Ditch the Diet in 2013

Editor’s Note: With 2013 fast approaching, it’s resolution time again… with weight loss topping the list for many people. The diet industry doesn’t miss a beat by promoting “new-and-improved” programs to drop those “extra” pounds as each New Year rolls around (don’t even get me started about Weight Watcher’s latest gimmick “Lose Like A Man” program!). This begs the question: if diet-industry giants like Weight Watchers and Slim Fast (which often rely on fat-shaming strategies) were truly effective, why the need for fresh approaches? What these money-making machines don’t tell folks is that the majority of people who lose weight only end up gaining it back—and then some—within four to five years, thus locking people into the miserable lose-and-gain cycle … and of course, creating loyal life-long customers.

In the spirit of transparency and our desire to promote emotional and physical health among our readers, we are re-sharing this post from December 27, 2011, which provides plenty of research-based facts that deconstruct the myths and deception surrounding dieting and weight loss. Let’s start 2013 on the right foot and join us in ditching the diet. ~Sharon

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 Slim Fast 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[1] 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[2]—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.[3] 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.[4] 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[5] 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[6], 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.”

* * *

Whether you’re in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia or Europe, consider hosting your own SpeakOut. For more information visit www.ditchingdieting.org and write to info@endangeredbodies.org to obtain a SpeakOut package.

To read an updated version of this post in Spanish, please visit AnyBody Argentina’s blog here. 

[1] Gina Kolata, Rethinking Thin, New York: Picador, 2007, 188.

[2] 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.

[3] Linda Bacon, Health at Every Size, Dallas: BenBella Books, Inc., 2008, 138-139.

[4] Paul Campos, The Obesity Myth, New York: Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 2004, 32-33.

8 thoughts on “Ditch the Diet in 2013

  1. I’ve only maintained about 3 years, and don’t really do the dieting/will power thing. Similar to Sandra, I adjusted my lifestyle to be more healthy and sustaining. Never been a meat person, but I cut back (not cut out) processed carbs, ate more veg and beans and grains, more good fats (seems to make a huge difference – low-fat wasn’t my thing). I would still like (for vanity reasons) to lose 20 more, but it is very easy for me to maintain here, though I have to keep the scale as my good friend to make sure my weight doesn’t creep up, as it tends to do if I don’t actively prevent it. Sure, I eat less than I might want to, at times, and can’t eat drunk midnight meals, cake every day, or lots of snacky foods, but I do eat a daily cookie. Where I used to eat out or takeaway 2-3 times a day, now it’s 2-3 times a week. I rarely drive, bike/walk most places, and love the gym time I manage to squeeze in. It’s a way different lifestyle than when I was 50+ lb heavier, but not extreme.

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  3. I’m not going to lie, I lost weight and kept it off for nearly two years, got married, gained about half what I lost back and am now on the way to losing it again. I… was only able to do it because

    a) I acknowledged the fact that, with my build, I was never going to meet my BMI. At my lowest “happy” weight (the weight where I’m happy with both my calorie limits and the way my clothes fit) I was still about five pounds above the BMI for my height. But I had *muscle*

    b) I made it an entire lifestyle. I stopped asking my friends out for meals and started asking them out for walks in the park. I stopped going to bars and started going bowling. I’d make about six cups of salad a day and make sure I had consumed it all within that day. The salad actually, is probably why it worked so well. If I didn’t finish my salad, I couldn’t go out for dinner. If dinner came and I hadn’t eaten the salad, guess what was for dinner?

    c) I started going to fruit first for my chronic sweet tooth.

    d) I forgave myself. At least once a day I’d eat a “No.” food: chips, ice cream, candy bar… But I’d forgive myself while I ate it and remind myself that I could have it again anytime I wanted. The second I’d tell myself, “You can have this tomorrow, the day after, the day after, heck, you can have it three times a day for a week.” I wouldn’t want it as badly. I went from eating a pint of ice cream in one meal to have a few bites and realizing that I was done.

    Then I got married and ate badly. But I’m back and I’ve already lost three pounds just by restocking my fruit.

  4. Hi Sandra,

    I have to say that you are the first person I have heard from who has kept the weight off in the long-term; consider yourself in the minority. Regarding the BMI, the truth is many doctors still adhere to the faulty BMI, thus making the weight loss goal based on the same. Although WW uses a different tracking system, there are many weight-loss plans that rely on calorie counting; note that this post speaks not only of WW, but the diet industry as a whole. In lieu of relying on external factors to guide your eating choices, we support intuitive eating as a natural means toward health. When we can get to the point where we recognize our body’s signals and rely on its inherent wisdom, we don’t need to track our intake and choices using external cues.

    From the many dieters I have spoken to who have joined slimming clubs, they often bounce from one system to another. When their first attempt failed with XX company, they tried a different approach in hopes of getting a different result and so on and so on, which just means more money out of pocket.

    “Fact 4: Losing weight and eating healthy will improve your health.” You are right: eating healthy will improve your health. Regarding the former however, many studies have shown that losing weight is not a key indicator for health. What they have found is that it is one’s activity level, not a number on the scale, which is the greatest predictor for long life. (See Paul Campos’ The Obesity Myth, pages 34-38 for the specific studies.) And yes, other studies do show that you can be skinny and unhealthy … just as you can be obese and unhealthy. Good health doesn’t relate to one’s weight; rather one’s activity level and nutrition habits are what really matter. The many people who are obese and lead active lives can attest to this fact. While it is true that obese people are at higher risk for increased joint strain, the other conditions you cite have been attributed to yo-yo dieting and the strain the body endures from it.

  5. I have dieted and successfully lost weight and kept it off for five years. Dieting doesn’t have to mean tracking calories and being constantly hungry. Dieting can mean embracing a healthy lifestyle, weaning yourself off of sugar and cutting out crap processed fast food to feel better and live a longer healthier life. I did this on my own with a simple rule: Shop around the outside of the grocery store, and eat less meat and more vegetables.
    Your facts about Weight Watchers are also poorly researched. I have friends that have had a lot of success with Weight Watchers, so let me set you straight on a few facts.:
    Fact 1: You don’t have to meet a goal based on your BMI, you can meet a healthy weight loss goal as set by your Dr.
    Fact 2: It is not calorie based, you don’t have to be hungry, if you eat the right foods (healthy foods) you won’t be hungry, if you binge on junk you will be hungry because bad foods (unhealthy foods) cost more points.
    Fact 3: Once you meet your goal weight you are a life long member and no longer have to pay to participate in the program. I have no affiliation with Weight Watchers.
    Fact 4: Losing weight and eating healthy will improve your health.
    I’m not saying that ‘fat shaming’ is good, but neither is telling people that it is okay to be obese. Being obese and eating unhealthy foods makes it more difficult to participate in cardiovascular exercise and puts you at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes, puts increased strain on your joints from supporting the excess weight, just to name a few problems. I also understand that you can be skinny and unhealthy based on what you eat as well.

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