By Sharon Haywood, Co-Editor
Aside from bikini season, late December and early January is the other time of year that we’re especially susceptible to feeling bad about our bodies. Special thanks to the media and the diet industry for ensuring we do by reminding us that we overindulged during the end-of-year festivities and we must resolve to lose (at least) that holiday weight come the new year. Weight Watchers in the UK is making certain you hear that message loud and clear. On January 1, 2012 almost all the major UK television networks will simultaneously air a three-minute Weight Watchers commercial aka music video worth over US$23 million. In it, Weight Watchers proudly parades 180 clients, mostly women, who have lost a total of 5908 pounds using its trademarked ProPoints program launched just a year ago.
What I’d like to see is how many of those slimmed-down success stories will have kept the weight off by New Year’s Day 2016. According to the studies, within four to five years most of them will have regained the weight, and at least 60 to 120 of them will weigh more than their pre-diet weight. Yes, I said diet. Regardless of what Weight Watchers (or SlimFast or Jenny Craig or any other system or product designed to lose weight) calls it, a diet is a diet. And diets don’t work. Sure, if you eat only protein and avoid carbs or measure your portions or adhere to a system of points that limits your caloric intake, yes, you will lose weight… initially. But research clearly shows that any weight lost is sure to creep back within five years.
Researchers at California’s UCLA sought out specific evidence on the long-term results of dieting by analyzing every published diet study—31 in total—that monitored participants’ weight from two to five years after their initial weight loss. The study’s lead author, Traci Mann, summarized their results:
“You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
You may have already heard this information but you may have very well just resigned yourself to playing the losing and gaining game. It’s understandable considering how barraged we are with the message that fat will kill you. But the truth is fat can actually protect you against certain diseases including osteoporosis, chronic bronchitis, and some cancers. Furthermore, the evidence strongly supports that continued yo-yo dieting or losing and gaining weight repetitively does real damage to your body, not to mention the mental and emotional self-abuse that dieting demands. The research is clear: weight cycling plays a large role in various ailments, ironically often attributed to obesity: high-blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and even premature death. Unfortunately, the studies that attract the most press are those that support weight loss as a means to health; such studies are substantially funded by the pharmaceutical and weight loss industries. And these industries are certainly not lacking in profits; in only two more years, the worldwide weight-loss market is predicted to be worth a staggering US$586.3 billion.
It’s time to say “No” to big business making money off our bodies. Enough of believing the propaganda that fat is the enemy. Enough of trusting that the label ‘overweight’ or even ‘obese’ obtained from an unsound BMI chart translates to ill health. As the year comes to a close and you compile your list of New Year’s resolutions, dare to do something different. Dare to listen to your body. Dare to ditch dieting. And know that you don’t have to do it alone. Across the pond, the Endangered Bodies campaign, launched by the Endangered Species International March 2011 Summit, is in full swing. The Endangered Bodies (EB) team in the UK, led by Susie Orbach, launched its Ditching Dieting campaign last month at UK Feminista’s national conference where they invited attendees to “speak out against the misery caused by the diet industry.” And you can, too.
Anyone, anywhere can hold a SpeakOut in the name of Ditching Dieting. You can organize a few friends around your kitchen table or you might fill an auditorium. The point is to create a safe space where the suffering caused by dieting can be expressed and validated. A SpeakOut and the subsequent support group that can emerge from it offer similar peer support that diet clubs such as Weight Watchers provide; however, instead of focusing on working against your body’s natural impulses, a SpeakOut club facilitates strong bonds as you explore collaboratively with other members how to truly take care of yourself. In the words of the UK EB team:
“In general, the aim is to become really aware of where dieting puts you, and to start making important choices about how much you want to play along with a game that is making you miserable… It is about taking on the challenge to accept and understand how natural it is to eat happily, in response to your hunger, and without guilt.”
Learning how to eat intuitively is a process that takes time, especially if you’ve historically relied on external factors, such as a meal plan or a point system to guide you on when and how to eat. Diets teach us to ignore our internal cues, which only contributes to eating disorders and obesity. As Susie Orbach has asked many times,
“If dieting worked, why would we need to do it more than once?”
Let’s kick off the New Year off by Ditching Dieting and move toward eating “happily ever after.”
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Whether you’re in the UK, the US, Canada, or Europe, consider hosting your own SpeakOut. For more information visit www.ditchingdieting.org and write to firstname.lastname@example.org to obtain a SpeakOut package.
Currently in the UK, a Body Image Inquiry is underway looking into the causes and consequences of body image anxiety. If you’re based in London, take the day off work on January 16, 2012 and join the UK EB team in speaking out against the diet industry at Parliament. Full event details here.
 Contrast that with the fact that the obesity “crisis” was primarily borne out of four studies. See Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2004, pages 13-20 for more details.
 Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2004, 32-33.