The only reason you submit yourself to the misery of a diet is because you believe that something good will come about if you stick with it. Right? Why else would you do it? What have you been promised in exchange?

Take a moment to think about what outcomes you’ve been promised as a result of dieting.

My guess is that the main thing you’ve been promised (provided of course that you can stick to the diet) is weight loss.

But so what? What does weight loss promise? What we’re led to believe through the culture of dieting is that by losing weight:

  • you’ll be healthier
  • you’ll move more easily
  • you’ll look better
  • you’ll get more approval and less disapproval from other people and that
  • you’ll be happier

Let’s take a closer look at these promises:

Promise #1: You’ll lose weight

The main promise of dieting is that you’ll lose weight, but is that even true??? Losing weight is possible for many people – but maintaining the weight loss is what’s hardest – so when we say dieting doesn’t work, what we mean is that it’s almost impossible to sustain the weight loss. Research on the efficacy of dieting shows that almost everyone who loses weight through dieting, regains it 1-5 years after the diet. There’s really only a very tiny percentage of people who are able to sustain weight loss through dieting (like TINY – under 10%). And up to 60% of dieters gain additional weight. This is a survival tactic of the body – to protect it from future starvation (which is how your body experiences dieting).

This is not your fault by the way, though you probably think it is – and that’s another lie that has been sold to you by the dieting industry.

OK, so we’ve looked at the main false promise of dieting – that you’ll lose weight over the long term. Now let’s look at what you’re promised weight loss will give you, because you wouldn’t put yourself through the misery of dieting if you didn’t think you stood to gain something from it.

Promise #2: You’ll be healthier

This is what is true: being in a slimmer body does not guarantee health! Thin people get diabetes, cancer, hypertension, cardiac disease, arthritis and every other disease. Being in a heavier body does not guarantee ill health. If your health is important to you, then engaging in health promoting behaviours will give you the best health outcome, regardless of what happens to your weight. Weight loss is not a behaviour; it’s an outcome. Health promoting behaviours are things like stopping to smoke, cutting back on alcohol consumption, moving your body in ways you enjoy – not ways you hate or as punishment for eating; eating a variety of foods with attunement; getting enough sleep; and reducing your stress response.

My clients sometimes say to me: ‘but I felt so healthy when I was thinner.’ There are a couple of things involved in this: The first piece is that you might ‘feel healthy’ but not be. How many people walk around with cancer and don’t know it until they start to feel ill and that’s when the disease has already progressed too far to save their lives? Too many! The second piece is that you  might ‘feel healthy’ because you’re telling yourself you’re doing all the ‘right’ things. That will make you feel more at ease, less anxious. The third piece is that while you’re dieting, you might be eating more fibre through increased intake of fruit and vegetables, and you might be moving your body more; these are health promoting behaviours, if you’re doing them while listening to your body.

Its also worth knowing that there is research that indicates that there are health risks associated with what is known as weight cycling – or yo-yo dieting. Since it’s almost impossible to sustain weight loss that was achieved through dieting, if you’re dieting, you’re likely increasing health risks as you yo-yo.

Promise #3: You’ll move more easily

If you struggle to do up your shoes, or go for a walk, then losing weight may well make your life more manageable. The trouble is that dieting is highly highly unlikely to lead to sustained weight loss. If they worked, you’d have succeeded with them by now, right? Your energy and effort would be better spent working on increasing your stamina, strength and flexibility at your current weight. This will improve your ability to move and bend.

One of my clients comes to mind here – she ditched dieting and started to work with the body she has. She was having pain walking and difficulty bending. Over time, she built up her strength and her flexibility. She’s now walking without pain, getting down on the floor with her grandson and getting back up again without a problem, without any focus on weight loss.

Promise #4: you’ll look better (with or without clothes)

‘Better’ is a value judgement.

There’s no objective standard by which ‘looking better’ is measured.

‘Better’ is measured through cultural beauty standards – which change!

What you mean when you say you’ll look better, is that you’ll fit better into the socially accepted norm of body size. But that norm is just a cultural mindset. Different cultures have different beauty standards: it isn’t an objective measure.

When you say you’ll ‘look better,’ what you’re reinforcing to yourself is the belief that as you are, you’re not good enough.

And that belief is absolutely not true.

Because your size does not determine your value.

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Promise #5: you’ll get more approval/ less disapproval from others

Unfortunately we live in a thin-obsessed culture, so I can’t tell you that this is a false promise. You probably have your own examples of the approval you’ve received for losing weight, and the disapproval you’ve encountered when you’ve regained the weight.

At the end of the day, you’re not in control of what comes out of anyone’s mouth or how they look at you. You’re only in charge of what you make it mean and how you respond to it.

That is it. It’ll help to learn how to manage your mind around other people’s judgements, and how to disentangle your self-worth from their approval or disapproval.

I think what’s also important here is that you  decide if you’re going to attempt to comply with unattainable beauty standards, or not. Think about that: how is it possible to comply with something that is unattainable? Do you want to spend your time and energy endlessly trying?

Promise #6: You’ll be happier

Here’s the thing: your happiness has NOTHING TO DO WITH YOUR WEIGHT, other than the temporary happiness that comes with other people’s or your own approval for your weight loss

I have many examples from my clients and indeed myself, of feeling happy at all different weights, and feeling unhappy at all different weights. It’s fantasy thinking, to believe that losing weight will take away all the other issues in your life. It won’t! In fact sometimes what the focus on weight does is to draw our attention away from the other things in our lives that are overwhelming and seem too difficult to resolve.

BEING THINNER WILL NOT MAKE YOU HAPPIER in and of itself. However, because you TELL YOURSELF THINGS ABOUT BEING THINNER, you end up feeling happier.

For example, you might tell yourself, that now that you’ve lost weight, it means:

  • You’re worthy of love, affection, attention, taking care of yourself
  • that you matter
  • that you’re attractive
  • that you have a right to take up space on this planet, to have a voice
  • that you’re lovable

The truth? These things are true no matter the size of your jeans or the number on the scale and if you continue to attach your value to weight loss it will yo-yo like your weight.

So, if diets are full of empty promises, what do you do next?

There is a way to make peace with yourself, your body and food, and it’s not by dieting! It’s by learning how to eat and live with attunement to the needs of your body, mind and spirit, and by learning how to separate your self-worth from your appearance.

That is where the freedom lies!

Do you want to stop struggling with food and eating?

I help my clients create a joyful and sustainable relationship with food and deal with their eating issues. Learn more about hiring me as your coach.

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