Health at Every Size


Doesn’t maintaining a healthy weight mean dieting?

No! Dieting, contrary to what is often said, means weight gain…Beautiful pretty girl enjoys eating cake

 

Okay, so I don’t know about you, but I feel like people are constantly talking about the need to lose weight to be healthy. I find it frustrating when I’m out socially, just wanting to have a fun, and people start questioning me about a diet they’ve started or one of the latest trendy food fads. This is a total conversation breaker. Why do we have to waste our time talking about diets? I should say, “Excuse me, I’m just going to get another wine and some dessert; do you want some?”. But I don’t. I have mixed feelings as I try to formulate a response. A part of me feels compassion towards them, as I want to save them from the dieting trap. And another part of me feels frustration, as many people don’t really want to hear my opinion. My responses vary, but usually I feel some sort of responsibility to say in so many words, “sorry all diets do is cause weight gain; they simply don’t work!”. I’m assuming from the reactions I get that most people don’t want to hear me slap down their new diet with scientific evidence; they just want me to say, “good work”, or “I’m sure you’ll lose weight”. Well, at least that’s what I’m assuming they want to hear.

Then, when I begin to go on my “health at every size” rant, people begin to get that glazed look on their face, which is usually a sign they really don’t want to hear what I am passionately saying. I’ve realised the hard way that there is a big gap to bridge between most people’s view of health, weight and food, and my own. If this is how I feel as a knowledgeable and confident professional, how do people ever turn away from our omnipresent diet culture? This has made me sad and frustrated. I’ve realised I need to channel this energy into compassion, communication and community. Even if I’m met with resistance, I need to show compassion as I wait for people to realise that diets don’t work. I also need to continue communicating the truth about diets. I need to join the chorus of voices out there that are chanting: “weight doesn’t matter”; “food is morally neutral”; “body kindness is possible”; “dieting doesn’t work”; “nourish your body with enjoyable food”. Because together, our collective voice is building a community — a community of health professionals and people who are saying “no” to dieting, and providing a space where there is hope for healing and freedom. This should be a community people can turn to when everyone around them is still clinging onto dieting. I want to be a part of this and therefore I will let my voice be heard.

There is obviously so much to say on this topic, but let’s just begin by touching on why dieting doesn’t work. For some of you this may be a new concept, so let me help you understand the diet cycle and why diets don’t work.

The cultural norm is to accept the thin ideal. We are fed the lie that being thin will bring us success, beauty, happiness, friendship, vitality and wealth. And these views are pervasive. Many people uncritically accept these unhealthy damaging messages which strongly encourage us to change our shape despite our genetic makeup and bone structure. We are called to go against our natural physique and conform to a thin body that has lost its uniqueness and femininity. The dieting industry takes things a step further, offering us quick, unsustainable ways of achieving this unnatural shape/weight, all with the promise of complete happiness. There is now a prevailing belief that that the number on the scales determines health and wellbeing, which is leading many people straight into the “diet trap.”

The fact is that dieting doesn’t work. However, many people fall into the dieting trap because it gives us a false sense of confidence that we can lose weight quickly and that this weight loss will boost our self-confidence and make us feel better. Before exploring the cycle further, let me explain my definition of dieting.

Dieting hampers the body’s optimal way of functioning, slowing down its metabolic rate. It causes people to eat according to rules or calories rather than appetite. It sets people up to break those rules and feel guilty, lowering self-esteem and trapping people in a cycle of restriction and emotional/binge eating. Dieting eventually causes weight gain.

Examples of current diets: lemon detox, 5:2-day diet, the zone diet, atkins, south beach diet, blood type diet, dukan diet, etc. There are many out there, and they seem to proliferate with each passing year. They also send out contradictory messages in regards to weight loss and how to get there. 

Let’s explore the nature of the dieting cycle. Dieting involves reducing your energy intake, restricting your vitamins and minerals and labelling food into rigid categories of “good” and “bad.” Therefore, it deprives your body physically and emotionally. In addition, dieting reduces the metabolic rate, which leads to an increased hunger and preoccupation with food – and in particular, the foods that you are most trying to avoid. As you reduce your food intake, and particularly if you reduce your carbohydrates, you will lower your mood, motivation and become quite irritable. This lowered mood, in combination with increased hunger and nutritional deprivation, will most likely trigger emotional or binge eating. The rules have been broken, and you’ve consumed the forbidden foods. Consequently, you will feel an overwhelming sense of guilt and shame because you have broken the unrealistic rules that once offered you a sense of empowerment. Your hopes are dashed from the inevitable transgression from the strict regime and the subsequent weight gain. Your self-esteem declines further, leaving you with a greater sense of failure and self-dissatisfaction. Instead of improving your self-esteem you are left even more vulnerable to the very thing that made you want to diet in the first place: dissatisfaction with yourself and your body.  As you continue in this destructive cycle, the outcomes are more pronounced: depressed mood, elevated stress, heightened irritability, worsened self-image, increased weight, reduced metabolic rate, lowered motivation, and hopelessness. (Check out the The Diet Cycle!)

Can you relate to this cycle? Do you feel trapped by the rules and the shame when you break them? Maybe I haven’t quite convinced you that dieting doesn’t work, but you are starting to wonder, is there another way to relate to food and my body? Could I find peace with food? The simple answer is yes you can find peace with food and begin to respond to your appetite rather than following rules and counting calories.

Ok, so this may sound overwhelming and seem impossible. Ambivalence is normal. I do acknowledge that it is challenging and scary to let go of the dieting mentality but with help it is possible. Step by step you can learn to reconnect with your body and understand how to respond to its signals. Step by step you will challenge each dieting rule that has put a barrier between you and your body. Step by step you can learn to eat with freedom and without guilt. Acknowledging that dieting doesn’t work and that you need help is the first step to your journey towards peace with food and your body. Now it’s time to be compassionate towards yourself, start communicating with a non-diet dietitian and join the community of people who say no to diets.

If you can relate to the article, it might be time to seek some professional help with a non-diet dietitian. There are many dietitians who teach mindful eating, if you would like to get in contact with one please visit the Dietitians Association of Australia website: www.daa.asn.au or email me – jess@jbdietetics.com.au. Otherwise, stay tuned to this page, as I will be updating it with information and strategies to help you develop a healthy relationship with food and your body.


The Numbers Game

Posted by on Feb 4, 2016 in Health at every size, Healthy relationship with food, Intuitive Eating | Comments Off on The Numbers Game

The Numbers Game

Calories in, calories out, weight, clothing size, waist size, portion size, measurements, BMI, weight watchers points, time spent exercising…..numbers. Do any of these numbers mean something to you? Have they played a significant part in your decisions about food, exercise or health? Have they been beneficial or harmful? Many people choose to manage their health and weight by controlling numbers. In the end this becomes a time consuming and stressful process that doesn’t reap any benefits. Health isn’t determined by a set of numbers, and you...

read more

The power of permission

Posted by on Dec 23, 2015 in Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating | Comments Off on The power of permission

The power of permission

Many people don’t know what it’s like to eat without diet rules or judgment looming in their mind. For people who follow diets, even when they allow themselves to eat more freely, there are always conditions they have to fulfil. Wouldn’t it be nice to enjoy the festive food this Christmas without having to compensate, and without having to take on board the guilt and judgement of your inner critic? Let’s talk through a common scenario and take a look at alternative ways of approaching the festive meal. Scenario: Lee has a hectic schedule of...

read more

No more guilty pleasures – part two

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Healthy relationship with food, Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating, Uncategorized | Comments Off on No more guilty pleasures – part two

No more guilty pleasures – part two

I have lost count of the number of times I have you heard someone say, “I really shouldn’t have eaten that”, or, “Now I’ll have to go work off this chocolate cake at the gym”. These statements of judgment and self-criticism undermine any enjoyment and satisfaction one may have experienced whilst eating delicious food. Instead of feeling satisfied from savouring a rich array of flavours and textures in a particular portion of food, one is left with the unsavoury feeling of guilt. What happens when our food intake is driven and shaped in this...

read more

No more guilty pleasures – part one

Posted by on Sep 21, 2015 in Healthy relationship with food, Healthy Weight, Intuitive Eating, Mindful Eating | Comments Off on No more guilty pleasures – part one

No more guilty pleasures – part one

One issue most people raise with me is the sense of guilt they feel for eating ‘sometimes food’* or even ‘everyday food’ such as carbohydrates or full fat dairy. Many people see dietitians as the ‘food police’ and are therefore shocked when I question their sense of guilt because of eating, say, a piece of cake or a packet of chips. It’s really disappointing that our dieting culture is robbing people of the joy of eating. It saddens me that we are saturated in a culture that places moral judgements upon food – judgements which are both futile...

read more