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"Ambition sizing": The harmful weight loss practice, explained

"I'll fit back into these jeans one day." "I'm buying a smaller wedding dress so I have to lose weight before the big day." "I need to fit back into my bikini before the summer."

Many of us have heard these declarations, or even made them ourselves - but purchasing or holding onto clothing that doesn't fit us in an effort to fit into them eventually, or worse, by a short, specific time frame, can be more harmful than you may think.

The concept, known as "ambition sizing," has been around for generations, but as Tara Schmidt, lead registered dietitian for the Mayo Clinic Diet says, drastic weight loss related to a specific event can negatively affect both our physical and mental health.  

"The biggest potential danger is the way in which people approach drastic or very, very fast weight loss," she says, explaining unhealthy restrictions or other extreme measures taken to reach an aesthetic goal can result in longer-term effects. 

For example, rapid weight loss can result in losing muscle mass, disturbing your metabolism and missing out on important nutrients, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Drastic weight loss can also lead to weight regain. 

"(There's a) very high risk of regaining that weight and possibly even ending up at a higher weight," Schmidt says. 

The Cleveland Clinic explains this is in part because of the unsustainable nature of rapid weight loss diets as well as the impact they can have on your metabolism. 

Plus, it can affect your brain. Extreme dieting can mean your brain isn't getting the energy it needs, which can lead to obsessing about food, difficulties concentrating as well as challenges falling or staying asleep, according to the National Eating Disorders Association. 

How can you combat "ambition sizing"? 

Schmidt says it's OK to desire weight loss, which can have positive health benefits, but notes it's important to look at this as a multifactorial, long-term goal. Short-term shortcuts are more about looks than health - take Kim Kardashian's strict and speedy diet to fit into last year's Met gala dress, which was criticized for contributing to toxic diet culture. 

"Health can be your blood pressure, your cholesterol, your sleep, your stress, your mental health, your hydration, how you're nourishing your body - not just a simple number of how many pounds you weigh," she says. 

So how do you know when it's time to ditch that too-tight pair of pants in the back of your closet? Ask yourself these questions:

How old is it? "Is this a prom dress from high school?" Schmidt says. "Ignore sentimental value and focus on how long ago was I this weight? Was that a healthy weight for me then? Would it be a healthy weight for me now?" 

How realistic is it for me to get back to that size? "(Sometimes) people have unrealistic and unnecessary goals, especially if your goal is related to a number on the scale... It may not be relevant at all to what you're trying to achieve."

What is this doing to my mental health? "Is keeping that pair of jeans in your closet motivating you to make healthy lifestyle changes... or is it a reminder of what you may feel like to be a failure?"

If it's keeping you in a mindset that your high school jeans should still fit you 30 years after graduation, it may be time to let it go, she says. 

What would you tell your friend? Often when we're talking to ourselves, it can quickly turn to negative self-talk, which is why Schmidt suggests taking a step back and pretend you're helping a friend, 

"How realistic is it for your best friend, who's had two children, to fit into their high school jeans? Is it necessary? Is it realistic and what's the point?" she says. 

If you or someone you know is struggling with body image or eating concerns, the National Eating Disorders Association's toll-free and confidential helpline is available by phone or text at 1-800-931-2237 or by click-to-chat message at For 24/7 crisis situations, text "NEDA" to 741-741.

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