Dieting from Diets

by Ashley Solomon

International No Diet Day, which recently passed on May 6, was actually kind of an accident. Mary Evans Young, the British founder of an anti-diet movement, had garnered some media attention after putting out a press release entitled “Fat Woman Fights Back.” She didn’t have a plan, but  ended up on national television and in the course of the interview suddenly encouraged viewers to observe No Diet Day on May 6, a holiday she had made up on the spot (creative, huh?). Mary didn’t know at the time that her impulsivity would lead to a day of international observance – celebrated from Canada to New Zealand to Russia. She did, however, know one simple fact that seems to elude the majority of us, and that is… Diets don’t work. And she knew the equally important follow-up… Diets are dangerous (to our bodies and minds).

Looking at the research, Mellin, Scully, and Irwin (1986) found that 81% of 10-year-old girls reported having dieted at least once in their lives. 10-year-olds… little ones that should be riding ponies and playing hopscotch and being naïve to the pressures to fit into a size zero (Don’t worry – a post on the absurdity of the existence of a size zero will be forthcoming). And yet they are dieting – restricting their food intake for the purpose of altering their body size.

Sigh… It shouldn’t be surprising that so many young people turn to dieting, however.  A study of high school students revealed that two-thirds of girls believed being thinner would have a significantly positive impact on their lives (Paxton et al., 1991). And let’s be honest, our culture makes it such that this isn’t such an irrational thought. Overweight people do face disadvantages in our society. Besides being subjected to taunts and jokes, they are more likely to be mistreated by their physicians and more likely to face discrimination in hiring and promotion in the workplace. Participating in a No Diet lifestyle combats this discrimination by taking a stand against the pressure to reduce our size. It tells others that you won’t let your health and happiness be dictated by the latest trend in what’s acceptable.

That’s not to say that some of us wouldn’t benefit from a healthier approach to food, which may then result us losing weight. This means learning to listen to our bodies’ signals and paying attention to the energy and nourishment we’re getting from our food choices. This does not mean restriction or counting calories or eating cabbage soup. In fact, we know those things don’t work: up to 98% of “dieters” gain back the weight they lose in one to five years, with over half gaining back more. This is because dieting leads to extreme hunger and a progressive loss of our ability to monitor our hunger cues, resulting in… you got it, overeating.  Not to mention that dieting can lead to an unhealthy perception of eating and create stress around our relationship to food.

So now that you’re convinced that dieting equals bad, International No Diet Day has unfortunately passed. However, you can make healthy changes now and have almost an entire year to prepare for the next one! Just try it. Stop weighing yourself. Stop counting calories. Stop talking about “losing five more pounds” before summer. Stop buying non-fat dressing (this should be a given…). Start saying positive things about your body, particularly in front of all the 10-year-olds you know. Pledge to feed yourself when you are hungry and stop when you are full. And last, go do something that makes you fall in love with your body. 364 days to go!

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5 Comments to “Dieting from Diets”

  1. Great advice!

    You know, Grey’s Anatomy just did a wonderful episode on how doctors treat obese patients. It’s called “How Insensitive” and you can watch it online free at the ABC website. Dunno if you’d be interested in it, but I thought it was very well done (although obviously dramatized).

    • I actually watched that episode and it was a great one. My mother has been overweight most of her life and she knows it has affected her professionally. I support no diet day but I also support people getting more active and eating healthier! It is all about how good you feel, not how you look…something I’m truly trying to work on each and every day.

  2. Ash,
    Great post. I didn’t even know there was a No Diet Day! I learn something new from you everyday….

    Mom

  3. How ironic that this wonderful day falls on my Birthday! I’ll have to get a blue ribbon for next year

  4. i can’t even tell you how much i love this post! I hate diets, and no-fat/reduced-fat “anything”.

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