Eating for Fun and Health!
Dieting can be hazardous to your physical and psychological health.
In 2002 or so, the “Listen to your Body” campaign was launched.
Here is the gist:
“Eat what you want, when you are truly hungry. Stop when you are full. And eat exactly what appeals to you. Do this instead of any diet, and you are unlikely to ever have a weight problem, let alone an eating disorder”
The campaign is all about listening to your body and being aware of your internal experience – aware of both the dialogue inside your mind and of the sensations inside your body.
My approach to helping people improve their relationship with food and with their body is based on these ideas.
For starters, consider this paradox: More than one half of Americans are overweight, and rates of obesity continue to climb among men and women in our culture. In fact, overweight and obesity are at an all time high in the United States. This is happening at the very same time as unprecedented high rates of dieting. Simultaneously, the prevalence of eating disorders continues to rise.
If so many people are fat, should they diet?
No way! Dieting often ends up increasing one’s waistline due to the tendency for the body AND mind to compensate for restriction by overeating. How long each of us can ‘white knuckle’ it varies. In every case, though, the body’s needs eventually prevail. In addition, taken too far, dieting can lead to an eating disorder. In fact, dieting is a major risk factor for developing an eating disorder. Dieting is also a common cause of feelings of failure, disappointment, and inadequacy. Further, dieting is often associated with metabolic changes that can make weight loss or its maintenance difficult. There are common psychological effects of dieting that can include irritability, depression, fatigue, worsening self-image, and impaired concentration.
How ironic that Americans spend more than $40 billion (according to a 2010 Business Week article) annually on weight loss products, yet as a country we are becoming fatter. The weight loss industry has the highest rate of consumer dissatisfaction of any industry, yet its profits continue to skyrocket! What is up with that?
So, are you condoning obesity?
No. However, a lot of the increased health risks we associate with obesity may actually be a result of repeated weight cycling and dieting attempts.
Dieting is typically an ineffective way to address obesity. Significant health benefits can occur with a 10% weight loss. This is called ‘reasonable weight loss’ and is best achieved through lifestyle changes.
If not by dieting, then how do you suggest I approach weight loss?
In my opinion, the best psychological approach is to increase mindful eating and gradually increase fun activity (aka exercise). Select activities that you enjoy! Walking in one’s neighborhood, taking Zumba, or dancing in the living room are examples of how my formerly sedentary patients begin to realistically incorporate activity into their life. People who lose weight and keep it off for at least one year have learned to make slow and steady changes in their relationship with food, and to incorporate lifestyle changes into their life. Examples of the latter could include taking the stairs instead of the escalator or parking the car a greater distance from the store. Thinking of one’s evolving relationship with food, weight, and exercise as a lifestyle change, rather than as a diet, has tons of advantages.