How Diets Decrease Your Self-Esteem and Not Your Size!

Dieting and Body Image: The Facts

By Maddie Ruud from

Raking in $40 billion every year, the diet industry is one of the most profitable areas of our economy today. One out of three women and one out of four men are on a diet at any given time. With these statistics, you well may wonder why the so-called “Obesity Epidemic,” has not yet subsided. Surely, with such a wide consumer base and high profit margin, diets must be helping somebody… But what those before and after pictures don’t show you is the other side of the coin. Of all their customers, two thirds of dieters regain the weight within one year and virtually all regain it within five years.

So? No harm done, you say. They’re back where they started, minus a few dollars (or hundreds, or thousands…). Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Dieting has actually been shown to be counterproductive, taking a toll on both your self-esteem, and your body. Food deprivation slows your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight in the future, and easier to put it back on, plus some. The average weight change per diet today is not to lose weight, or even break even, but to gain seven pounds. And failing, time and again, does nothing for your confidence in yourself.

Perhaps you’re still not convinced. You have more discipline than the rest. You want it bad enough. I do not doubt your determination, or your desire. After all, two out of five women and one out of five men would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals.

However, the diet industry, like most others, is dependent on repeat customers, on bringing back your business.

You are set up to fail, simply to afford the opportunity to re-enroll you, and make another few bucks off of your misery.

New Study Proves Dieting Ineffective

A two-year study at UC Davis highlighted the difference your attitude can make in losing weight. The participants, all obese, were divided into two groups for monitoring: dieting and non-dieting.

The dieting group was told to moderately restrict their food consumption, maintain food diaries and monitor their weight. They were provided with information on the benefits of exercise, on behavioral strategies for successful dieting, and on how to count calories and fat content, read food labels and shop for appropriate foods.

The non-dieting participants were instructed to let go of restrictive eating habits, and pay more attention to their internal cues, both physical and emotional, such as hunger, satiety, anxiety, sadness, and anger. Instead of diet propaganda, they were given information on healthy nutrition, and participated in a weekly support group focused on addressing the particular concerns of the obese person in an intolerant society.

The Results

Almost half of the dieting group dropped out before finishing the treatments, while 92% of the non-dieting group completed the program. While the non-dieters did not lose any significant amount of weight, they experienced numerous health benefits that the dieters did not: lowered bad cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure, quadrupled their physical activity, and felt significantly better about themselves and less depressed at the end of the two-year period.

Yes, you say, but the dieters lost the weight. Not so. While the members of the dieting group lost 5.2% of their initial weight in the first 24 weeks of the study, by the end of the program, they had regained nearly all of it. That first boost of self-confidence due to the rapid weight loss deteriorated as the pounds piled back on, leaving participants with lower self-esteem than when they had started.

“We have been ingrained to think that seriously large people can only make improvements in their health if they diet and slim down,” said nutrition researcher Linda Bacon, who conducted the study along with Judith Stern, a UC Davis professor of nutrition and internal medicine. “But this study tells us that you can make significant improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without ever stepping on the scales or counting calories. You can relax about food and eat what you want.” Now, wouldn’t that be nice?

Read more by Maddie Ruud on

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Girls and Dieting: Then and Now

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Three Steps to Transform the National Weight Debate

3 thoughts on “How Diets Decrease Your Self-Esteem and Not Your Size!

  1. Great article to read. And it makes sense. Self esteem should be the key to everything. And the dieting industry is a business. Most businesses care a bout profits, not their clients. Thanks for pointing this out.

  2. Great article. I just read Dr. Bacon’s book and I loved it. After 20 years of feeling guilty about every bite of food, I’m embarking on a new way of living and eating.

  3. Glad to see this article. If you want to register your voice in support of “non-dieting” and body acceptance, please visit http://www.HAESCommunity.Org and take the Health at Every Size pledge. (Health at Every Size is the non-diet model we tested in this study.) You can also find plenty of other (free) resources on that site, including health professionals, books, blogs and much more.

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