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Do you have a phrase that makes your entire body tense up whenever you hear it? Maybe it’s something profoundly stupid, or hilariously wrong, but whatever it is, hearing those words make your blood pressure rise. For me, that’s the feeling I get whenever I hear someone say they’re “trying to lose weight.” It encapsulates so many saddening ills of the modern age, not least being our permanent dissatisfaction with our bodies. It also reflects a lack of understanding of how to set reasonable goals and how to achieve them.

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For some reason, our society has such a warped view of self-improvement that the first instinct many people have is to lose a large amount of weight. They don’t seem to care how they lose the weight, or what kind of weight they lose: just that they drop an arbitrary amount of pounds. This incredibly short-sighted thinking is what leads to fad diets, eating disorders, and body dysphoria, all of which wreak havoc on our health and on our self-esteem.

There are some very extreme diets people will try where they cut out large parts of a normal healthy diet, including essential muscle protein, to cause dramatic body changes in a short amount of time. One such diet has people cut out all carbohydrates from their food intake. This causes the body to take nutrients from other parts of the body, such as ketones in protein, in a process called ketosis. Ketosis causes the body to lose weight at a fast rate but it fundamentally changes the body’s chemistry and puts the individual at great risk.

In other cases, people will simply eat less food, or eat food less often than usual, and call that a ‘diet.’ The only difference they are making in regards to the food that enters their body is how many times a day they ingest it, or how much. This does nothing to enhance someone’s nutritional intake, nor will it result in feeling healthier or stronger. What this is is malnutrition, and the kind of weight loss it brings on is closer to an impoverished pot-bellied child than an underwear model or bodybuilder.

When someone says that they are trying to lose weight, they are setting themselves up for failure. They didn’t put any thought into what they wanted to do with their body, because if they did they would have said something more specific, like “I want to burn fat” or “I want to gain muscle definition.” Simply stating you want to lose weight sets an unrealistic, unattainable goal which lacks both actionable steps and the feeling of achievement that comes with reaching those steps. Some simple planning, on the other hand, can give you valuable tools to reach your ideal physique.

Next time you find yourself considering losing weight, take a step back and think. Do you really want there to be less of you in the world? Instead of trying to destroy your body, perhaps you should find specific areas of your body you wish to work on. While you’re at it, make sure to listen for anyone else expressing the desire to ‘lose weight.’ If you intervene in the right way and make a powerful enough impression, you can help someone else work towards achieving better health rather than simply a smaller frame, too.

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