In the best-selling book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, author Stephen Covey popularized the concept of paradigm shifts. A paradigm is a model or frame of reference by which we perceive and understand the world. In the world of weight management, dieting is the cultural paradigm by which we attempt to control our weight. A paradigm shift is a break with tradition, with old ways of thinking, with old paradigms. We must change our paradigm to reject dieting; only then can we build a healthy relationship with food and our bodies.
While Covey’s work is aimed at the business community, he hits upon an issue that rings true for chronic dieters. He believes that people are often drawn to remedy the problem without regard to the long-term implications of this “quick fix.” He feels that this approach actually exacerbates the problem rather than permanently solving it. He points to the physical body as a prized asset that often is ruined while one is on the race for rapid results and short-term benefits. (Tribole, Evelyn ; Resch, Elyse (2012-08-07). Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition (p. 47). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.)
Here is the first step to begin your paradigm shift of rejecting the diet mentality:
STEP 1 ~ Recognize and Acknowledge the damage that dieting causes: It’s important to know and understand that dieting is harmful. We now have quite a bit of research proving this to be true. The first thing to do is to acknowledge that this harm is real and that continuing to diet will only perpetuate your problems. Some of the key side effects discovered during these major studies fit into two categories, biological and emotional. As you read, take a look at your own experience and situation, and ask yourself which of the problems you are already experiencing. Recognizing that dieting is the problem will help you break through the cultural myth that diets work. Remember, if dieting is the problem, how can it be part of the solution?
Damage from dieting ~ Biological and Health:
Famine and human starvation have been present in every century; including our own. The body needs extra body fat in order to survive a famine. Our bodies are still equipped to even today to combat starvation at the cellular level. Remember that the body’s only goal is to survive and it will do whatever is necessary to stay alive. This includes adding extra layers of fat when it perceives a famine is occurring. As far as the body is concerned, dieting IS a form of starvation or famine; even though dieting is completely voluntary….here are the things that happen biologically when humans diet:
- Chronic dieting teaches the body to retain more fat than is actually needed when you start eating again. Are you ready for this?….Low calorie diets actually DOUBLE the enzymes that make and store fat in the body. The body does this as a way to be proactive and prepared for the next diet.
- Chronic dieting slows the rate of weight loss every time one diets.
- Decrease metabolism….have you ever had someone tell you that you have a slow metabolism? This situation was CAUSED by dieting because dieting caused the body to become MORE efficient at utilizing calories by lowering the body’s need for energy and slowing down or shutting off “unnecessary” processes.
- Increased binges and cravings are also to be expected. We have an increased tendency to overeat after chronic food restriction. When we restrict our food intake it stimulates the brain to launch a cascade of cravings to eat MORE. We also tend to have an increase for foods high in fat AND sugar.
- Increased risk of premature death and heart disease. Regardless of initial weight, people whose weight repeatedly goes up and down – also known as weight cycling or yo-yo dieting – have a higher overall death rate and TWICE the normal risk of dying of heart disease.
- Cause satiety cues to atrophy. Dieters tend to stop eating NOT because they are hungry but because of some arbitrary limit they have placed upon themselves. This, combined with skipping meals, causes us to eat meals of increasingly larger size.
- Cause body shape to change. We tend to store more fat in the abdominal area when we yo-yo diet and this type of fat is a large indicator of an increased risk of heart disease.
Other documented side effects of dieting include: headaches, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, dry skin, and hair loss.
Damage from Dieting: Psychological and Emotional:
(excerpt from the book INTUITIVE EATING)
Psychological experts reported the following adverse effects at the landmark 1992 National Institutes of Health, Weight Loss and Control Conference:
- Dieting is linked to eating disorders. (In an unrelated study, dieters were EIGHT times as likely to suffer from an eating disorder by the age of fifteen, than non-dieters.)
- Dieting may cause stress or make the dieter more vulnerable to its effects. Independent of body weight itself, dieting is correlated with feelings of failure, lowered self-esteem, and social anxiety.
The dieter is often vulnerable to loss of control over eating when violating “the rules” of the diet, whether there was an actual or perceived transgression of the diet. The mere perception of eating a forbidden food (regardless of actual calorie content) is enough to trigger overeating.
In a separate report, psychologists David Garner and Susan Wooley make a compelling case against the high cost of false hope from dieting. They conclude that:
- Dieting gradually erodes confidence and self-trust.
- Many obese individuals assume they could not have become obese unless they possessed some fundamental character deficit.
Garner and Wooley argue that while many obese individuals may experience binge eating and depression, these psychological and behavioral symptoms are the result of dieting. But these overweight individuals easily interpret these symptoms as further evidence of an underlying problem. Yet, obese people do not have inordinate psychological disturbances compared to normal-weight people. (Tribole, Evelyn ; Resch, Elyse (2012-08-07). Intuitive Eating, 3rd Edition (pp. 49-50). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.)
It is important to understand that one does not have to be “overweight” or “obese” in order to feel this way about themselves when it comes to their relationship with food. We all must relearn to trust ourselves when it comes to choosing food. DITCH THE RULES!