning how to fuel our bodies with nutritious foods while maintaining a moderate calorie deficit. Still being able to enjoy chocolate or a glass of wine as part of a healthy balanced diet. Exercising because it makes us feel good rather than to burn calories.

The key is to build healthy habits that promote wellbeing as opposed to restriction, starvation and punishing your body.

READ: Why exercise can make you feel like yourself again 

Reprogramming your internal narrative to soothe your inner critic and instead learn how to advocate for and support yourself. Celebrate yourself!

Weight loss should be a holistic wellbeing journey. I know it’s a scary concept when deep-rooted to count calories and track your progress with the bathroom scales.

It’s a journey of learning to be kind to yourself, eating beneficial foods, prioritising sleep, exercising in a way you enjoy and celebrating all of the big and small wins with your community along the way.

Find out more about Dr. Aileen Alexander

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