There’s a great quote, which says, “Dieting is a 60 billion dollar industry with a 95% failure rate, and you think your the one whose broken?”
The diet industry makes a ton of money off of your self-doubt and has a vested interest in making you feel “less than.” It also serves to reinforce stigma towards people in larger bodies, and oppresses women by keeping them from “playing big in their lives.”
Here’s what i’d like to say to the person who isn’t sure if they should stop dieting.
First off, I have so much compassion for you. You’ve been sold the lie for years that your worth is found in your weight, and that dieting is the key to health and happiness. You’ve even heard the phrase, “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle.” However, a diet disguised by any other name is still a diet.
I also totally understand that there is a part of you that is so scared to give up on dieting. Maybe you feel like this would be “giving up on yourself.” However, giving up on dieting will enable you to actually be kind to your body and treat yourself with compassion and care.
Here’s a few key things that I think would be helpful for you to know.
1. Diets do not help you to maintain weight loss in the long-term.
The idea that people fail at diets because of a lack of willpower is a myth that is perpetuated by the diet industry. There are powerful biological factors at play, which essentially ensure that your attempt at dieting will fail. Traci Mann, a researcher who has studied dieting for over 20 years, found that there are metabolic, hormonal, and neurological changes that contribute to “diet failure.”
According to Mann, “When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food ... But you don’t just notice it — it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting.” Mann also stated that as you begin to lose weight, “the hormones that make you feel hungry increase” and “the hormones that help you feel full, or the level of those rather, decreases.”
Lastly, Mann explained that when you are dieting, “Your metabolism slows down. Your body uses calories in the most efficient way possible ... When your body finds a way to run itself on fewer calories there tends to be more left over, and those get stored as fat.”
Thus, it comes as no surprise that studies show that 95 percent of people will “fail” at diets. Most people who diet will lose weight in the short-term and then gain it back (and sometimes more) in the long-term. Working to suppress your weight below your natural body weight is ultimately a fruitless effort and an utter waste of time.
You didn’t “fail” at the diet, the diet failed you.
Even if you are in the 5 percent of people who can maintain a suppressed weight in the long-term, think about what you may be giving up in order to achieve this. After all, what good does it do to have your “ideal body” if you are sacrificing eating out, socializing with friends, and your interests outside of calorie-counting and obsessive exercise.
2. Weight loss is not the key to increased happiness.
As stated above, diets do not work if your aim is maintaining weight loss in the long-term. However, I have a problem with the very idea of weight loss as a goal. Tying your happiness to something external is a recipe for discontent.
Andrea Bonior, a clinical psychologist, exemplified this point when she stated, “It’s not the external achievement of some goal that’s going to make us happy. You think that will automatically change your life in some meaningful way, but it could be that your life pretty much remains the same.”
For argument’s sake, let’s say that you had your “ideal body” and were supremely happy with your appearance. The reality of life is that our bodies will change as we age. Ultimately, putting all of your worth and value into your appearance is a recipe for chasing discontent for the rest of your life.
Further, counting calories, obsessing about your body fat, and reading diet books, is likely taking time away from more meaningful pursuits. Think about all of the other passions that you could explore if you gave up the goal of weight loss. What if you poured all of the time, money, and energy that you spent on dieting into something more meaningful? You could truly change the world.
3. You are amazing-no matter what you weigh.
I wish you could see the incredible person that I see. You have already done some pretty remarkable things in your life. You are beautiful-but more importantly, you are an interesting, compassionate, and uplifting person.
I can’t help but feel sadness to think that you spend so much of your valuable time and energy focused on your desire to lose weight and hating your body.
You aren’t alone in this either. I am always saddened to see large groups of women, who, rather than talk about world issues, their families, their relationships, or emotions-are sitting around talking about how “bad they are for eating dessert.” This is maddening!
But there is hope here, because even the fact that you are taking the time to read this article shows me that there is part of you that knows that you deserve better.
Intuitive eating is an approach developed by two dietitians, which takes the focus off of weight and onto honoring your hunger and fullness, rejecting diet culture, and eating/moving in ways that feel enjoyable.
It’s reconnecting with the way that you might have been able to eat as a child (if diet-culture hadn’t already caught up to you by then).
Ultimately, the same way that I don’t have to micromanage how I breathe or the way that my heart beats, I also don’t need to try to “control” my hunger or weight.
My body knows how to find and maintain a healthful weight range for me, as long as I listen to it, generally honor my hunger and fullness, honor my cravings, process my emotions, and move in a way that I find enjoyable.
The Bottom Line
If you are still struggling with giving up on dieting i’d urge you to ask yourself the following questions:
- What might happen if you shifted focus from weight-loss to well-being?
- What are you really telling yourself that weight-loss would bring you?
- How could you achieve these things without focusing on trying to change your body?
- How has dieting worked for you in the long-term?
- Would you advise a child to treat their body and themselves, the way that you are?
I highly doubt at the end of your life, you will be fondly reminiscing about the time that you spent counting points, calories, macros, or trying to change your body.
Ultimately, you deserve to be free from body shame, food rules, and self-hatred.
Jennifer Rollin, MSW, LCSW-C: is an eating disorder therapist in private practice in Rockville, Maryland. Jennifer specializes in helping teens and adults struggling with anorexia, binge eating disorder, and bulimia, and body image issues. Jennifer provides eating disorder therapy in Rockville, MD, easily accessible to individuals in Potomac, North Potomac, Bethesda, Olney, Germantown, and Washington D.C. Connect with Jennifer through her website: www.jenniferrollin.com