Fifty percent of adult women and 90% of teenage girls will be on a diet this year. In our crazy, body-obsessed diet culture, these dieters hope to control the size and shape of their bodies by controling their food intake.
'Being on a diet' was a relatively new concept in the 1970s, and dieting has mushroomed out of control in the last 50 or so years. It started with the Grapefruit Diet and Weight Watchers. Then along came The Scarsdale Diet, Jenny Craig, the low-fat food craze. We then had the Zone Diet, the Southbeach Diet, The Biggest Loser DIet and TV show, the gluten-free craze, and The Paleo Diet. All of these diets made food-restricting seem like 'normal' behavior.
Fast forward to today, and everyone is on some kind of eating regime. As a culture, we obsess about everything we put in our mouths. We see news articles and Today Show segments where scientists and nutritionists target entire food types like sugar and gluten. We have microscopes obsessively focused on each molecule of our food, hoping to find some new scientific information to start the next, new diet craze. And, by the way, diet crazes are big business in the United States. Last year the 'diet and fitness industry' was said to have earned $60 billion dollars, according to Food-u-cate.com.
DIets don't work
One thing we know for sure, there are lots and lots of ways to get weight off your body. And we've tried them all! The British Daily Mail reported that the average woman goes on 61 diets in her lifetime by age 45.
But, these diets don't KEEP the weight off your body. As of 20 years ago, we had the data: diets actually don’t work in the long run. 95% of diets fail. You may lose weight in the very short term, but 95% of people regain the lost weight -- usually plus more in the next few years. We unfortunately all know this from our own experience. Yet, we are still hopefully waiting for the "one and done" magic diet to appear, despite the fact we may have been dieting off and on for 35-50 years.
Diets fail because they are often based around one scientific aspect, like 'calories in, calories out' -- which works really well when burning food as fuel in a petrie dish. But the human body is not a lab. Diet breakthroughs cannot account for individual human variables, like a person’s individual metabolism and individual caloric expenditure. There are other factors at play; a recent article focused on a genetic propensity to actually use the calories in food. This article discussed the theory that your specific gut bacteria may affect how you process the food you ingest.
Diets don't work because they don't take YOU into account with their "one size fits all" mentality. They fail to take into consideration YOUR metabolism, YOUR genes, YOUR daily expenditure, YOUR tastes, YOUR lifestyle, YOUR psychological makeup, and YOUR eating history.
It actually seems we may be at the beginning of a new, "post-diet" era, with the National Eating Disorder Association listing dieting as "risk factor" for developing an eating disorder.
"I never diet" and more fake "health" news
Dieting isn’t just officially becoming a Weight Watchers member like Oprah. Dieting is locking yourself in any kind of food restricting paradigm that makes you feel deprived because you cannot eat the foods you really want. Dieting is also restricting yourself to foods you have judged as 'good' in a moral universe created by your own personal paradigm. This is where you end up feeling guilty when you have eaten a food you have judged as 'forbidden.'
Many women swear they are 'not on a diet,' but live locked into a very specific allowance of calories, points, or carbs. Or they have outlawed entire food categories such as gluten, or labeled specific foods such as sugar 'good' or 'bad.' Many women do this in the name of health or altruism. Many women who suffer from anorexia start off restricting food with an intention of 'going vegan,' but the restriction of food becomes an obsession that takes over their lives as they start to get attached to the results that the diet has on their body.
Don't let the word 'health' or lack of the word 'diet' fool you. A 'cleanse' is simply 2017's diet spelled with a 'health' spin. The diets that 'work' -- have you lose weight -- by putting your body in 'starvation mode' are anything but healthy for you.
Women who restrict their food often ignore their mental health by walking through their day telling themselves that they are fine with eating this way. But, 95% of dieters are not as fine as they think under the surface. Once in touch with their emotions, they realize that they are really feeling very deprived by forbidding the food they really want, and feeling very guilty when they eat food that is forbidden on the 'diet/cleanse/restriction/food prison.'
Our desire for delicious food is innate; our taste buds were designed to keep food appealing, reminding us humans we need to eat to live. Making food attractive -- more attractive when hungry or super attractive when starving -- serves to preserve the species.
Forbidding innate desires, like a dieter does when she refuses to eat bread or dessert, can makes the desire go underground and come out in strange ways such as the binging behavior many women find familiar.
Dieters' emotions take an ugly, obsessive twist and flood their logical eating intentions
Popular diets and most nutritionists either ignore or grossly underplay the emotions set off by food restricting. This is not the garden-variety emotional eating that we’ve heard about. These are emotions triggered by dieting or living in a restricted, food prison. I think this is at the heart of why almost all diets fail.
This society in general, and women specifically, have become too emotionally attached to our bodies being shaped a certain way. And because of that, there is a fear triggered in women of not conforming to our diet culture's ideal represented in the media. It is a fear of gaining weight. Once a woman’s emotions are triggered by fear, the game changes. Eating is no longer driven by logic; we are functioning from a very anxious, emotional place. Any logical food intention will be easily overwhelmed, flooded by these emotions that will always dictate behavior.
Look at how this could happen in a woman’s life. The problem starts out innocently enough. A woman wants to lose a few pounds and starts restricting what she eats. She goes on a diet or decides to banish sugar or flour from her life. She loses weight. She becomes attached to the good feelings and pride of losing weight or being thin that our diet culture values so much. Some one probably mentions to her that she looks great. And, she sees the number go down on the scale. All is well with the world.
Life is fine until eventually she is unable to eat perfectly, probably due to feeling deprived on the plan that had her lose the weight. Then her emotions take an ugly, obsessive twist. She starts to feel guilty when she doesn’t eat according to the strict plan she holds for herself. Then she starts tofear gaining weight. Then she starts to feel angry with herself when she cannot control her eating behavior. Then she becomes ashamed that the people who noticed she lost weight might notice that she’s gained some back. She could become ashamedof her body at the higher weight, even if it is only a couple pounds. She judges herself by this number she was able to get to on the diet – her ideal weight -- and begins to fear the judgment of others.
Emotional side 'takes the wheel'
This anxious, emotional spiral could be happening each and every time she diets or restricts her food. If the average woman spends 31 years of her life dieting, this emotional spiral is happening quite a bit. The emotional restricting cycle I’ve just described could be an emotional storm, or tornado, or tsunami depending on the particular woman's emotional make-up and her particular investment in her weight being a very specific number.
I like this tornado image to show the emotional storm, tornado, or tsunami, because of how it builds as a woman's emotions spiral out of control, taking on an ugly, obsessive twist that flood her logical eating intentions:
Fear – of gaining weight
Deprivation – can’t eat what you want, watching friends, family eating
Guilt – over falling off the food restriction wagon
Anger – at yourself for gaining weight or eating "bad" foods
Fear – of being judged by others
Shame – eating behavior, how body looks, and what we weigh
Fear -- of food itself
We judge ourselves:
- I SHOULD be able to eat perfectly,
- I SHOULD weight 115 lbs (substitute the number stuck in your head here),
- I SHOULD wear size 2 (substitute the size stuck in your head here)
When this emotional tornado of FEAR, DEPRIVATION, GUILT, ANGER, SHAME and JUDGMENT, attaches to your eating, your relationship with food becomes complicated and much more intense. Your anxious, emotional side has officially 'grabbed the wheel and is driving the bus!' Logic has left the vehicle. There is no way you can listen to your logical eating intentions from this emotional place, especially if you have any other stress in your life -- and we all have stress in our lives.
Diets don’t fail 95% of the time because the science doesn’t work. The science works in that petrie dish, but that science isn't factoring YOU into the equation. Diets fail 95% of the time because most of all, they don’t factor in YOUR emotional reaction - the emotional tsunami – that gets triggered in human beings when they fear gaining weight, feel deprived on a diet, and start to feel guilty when eating forbidden foods.
- Harriet Brown, Body of Truth: How Science, History, and Culture Drive Our Obsession with Weight--and What We Can Do about It, 2015.
- Fooducate, Diet Industry statistics, click here.
- Leah Kelm,"They Starved So That Others Be Better Fed: Remembering Ancel Keys and the Minnesota Experiment," The Nutrition Journal, 2005.
- Jonathan Lear, Freud, Chapter Two: Sex, Eros and Life, 2015 ( 2nd edition).
- Traci Mann, Secrets from the Eating Lab, 2015.
- Traci Mann, "Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer," American Psychologist, 2008.
"Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results." --Albert Einstein