May 6 is International No Diet Day. It was started by British feminist Mary Evans Young who battled body image issues for years. In 1992, after seeing other women experience similar struggles to her, she took action to create a day dedicated to promoting a healthy lifestyle with a focus on Health at Every Size (to learn more about the research behind HAES I highly recommend the book linked) and raising awareness of the potential dangers of dieting.
Below I’m sharing the top 3 reasons for why diets = a PROBLEM for both our physical and mental health.
1. Diets give us a false sense of control and distract us from more important things in life
Dieting gives us an illusion of control and for many giving up that sense of control can be scary. However, its important to note that we have far less control over our weight than diet proponents makes us think.
Those promoting diets don’t want us to know that there is something called a “set point”, in which the human body is able to adapt to situations of excess or insufficient energy intake (food). The “set point” is a a reference point around which the body tries to keep a weight stable. Each individual may have a genetically determined set point for adult weight.
Our set point can be compared to the homeostasis in our bodies when it comes to body temperate. For example, if our temp goes above or below 98.6 F due to an infection there are a variety of physical mechanisms that “kick in” to try to get back to, and maintain normal body temperature.
How does set point work? If weight is gained some people may experience an increase in metabolism so that excess energy is wasted. Following this period of weight gain, it is relatively easy to return to the previous set point weight.
However, trying to go below the set point weight has the opposite affect and can lead to a slow down in metabolism. This leads to a slow down in weight loss, a plateau, or even weight regain on few calories. This is your body’s attempt to keep your weight stable.
Aside from the false perception that dieting provides when it comes to control it also serves as a distraction from more important things in life.
It was noted that Young felt inspired to establish the holiday after overhearing coworkers debate whether or not to eat a cookie at the office. She approached them and famously said, “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on diets?” Ditching diets can free up so much more mental space for other important things in life.
2. 95% of diets fail and lead to more weight gain in the long run
Research shows that 95% of people who diet end up gaining the weight that they lost back. Of that 95% 2/3 of people will even end up gaining more weight than what they started out at. This often leads to a vicious yo-yo dieting cycle (see the image below which depicts this scenario).
The literature shows us that yo-yoing aka weight cycling (losing weight–> gaining weight–>repeat) is actually more harmful to our health than just staying at a higher weight.
Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch said it best in their book Intuitive Eating: “If dieting programs had to stand up to the same scrutiny as medications, they would never be allowed for public consumption. Imagine for an asthma medication improves your breathing for a few weeks, but in the long run, causes your lungs and breathing to worsen”.
A team of ULCA researchers reviewed over 30 studies on dieting in this study in 2007 and found that dieting is actually a predictor of weight gain and that dieting is not the answer. Another study in 2003 look at nearly 17,000 kids ages 9-14 and concluded the same.
There are also health risks to losing and then gaining weight over and over again. The “yo-yo” effect of weight cycling can increases the chance of dying from heart disease. For yo-yo dieters, it’s 70% higher than people with a stable weight.
In addition to weight gain in the long-term another study also found that weight cycling may lead to cardiovascual and metabolic disorders (such as hypertension and diabetes).
3. Diets are not only harmful for our physical health, but our mental health too
When the weight is re-gained, the individual may feel like a failure for not losing enough weight or being unable to control their weight. Feelings of guilt and shame are common and can lead to disordered eating behaviors. Although dieting may not be the cause of eating disorders, it does put someone at risk for developing one.
A person with disordered eating behaviors may isolate themselves for fear of socializing in situations that involve food, and this isolation may contribute to low self-esteem and significant emotional distress as well.
If not dieting… then what?!
First off… think about *WHY* you are dieting and/or seeking weight loss in the first place…
The most frequent answers to this question includes the following goals:
- Improved health
- Enhanced energy
- Increased confidence
- Improved quality of sleep
The thing is… in order to achieve the above dieting/ intentional weight loss isn’t necessary and may even be providing you with the OPPOSITE results.
Instead, you can achieve your goals by putting your focus on making healthy lifestyle changes and taking the focus off of weight. Additionally, a key mindset is to focus on *self care* instead of control.
For those with a chronic history of dieting… the first step out of this cycle is leave the diet mentality behind. This takes work and doesn’t happen overnight, but by gaining awareness and putting in the work you can achieve your health goals without dieting.
But how? Diet culture everywhere… The authors of the book Intuitive Eating suggest “throwing out the diet books and magazine articles that offer you false hope of losing weight quickly, easily, and permanently.” They recommend “getting angry at the lies that led you to feel as if you were a failure every time a new diet stopped working and you gained all the weight back.”
A great resource for making peace with food and quitting dieting is to go through the 10 principles of Intuitive Eating. To learn more about intuitive eating you can check out my blog post on it here.
Additionally, I’d highly checking out the book! You can order the book on amazon using this link.
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Interested in learning more about working with me for 1:1 nutrition and health coaching to help you utilize the principles of Intuitive Eating in your own life? Sign up for your free 15-minute phone consultation here!