Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dieting: What I mean and what I don’t mean & 10 reasons to give it up

The word “diet” can have two different meanings.

First, a “diet” can mean, simply, the food you eat on a day to day basis – nothing more.

In our society, however, “diet” is a word commonly used to infer a weight loss method.  A “diet”, in the typical cultural sense, is usually intended to be only a temporary change until a certain goal is achieved.  When I talk about “diets” in this blog, I am talking about them in this “weight-loss” sense of the word.

When I talk about “diets” I am not talking about a person who has food allergies or food sensitivities and needs to refrain from eating dairy, gluten, soy, or whatever.  I am not talking about a person who is diabetic or a person with a thyroid dysfunction.

When I talk about “diets” I am talking about the epidemic of weight-loss techniques running rampant in our country.

In order to minimize confusion or because of the growing negative connotation, some people have adopted the phrase “lifestyle change” to indicate that they are not on a diet.  If, however, your “lifestyle change” is a weight loss agenda in disguise, it is still a diet.

Below are 10 reasons why I believe “dieting”, in the weight loss sense of the word, is harmful to your health.
(First is a quick snapshot of what I am going to talk about.  Second, Margarita of Weightless posted this awesome article about "Diet Ditching".  I decided to expand on her ideas in this post today.  Please refer to her article for the original.)
-It manipulates your appetite.
-It is a common cause of overeating.
-It has a failure rate of 95 to 98 percent.
-It encourages distrust in yourself and your body’s natural signals.
-It encourages food obsession.
-It causes you to lose touch with yourself which leads to emotional and mental suffering.
-It limits the definition of what is healthy.
-It takes control over your decisions.
-It creates a negative relationship with food.
-It stops you from being fully present.

1) Dieting manipulates your appetite.  Dieting is about tricking your senses.  How many times have you seen the phrase on the cover of a magazine that says something about weight loss “tips” or “tricks”?  Why would we call them tricks, if they were not intended to deceive?  Your body is not this evil thing waiting to overtake your life and your happiness.  Your body, mind, soul, and spirit make up who you are as a whole person.  Trusting your body, not tricking it, will lead to health.

2) Dieting promotes overeating.  Especially in very restrictive diets or starvation diets, constant abstaining from food can trigger a binge eating episode.  You don’t binge eat because you have weak will-power.  Binge eating is the body’s natural reaction when it is being starved of vital nutrition.  If your body does not get enough nourishment, it will eventually override your brain’s decision to diet.  Your natural survival instincts kick in and a binging episode can occur.  After the episode, when the body and the brain finally get food, you are left with feelings of disgust, shame, and discouragement.  But it is not your fault.  Dieting is like trying to control your body as a machine.  Your body is not a machine; it is a gift.  And if you listen to your body's needs you can work with your body, not against it.

3) Diets fail. Period.  Even those rare people, who have successfully dieted, most likely, miraculously, learned that it is good to take care of your body because your body is good.  This realization results in loving one’s body and treating it better.  Weight loss was a side-effect.

4) Diets exist because of the belief that the body is inherently bad.  Margarita from Weightless writes: 

People often think that they have two options: diet or eat anything in sight.  Attuned eating (i.e., not dieting) isn’t about eating whatever you want when you want. It’s not about eating potato chips or fast food all day, every day.  …According to Judith Matz, an author and therapist who specializes in eating issues, “What we’re saying is to eat what you’re hungry for when you’re hungry…[You] use your internal cues so you’re making decisions based on what’s best for you physically, emotionally and spiritually.” … “You’re deciding and coming from a place of nurturing and taking care of yourself,” Matz said. You’re thinking about what really nourishes you, and there are many different levels of nourishment…”

5) A consequence of dieting is food obsession.  When I was living the diet-life, there was no room in my brain for anything else but what I ate and what I didn’t eat.  There is so much information out there about what is good for you and what is not.  Ads, commercials, magazines, friends, and family are constantly bringing up dieting and food choices.  I read this passage that could have come straight from my own mind: 

What “should” I eat? Can I eat that pasta or piece of cake? Nope, it’s too many calories or too many points. How many calories does that have? If it’s not non-fat, I can’t have it. When’s the next time I can actually eat again? I’m hungry, but that portion is all I can eat. I’ve had all my calories for the day already. OK, this is seriously my last bite. I want to eat that, but I can’t. I can’t have any chocolate. I can’t stop thinking about it, though.

...Enough to drive a person nuts.  Yet, we persist in saying that diets can be good for people.

6) If you are on a diet, you will begin to identify yourself entirely with your will-power and your diet results.  You will begin to lose touch with what it means to sit down with family and friends to enjoy a meal together.  You will forget what your favorite foods are.  And you will forget how to listen to your body’s natural hunger signals.  Your personhood will slowly be reduced to the number on the scale.  And your self-worth will slowly become attached to the success or failure of your diet.

7) Diets are replacing health.  As a society, we have lost the true meaning of health and instead put “diet” in its place.  I am shocked at how often we associate weight-loss with health.  I have several posts about this already.  Click here to read yesterday's post concerning this topic.

8) Persistent dieting will, eventually, take control of all your decisions.  If dieting becomes a part of your life, you might skip parties so you don’t have to face “bad” food.  You might start avoiding restaurants and gatherings.  You might choose not to hang out with your friends because you are afraid to fail at your diet.  Food is a big part of life.  If you control your food intake with unrealistic standards, you will start controlling your life in the same way.

9) Diets promote a negative relationship with food.  Because all weight-loss diets have foods that you cannot eat, those forbidden foods become “bad”.  Food is not inherently bad or evil in itself.  Contrary to what the commercials say, chocolate is not sinfully delicious.  Also the “I will start my diet tomorrow, therefore, I must binge eat all the junk food in the house today” cycle is a dangerous way to view food and eating.  I know so many people have this approach to dieting because this picture and this picture too from Pintrest would not be funny.

10) My final point is that dieting stops you from being fully present.  I have a sad story about how diets can cause you to miss out on life’s important moments.  Last summer, I was still desperately trying to control my food intake.  I couldn’t yet give up dieting or counting calories.  My brother and his girlfriend were visiting (I hadn’t seen them in a long time) and my husband and I met up with them for lunch.  It so happened to be the annual Russia State Fair (for all the non-locals, that is the church picnic).
So we walked “up-town” and helped donate to the church by buying from the lunch stand.  All morning, I was giving myself a pep-talk about how I can get through it.  I didn’t eat much breakfast because I was scared of a high calorie count.  The whole time we were in line, I was figuring out what food to get that would cause the “least amount of damage”.  The whole time we were eating I was counting and re-counting how many calories I thought I was eating.  The whole rest of the day, I was going over in my head how to make up for all those calories I already ate.
The unfortunate thing is, I don’t remember a single conversation with my brother from that visit.  My mind was not present that whole day because of my “diet”.  It makes me so sad to think about that opportunity that I missed out on.  Thankfully, I realized what a tragedy that was.  And by the grace of God, I am trying to not let that happen again.

Giving up dieting has been, hands-down, the BEST decision of my life.  Giving up diets has lead to other really great decisions, as well.  Because I let go of the control, my marriage has improved.  My faith has grown because I allow God the space in my life that my diet was taking up.  And getting rid of unrealistic dieting expectations has dramatically reduced my depression and anxiety.

I encourage everyone to stop dieting and start living a nourishing life.  You deserve it!

I will leave you with some pro-active ways to “ditch the dieting” from Weightless. (Thank you, Margarita, for your ever insightful posts):

  • Listen and attend to your body’s hunger and satiety cues. In other words, try to eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re feeling full.
  • List all the ways that ditching dieting has improved your life (or, if you haven’t given up dieting, how it might).
  • Explore why you’ve dieted.
  • Check out some great resources.
  • Learn why diets don’t work.
  • Celebrate your body, and what it’s done for you.
  • Think about what you’re hungry for in your life (other than just foods).
  • Take the time to cook yourself a delicious, nourishing meal.
  • Slow down and savor your meal. Smell the aroma. Taste the flavors. Focus on the textures.
  • Avoid multi-tasking while you’re eating. When you’re eating, just eat.
  • Avoid fat talk.
  • Recycle all your diet magazines and books.
  • Participate in a physical activity that energizes or soothes you.
  • Spring-clean your self-care routine.
For me personally, I am also really glad that I ditched dieting because now I have room in my life for art!

Drum roll please….

Announcing today’s Painting of the Day:

{Girl with the Pearl Earing by Johannes Vermeer, Painted copy by Mary Borchers}

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