In the past, when people lost weight, I envied them. I wanted to know how they did it and emulate them. Today, as a recovered yo-yo dieter, I feel concerned about them. I remember how great it once felt to lose pounds. Diet culture supports it as a significant accomplishment. The people around us chime in to tell us how good we look and to ask about our strategies. But I also remember the cost to my physical and mental health of pushing my body toward an unhealthy weight. So, when people proudly post those weight loss after-photos, I feel concerned that they've set themselves up for a health disaster.
Only a person who loses weight knows whether they sacrificed their health for it. And, sometimes, weight loss is a result of efforts I consider healthy. Some of my clients lose weight when they ditch the stressful dieting mindset in favor of self-respect and self-care, put more nutrition and pleasure into meals, and hone their emotion and eating regulation skills. Even when these efforts don't result in weight loss, they are likely to affect health positively. But too many people have been made to feel that their worth depends on their weight and size. They seek weight loss feverishly, the "lose 41 pounds in 28 days" way promoted by this First For Women cover. They push their bodies by restricting food, overexercising, abusing medication, and waging a mental war on themselves -- the way I once did. When people lose weight that way, it's never healthy.
This magazine wants you to believe that you can lose 41 pounds in 28 days on the diet they promote and then ride off into a sunset with your health intact. I consider this a big, fat lie. No one could engage in such extreme weight loss without harmful side effects. Even a lesser amount of weight loss could come at a cost to health.
Here's what I know, any effort to push your weight below your healthy range will trigger survival responses as your brain does its powerful background work to adapt to the stressful dieting lifestyle and the threat of malnutrition. My clients and I are familiar with the grand spectrum of suffering triggered by hating our bodies, engaging in trendy diets, and the predictable yo-yo dieting cycles that ensue. Our diets have triggered obsessive thinking, constant weighing, fear of regaining, isolation, low-self esteem, feelings of failure, body image distortion, excessive hunger and cravings, disordered eating patterns, bounce-back weight gain, and even chronic illness. I think diets should come with warning labels.
If diets are dangerous to our health, where can we turn when we dislike our bodies, struggle with body image, or need to improve our eating habits for the sake of our health? My book, Non-Dieting: How to Love Your Body and Be Healthy in Diet Culture, will be available on Amazon soon. In it, I offer research about how dieting can actually make us heavier, hungrier, and sick. I also share what I wish someone told me when I started to dislike my body, develop unhealthy eating habits, and began dieting at the age of twelve. I needed someone to explain that health, confidence, and the sense of worth I sought would not come from chasing an unrealistic body. It would come from the realization that my weight was not the most important thing about me. Later, this discovery would free me to focus on my strengths and develop them into a meaningful life. And it would enable me to recover from the stressful dieting lifestyle that had triggered disordered eating patterns and a negative body image. Ditching the diet lifestyle was the best thing I ever did for my health. If you want to learn about getting healthy on the non-dieting path, join my email list. You'll be among the first to know when the book is available.
Take a moment to reflect on how dieting has affected your health. Do your experiences align with mine? Please share with me in the comments below.
-Alison Ross, LMFT
Hi. I’m Alison Ross, founder of Non-Dieting Health in Agoura Hills, California. I’m a licensed psychotherapist and neurofeedback practitioner specializing in eating and body image. My favorite things are my family, my dogs, yoga and working with my clients.
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