Now that the holidays are over, millions of people are trying to lose weight after eating an abundance of holiday foods. Television is full of advertisements for new weight loss programs and news shows are recommending dieting strategies to shed those pounds. The question remains: why do people diet, when research has repeatedly shown that 95% of those who diet and lose weight regain it all back? (Miller, 1999) Why do people blame themselves over and over again for weight gain after a diet when in fact it’s the diet that is failing? Research shows that one to two thirds of the time dieting results in weight gain over time rather than weight loss. (Harrison,2019) In addition, weight cycling has been associated with a higher death rate due to multiple causes than maintaining a higher BMI. (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011)
Part of the answer to why people continue on this lifelong dieting cycle lies in the fact that the weight loss industry is a $60 billion industry which promulgates antiquated weight loss myths rather than actual scientific facts (Cooper, 2013, 2015). In her book Metabolic Storm, Dr. Emily Cooper explains that a diet is experienced by the body as a famine, which means that a starvation defense mode kicks in to ensure survival. This survival response includes a slowing of the body’s metabolism up to 36% within six months of starting a diet. The body then stores everything as fat as a means of protection. (Cooper, 2013, 2015)
When weight loss stops, many dieters perceive this as having failed rather than as a result of metabolic effects of the diet which make weight loss attempts more difficult. Out of desperation, people will overlook the failure of the diet, blame themselves, and then try another diet – only to find that the next one fails in the long run as well.
For those with bulimia or binge eating disorder, the agony is even more profound, as their whole self-esteem is centered on shrinking their body size. When a diet fails, they feel shame and self-loathing, then revert to binge eating given the deprivation state of their bodies. A diet seems like an easy fix; they go back to restrictive eating – only to binge again.
Healing from eating disorders involves self-acceptance rather than a self-improvement program. Even though many believe that if they only lose weight they can accept themselves, weight loss and dieting are not the answers. Here are some healing ingredients:
Honoring your hunger and eating a balance of all foods rather than restricting certain food groups are steps towards healing. Before you can decide if you have eaten for emotional reasons, you have to make sure you are eating enough, because physical deprivation alone will lead to bingeing.
In addition, this experience of physical deprivation will lead to difficulty making decisions or to
feeling irritable and annoyed. Emotional reasons for overeating will diminish or even disappear when you consistently eat enough. (Harrison, 2019) In addition, eating for pleasure, to satisfy taste buds, rather than compulsively following a fixed meal plan is another important element of healing. If you only eat a limited variety of foods that you perceive as “healthy”, eventually you may overeat the foods you were craving but had restricted.
Another aspect of healing is moving for pleasure rather than compulsive, punishing exercise or
resistance to any movement. Many people with eating disorders avoid movement because they have rules about what exercise is and is not. They believe it has to be a certain duration and intensity to really count rather than moving in a way that brings them joy. Movement in recovery could involve walking a dog in the park rather than running on a treadmill.
Lastly, working on mindful awareness and self-compassion are important aspects of healing from an eating disorder. Self-compassion involves acknowledging what made you vulnerable to a binge when there is a slip up, and doing so without judgment. (Kristen Neff, 2011) It also involves forgiving yourself by recognizing that all human beings struggle, rather than beating yourself up for overeating. Binge eating is not about a moral failing, but rather about a response to physical deprivation and a means of self-soothing, regulating difficult emotions, distracting from difficult feelings or circumstances or filling emotional voids. Healing comes from eating intuitively rather than dieting and from learning skills such as self-compassion and self-soothing to manage emotions rather than using food to regulate them.
- Wayne C Miller, “How effective are traditional dietary and exercise Interventions for weight
loss?” Medicine and Sports in Sports and Camp Exercise 31, no 8 (August 1999) 1129-34.
- Christy Harrison, Anti-diet: Reclaim your time, money, wellbeing and happiness through Intuitive Eating (2019)
- Linda Bacon & Lucy Aphramor, Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence of a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 10 no.9 (2011)
- Emily Cooper, The Metabolic Storm, (2013,2015)
- Kristin Neff, The Proven Power of Being Kind to Yourself.Self Compassion (2011)