1. Dieting really does not work
In a 2013 National Health and Medical Research Council systematic review, it was revealed people can lose weight initially, but after two to five years they return to their previous weight, which can lead to an unhealthy pattern of dieting and even eating disorders. Although nutrition and what we eat is important, there are many other, often more important aspects of our life and health. So before you commit to a diet, think about it, why are you doing it? It’s probably because you’ve dieted before, lost some weight and now you’re back where you started and you’re about to repeat the cycle all over again. Be kind to yourself instead and focus on the things you like about yourself and skip the diet this New Year.
2. Weight and health are not the same thing
Research has shown that people who may be considered “overweight”, but who still lead a healthy lifestyle can live just as long as someone who is smaller bodied. There is an association between body weight and health, however this is not always a ‘cause and effect’. If someone has a higher BMI, it does not necessarily mean they will have poorer health. There is a growing body of evidence showing living longer is associated with eating plenty of fruit and veg, staying active, not smoking and moderating our alcohol intake. This effect occurs regardless of our weight.
3. Dieting can actually damage your health
Not only do we now know that weight and health don’t always add up, we’re also starting to realise the practice of dieting can actually be bad for our physical health in the long run. New research is showing that weight cycling which happens when we go on and off diets, may cause inflammation in the body and in turn may be damaging to our heart health and put us at risk of diabetes.
In fact, we don’t even actually have to diet for this effect to take place. In a small study in 2018, researchers investigated the effect that being dissatisfied with our bodies might have on the development of chronic diseases. Although it is early days in the research and more studies on this topic are definitely required, researchers in this study noted those people who were more dissatisfied with their bodies, had higher levels of inflammation in the body. This has potentially some big ramifications to health as inflammatory effects in the body are noted to be linked with a number of health concerns such as both poorer cardiovascular health and mental health.
4. Dieting is bad for our mental health
This is a big one, Eating Disorders Victoria have noted women who diet frequently (more than 5 times) are 75% more likely to experience depression, that’s very significant. And in a 2006 Australian study, researchers discovered Adolescent girls who dieted at a severe level were 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder within six months and had a 20% chance of developing an eating disorder after 12 months of extreme dieting.
Dieting does not make us feel good about ourselves, it is a pre-cursor for eating disorders and it ultimately harms our self-esteem even if we do not develop an eating disorder. Our bodies are not designed to maintain a diet in the long-run, we all have a set-weight point where our body functions optimally and diets teach us to try and override that. Most of us will slip off the bandwagon at some point though. This can often make us feel like a failure impacting our mental wellbeing every time.
5. Weight fluctuations could be deadly
In a 2017 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers followed up around 9, 500 patients who had coronary artery disease. They followed the patients up at 3 months, 6 months and a year and then every 6 months til about 5 years.
The researchers found those people who had coronary artery disease and lots of body weight fluctuations (like what happens when we go on and off diets) had a greater chance of a cardiovascular event occurring and also dying! The more people’s weight fluctuated the greater the effect that was noted.
6. Diet culture fosters weight stigma
Weight stigma is a bias or discrimination against people because of their size and it is everywhere. You are probably guilty of it without even realising and most of us feel the pressures of weight stigma regardless of our size.
As a society we tend to exclude people who don’t fit a pre-conceived idea of the social norm. This might be based on our ethnicity, level of wealth, gender, body size or all of these. Sadly, in our current society if we’re thin we’re somehow deemed to be superior to someone living in a larger body. Additionally, the research clearly shows people who live in a larger body are faced with discrimination at school, university, within workplaces and in the health care system.
Unconsciously we know this and therefore pay excessive amounts of attention to our appearance and size to feel included and essentially loved.
Diet culture and weight stigma go hand in hand and although there is a rapidly growing #bodypositivity movement we’ve got a long way to go. Whilst we keep dieting every time a new year dawns nothing will change so it’s not just about dieting not being good for you, it’s about society as a whole and we need to change the way we think about weight.
So what should you do instead?
1. Focus on why you eat not what you eat
This type of examination is especially helpful if you are prone to overeating or emotional eating, which many of us are.
2. Practice mindful eating
Mindful eating focuses on making changes to eating based on health and not for the purposes of altering our body weight. Mindful eating programs have seen reductions in blood pressure and cholesterol and improvements in body image and self-esteem, it is much healthier for us than dieting and much kinder.
3. Be a part of the change
Stop focusing on the appearance of those around you and resist the urge to comment if a friend, colleague or family member loses weight. By not focusing on other’s appearances you help to break down weight stigma and you’ll also automatically stop judging your own.