Science says maybe not.
Khloé Kardashian struggled with her weight for years. It wasn’t until her public breakup with basketball star Lamar Odom that the youngest Kardashian decided to change her trajectory, finding solace in workouts and bettering herself. Now, after making that commitment to her health by spending time with a personal trainer and seeking the advice of a nutritionist, Kardashian looks—and feels—better than ever.
That’s the premise of her new reality TV series, Revenge Body with Khloé Kardashian, which premiered last night on the E! Network. Kardashian wants to inspire contestants who have gained weight after enduring a rough patch to achieve a “revenge body”—to lose weight and look good, but most importantly, to feel good—just as she did.
The concept of losing weight and getting fit for revenge is a controversial one. Refinery29 called it "hateful," ATTN said the show pushes "a dangerous message," and Bustle argued that "bodies shouldn't be used as weapons." Still, plenty Kardashian fans were excited to tune in for the premiere, if the #RevengeBody hashtag on Twitter is any indication, and television industry experts were predicting big ratings for the show.
So are Kardashian's detractors on to something? Science says they could be right. Researchers from the University of Kentucky and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill examined the two types of weight loss motivation in a 2010 study: autonomous (making changes for personal reasons) and controlled (motivation stemming from outside factors like pressure from others or feelings of guilt). People who were able to maintain their autonomous motivation lost more weight than those who were motivated to drop pounds for external reasons—like, say, exacting revenge on an ex.
“If revenge is the sole motivation, it probably won’t last,” says Gail Saltz, MD, Health’s contributing psychology editor. “People who lose weight for external reasons usually cannot maintain it.” Additionally, she explains, the fixation on getting back at an ex by changing your body can become more serious—you can get caught in body dysmorphia or it can lead to an eating disorder.
Part of the fantasy of a revenge body is that the other person will want you back, explains Dr. Saltz, that you have control over the relationship by changing your body. “But you can’t control your ex’s feelings, and if he moves on and is happy with another, what then?”
“The idea that something about you looking different can be the difference between ‘he loves me and he loves me not’, is one, probably not true or two, means that’s not the person for you,” Dr. Saltz says. In this situation, you have lost sight about empowering yourself for yourself and the focus has become the other person.
But that doesn't necessarily mean that using a breakup for motivation to drop pounds or better yourself is always a bad thing. “I’m in favor of whatever might get you healthy,” says Dr. Saltz, “as long as you’re placing the emphasis on feeling good, feeling healthy, and liking your body.”
So how can you do this? Well, just as Kardashian noted in her interview with Health for the January/February issue, she started to turn her energy into something positive. Instead of using to food to cope, as she had done her whole life, she joined the gym and started working out. As a byproduct, she started to see her weight drop, but most importantly, she felt better than ever.
“Try what works for you, but don’t pull into yourself,” says Dr. Saltz. “Use coping skills, do aerobic activities, and talk to your friends or support system.”