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By Lauren Harding, Eating Recovery Coach

The Facts

Dieting is linked to disordered eating attitudes and behaviors. Research shows that girls who diet are seven to eight times more likely to develop an eating disorder compared to those who do not diet. Furthermore, cross-cultural studies reveal an increase in eating disorders with an increase of urbanization. In Fiji, before television, dieting did not exist and there were no eating disorders. After television was introduced, Fijian women were for the first-time dieting, reportedly, as a way to “gain status”. Within 3 years 11% of these women reported vomiting in order to lose weight. “Without our cultural preoccupation with dieting, there would be no epidemic of eating disorders” (Gordon, 2000). An estimated 45 million Americans go on a diet each year, and Americans spend $33 billion each year on weight loss products. In 2017 the US dieting industry alone was worth $68.2 billion dollars. Yet, nearly two-thirds of Americans are classified as “obese”. With the increase of western civilization and dieting, there is also an increase of “obesity” and of eating disorders.

Why diets don’t work:

Our body weight is as genetic as is height. 70% of individual differences in body weight are dictated by genes. In 2015, a large scale study was done with 278,000 participants- It was found that within 5 years the proportion of those who regained the lost weight was somewhere between 95-98%.  Even the most optimistic research shows “successful” participants will have maintained an average weight loss of a few pounds after 5 years- after that however gaining 75% of the weight they initially lost. Eating healthy and exercising is difficult to navigate in a weight-obsessed world. I think that slowly society is starting to recognize that diets don’t work, however, diets are now being disguised as “lifestyle changes”, “wellness diets”, or “clean eating.” These still require some level of restriction, consistent behaviors to lose weight, shame or guilt surrounding certain foods, a fear of weight gain, undue influence of body shape and consistent self-evaluation, and lastly, more often than not- these lead to eating large amounts of food in a small amount of time as your body tries to reject the diet.

So what do I do?

Once your body starts to trust that you have ENOUGH. Your body can start to normalize variety and pleasure with food choices. Part of what keeps people eating past the point of fulness is the belief that their food is going to be taken away or placed off limits again. Unconditional permission takes away the power from food and soon it becomes less of a novelty. I typically tell clients to have balance, flexibility, and variety when it comes to their eating habits. Or to check out the “10 Conscious Eating guidelines” by Carolyn Costin. https://www.carolyn-costin.com/post/conscious-eating

Balance: Eating ENOUGH carbs, fats, proteins, etc. Not tracking, not counting, but eating and nourishing your body so that it can have the energy it needs to function. Research shows that tracking, macro counting, etc. is a risk factor for disordered eating or eating disorder behaviors. Having balance would mean that I would not eat only waffles for every meal everyday as much as I would like that (I love waffles). Balance would be allowing myself to have the waffles but also incorporating other types of food with them. Balance also means being mindful of hunger and fulness cues and not limiting oneself or eating to the point of being uncomfortable. No EXTREMES with balance.

Flexibility: Being able to have birthday cake at a party even if you are not “hungry” or being able to eat a food that you typically would not have if you are traveling or on a road trip. I use the example of seeing someone who is on a diet bring their own food to a social gathering in a container rather than eating what is available- this demonstrates a lack of flexibility. Obsessing over what you eat, is BAD for your health. Studies show that the number one factor in determining longevity is “social experiences” not weight or diet. The more you diet or are obsessed with your weight- the less social experiences you are capable of having.

Variety: Not being too rigid with food choices and being able to eat different types of food that you enjoy, if available. Also obviously bringing into account food allergies, limitations, etc. Variety means avoiding the “good food, bad food” mentality. All foods fit. If I decide to have an apple over a cookie because it sounds better that does not make me morally “purer” than someone who decides to have a cookie and vice versa.