Let’s cut straight to the chase. Diets do not work.
A staggering 95% of people who are on diets then regain their lost weight usually within the first year. Even what’s more alarming is that research suggests that people then put on even more weight than when they first started! (Kausman, 1998).
Not only is increased weight gain a disheartening side effect of following a strict and often deprived way of life, dieting also affects your health and your mental state. Woman who diet frequently are more likely to:
- Binge eat
- Purge food (vomit)
- Restrict food intake too much and not get the nutrients they require for good health
- Over exercise
- Have poor health
- Become depressed or anxious
- Develop an eating disorder (Better Health Victoria).
Dieting makes you more preoccupied with food, it makes food the enemy. Dieting makes you feel guilty when you are not eating diet friendly food and can slow down your metabolism (Tribole & Resch, 2003).
Why is it then that a large percentage of women are on still dieting and have been dieting for a long period of time? Research has shown that nearly every young woman and nearly half of all middle-aged women have dieted to lose weight at least once (Better Health Victoria). Only 1 in 5 women are satisfied with their body weight, and half of all normal weight women overestimate their size and shape! (Better Health Victoria). A large recent study found that body image rated in the top 3 personal concerns for young Australians (Mission Australia, National Survey of Young Australians, 2011).
Body Image is a significant issue and concern for many women (young and old) and dieting is not the answer.
The Vicious Dieting Cycle
Many women get caught up in the diet/binging/dieting cycle. This cycle is vicious, especially for those who have been caught up in this cycle for years or even decades.
Here’s an example of how this cycle can play out. One evening Carol comes home and has a fight with her boyfriend. They decide to have a ‘break’ for a month and reassess the relationship. She feels anxious and tense, as Carol thinks that they will definitely break up after the month is out. The next day she starts a diet fearing that they will most likely break up and she will be single soon. Commencing the diet brings Carol a sense of control in the first week, and she has been feeling quite good (as long as she follows the diet down to the letter). The following week Carol experiences a feeling of deprivation both physically and emotionally. She doesn’t go out with her girlfriends as she is worried about breaking the diet. By week 3 she is feeling like the diet is too rigid and she rebels against the rules and goes out with her friends, she eats 3 courses out at dinner and even picks up a large block of chocolate on her way home which she eats in private. Carol then experiences strong pangs of guilt and she feels like she is out of control. This makes her feel bad about herself, leading to her to eat even more chocolate thinking that this will make her feel better. It doesn’t, it makes her feel even more depressed about the possibility of losing her boyfriend and being single. Then the cycle starts all over again the next day. Carol wakes up and resumes her diet….and so the cycle continues.
Who can relate to Carol’s story? It’s a very common story that a lot of women can connect with. It’s based on rules, rigidity, false promise that dieting will lead to a happier life or outcome and deprivation.
When we deprive our bodies of food, nature tries to restore the balance, by tipping the scale to the other extreme and making us hungrier than ever. Thus the dieting-binging-dieting cycle is born (Kausman, 1998).
Intuitive Eating: A healthier Approach to Eating
A healthy approach to eating involves being an intuitive eater, which is about trusting yourself and listening to your core needs. For those who are worried about opening the flood gates and thinking they will become out of control around food without any rules to apply, rest assured. A study that involved 1400 subjects was conducted in this area. Those who followed the principles of intuitive eating had lower bodyweights and a better sense of wellbeing without being overly concerned with an ideal body type (Alleaume, 2012).
Researchers have assessed 3 key components of Intuitive Eating:
- Eating primarily for physical hunger than emotional reasons
- Relying on internal hunger and fullness cues (children do this well!)
- Unconditional permission to eat (Tribole & Resch, 2003).
Being an intuitive eater frees you from the deprivation cycle of dieting. It’s a healthier and sustainable approach to eating, which involves respecting your physical hunger and acknowledging your feelings without using food.
Putting it Altogether
There is an alternative to yo-yo dieting, deprivation and living your life in a state of constant anxiety. The alternative is two-fold.
Firstly, it’s about making a conscious choice and commitment to be an Intuitive Eater. Being an Intuitive Eater involves trusting yourself and listening to your core needs.
The second part of the solution lies with self-acceptance. Accepting your body as it is. This involves working from the “inside-out” to make permanent changes to live a more fulfilling and satisfying life.
- Alleaume, K. (2012). What’s Eating You: Find Your Balance with Food and Lose Weight. Random House, NSW: Sydney.
- Better Health Victoria. Body Image and Diets. Retrieved on 25th March 2012 http://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/bhcv2/bhcarticles.nsf/pages/Body_image_and_diets?open
- Kausman, R. (1998). If not dieting, then what?, Allen & Unwin, NSW: Cross Nest.
- Mission Australia, National Survey of Young Australians, 2011. Retrieved 25th March http://www.missionaustralia.com.au/downloads/national-survey-of-young-australians/2011
- Tribole, E. & Resch, E., (2003). Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program That Works, St Martin’s Griffin, New York.