Have you ever looked in the mirror, disliked what you saw, and thought to yourself, “Alright, it’s time to go on a diet. If I shed just a few pounds, I’ll feel so much better about myself.”
But since I’ve taken the steps to heal my relationship with food and I’ve stopped dieting, my mind no longer turns to dieting as a solution to the negative self-talk.
When you’re feeling bad about yourself, it’s so easy to pile on the diet rules. Maybe it makes you feel like you have more control, like you’re actually doing something to fix your negative self-image. You may think, “What’s the harm if I skip this meal or stop eating that food group?”
Unfortunately, dieting doesn’t do much to solve the problem at the root of your negative body image, and it actually does more harm than good in the long run.
3 Reasons to Stop Dieting – And What to Do Instead
I wish I’d known the truth about dieting before I started trying to manipulate my weight. Most of all, I wish I’d known what it would ultimately do to the way I viewed myself. If I had, I would’ve stayed far away from diet culture and its empty promises.
Here are three reasons to stop dieting along with an idea about what to do instead.
Diets don’t work
I used to come across statements like that one – diets don’t work – and think of them as a challenge. I thought, “Well those people just didn’t try hard enough. It’ll be different for me.”
Here’s the truth, my friend – at least two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years, and researchers have said the true number may be significantly higher.
This isn’t about willpower or self-control. Dieting goes against our biology. We’re programmed to fail at them.
Most of us can relate to the constant feeling of deprivation that’s characteristic of diets. As soon as you tell yourself you can’t have that certain food group, or you can only eat X amount of calories, our minds start rebelling. Suddenly, all we can think about is that forbidden food or that meal we cut out.
Self-control is important, and we should practice it. We all experience moments when we want to say or do something we know we shouldn’t. But dieting is like turning up the dial on those temptations from “Every So Often” to “All The Dang Time.”
It’s also not about self-control – it’s about allowing a person, plan, or program to control what you eat. Rebelling against these rules is actually a healthy way to regain your sense of autonomy and protect your boundaries. It’s no wonder diets fail us so frequently.
Yo-yo dieting is worse for you than being overweight
Here’s a little-known fact the diet industry has been successfully keeping under wraps: studies have shown that frequent fluctuations in weight are more dangerous for your health than being overweight.
This isn’t to say that weighing significantly more than your body’s set point weight is without consequence. But why are we so much more afraid of gaining weight than we are of the negative consequences of dieting?
It’s easy to convince ourselves that we want to lose weight “to be healthier,” and for some people, this may be the truth. But if we’re genuinely concerned for our health, we should be wary of dieting. The yo-yo it sets in motion is oftentimes more formidable than the weight we so desperately want to get rid of.
Dieting breeds eating disorders
The National Eating Disorders Collaboration lists the following behaviors as disordered eating:
- Fasting or chronic restrained eating
- Skipping meals
- Binge eating
- Self-induced vomiting
- Restrictive dieting
- Unbalanced eating (e.g. restricting a major food group such as ‘fatty’ foods or carbohydrates)
- Laxative, diuretic, enema misuse
- Steroid and creatine use – supplements designed to enhance athletic performance and alter physical appearance
- Using diet pills
Some of these behaviors, especially “unbalanced eating,” are highly characteristic of normal diets. You can probably call to mind lots of people you know who would check off at least a few things on this list.
So, why is dieting dangerous?
When your body is starved of food, it responds by reducing your metabolism, or the rate at which it burns energy. It’s very common for people in this deprived state to engage in overeating and binge eating.
As any seasoned dieter knows, this restarts the whole cycle over again – you feel shame about the binge, so you restrict your calories even further. Then your body, in its deprived state, takes over and eats everything in sight again. This repeats over and over while you beat yourself up about your “lack of discipline” and become increasingly frustrated with yourself.
In reality, your body is only doing what it needs to survive! In those moments when you have the urge to binge, your rational mind is not in control, and your instincts have taken over.
That’s why people who binge eat report feeling out of control during their binges – because they are.
How can you take control back? By putting an end to the cycle and committing to stop dieting.
Take another look at that list up there. Unfortunately, these behaviors have become normalized in our diet culture, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Every person who commits to stop dieting does a small but significant part in putting an end to the normalization of disordered eating. It starts with you!
What to do instead?
So, if weight loss is your goal, what are you supposed to do?
While I’m someone who advocates for the acceptance of all people, regardless of their size, I also recognize the very real health risks associated with being overweight.
Regardless of your size or weight, I think the first priority when it comes to your body should be learning to appreciate and accept it. This doesn’t mean giving up on your health! On the contrary, it means prioritizing the total health of your mind, body, and spirit. If your body is your primary focus, you’re guaranteed to end up unfulfilled and unhappy.
Weight loss goals and the way we pursue them don’t have to take center stage.
Instead of focusing on your weight, I propose prioritizing the health and healing of everything that makes you you. Long-term happiness doesn’t come from reaching your goal weight. It comes from living an intentional, integrated, meaningful life centered on what matters most.