By now, you’ve likely heard about Kim Kardashian’s recent 3-week weight loss. She lost 16 pounds in 3 weeks to fit into her vintage Met Gala gown.
How did Kardashian lose weight? She says she cut carbs and ate “just the cleanest veggies and protein.” She also ran on a treadmill and wore a sauna suit twice a day.
Kardashian’s 3-week weight loss sparked concern over the impact on mental health. Critics also worried about the physical effects of copying her methods. Other celebrities, including Jameela Jamil and Lili Reinhart, took her to task.
We asked Catherine Varney, DO, a board-certified obesity medicine doctor at UVA Health, to weigh in on the health effects of this story.
Impacting Teenage Mental Health
When she saw the story on social media, Varney’s first thought was “concern for adolescents and teenagers.”
“I want to believe that most people know her weight-loss techniques were concerning and unrealistic,” she said. “But I've seen enough adolescents in my primary care practice to know that normalizing this behavior by indirect promotion in the media is harmful.”
Varney pointed to a 2019 study in the journal Lancet that shows the negative impacts social media can have on teens. Using social media more than 3 times a day predicted poor mental health.
3-Week Weight Loss Doesn’t Last
Another complaint about Kardashian’s 3-week weight loss is that restrictive eating leads to yo-yo dieting.
There’s no consensus on the health effects of this weight cycling. But most people who do it agree it’s “mentally, emotionally, and physically hard,” Varney points out.
Need Help With Disordered Eating or Healthy Weight Loss?
UVA Health has a host of resources for building a healthier relationship with food and body image, including help losing weight in a healthy way. Talk with your primary care provider to get connected.
“Restriction never works,” she says. “When you restrict food intake, your body responds with one of our strongest biological signals — hunger.”
So what should you do instead? Make eating nutritious food part of your daily lifestyle, and treat yourself sometimes.
Also, don’t assume a diet will work for you because it worked for someone else.
“Patients come to my office and say, ‘my friend did this diet and lost 50 pounds,’” Varney says. “I tell them, ‘you’re not your friend; you don’t have the same genetics, metabolism, hormones, or neurochemical levels that control your hunger when you diet.’”
Increasing Weight Stigma
“Obesity is a disease, but people don’t understand the physiology,” Varney says.
Intense focus on weight, like the story of Kardashian's 3-week weight loss, increases fatphobia or stigma against people who have overweight. (Varney explains being overweight is a disease, something you have, not something you are.)
Eating fewer calories and moving more can sound easy. But that’s only half of the equation.
“Complex neurochemical signals, hormones, and metabolic issues can make it very hard to take in fewer calories,” Varney said. “And when people do, it can be harder to metabolize them.”
Weight stigma affects people in many ways, including ways some would never imagine.
“Studies show obesity can even affect the size of your paycheck,” she says.