As if drilled into us by a cultural idea of "healthy" most of us believe the driving motivation for a diet is “for my health”. Giving up a diet can feel like an insult on society, as if we are letting it down by not adhering to its rules. This is especially true if we are in a body considered "not ideal". So how much is your health really the driving motivator for starting another diet?
Consider this, if your diet would improve your insulin resistance, make your knee less painful or fix (insert health concern here) but have absolutely no effect on your weight, would you be satisfied with the outcome?
If you didn't quite know how to answer this, I challenge you to think deeper about the driving forces behind dieting and the pursuit to change your body. Is how you are viewed by society influencing how you feel about your body or your idea of health?
If wanting to be accepted by society is a driving force behind your dieting cycles, that's not surprising and there is nothing wrong with you. In fact, we live in a weight obsessed culture that stigmatises larger bodies so it's no wonder that many people want to lose weight to feel more accepted by others.
Giving up dieting can be made to feel shameful, as if we are “letting ourselves go” or “not looking after our health”. This is despite the fact that you have a greater chance of developing an eating disorder, harming your mental health and gaining weight long term than you do improving your health by dieting. The harms of dieting outweigh any chance of positive health and well-being changes, so why is giving up dieting such a big deal?
The truth is, higher weight does not cause poor health. There are no studies that show this. When we see a link between higher weights and health we need to consider the bigger picture- the impact of weight stigma and weight cycling on health, nutrient restriction, increased stress and poorer mental health from dieting as well as poverty and poorer access to healthcare- all of which are shown to affect health and are more common in larger bodies. However, usually not considered in studies that link weight to health.
Despite the inadequate scientific support, dieting continues to be portrayed as a cure-all for anyone living in a body that isn't considered thin. This then places a societal pressure on many people to “go on a diet” and a sense of self-failure when the diet "doesn't work".
If you can relate to this, you have permission to stop dieting. You can improve your health and well-being without a diet and the harmful health effects dieting brings.
Write down a list of all the things you have been hoping your diet would achieve. Consider your health, the way you are viewed by family and society, physical goals, relationships, finances, anything else that deep down you have been hoping the next diet would achieve.
Consider how your past diets have helped you achieve your goals. Have you improved your physical health? Have you improved your emotional health? What effect has your dieting had on your sense of self? Will the next diet realistically help you?
How does dieting help you feel viewed by society? If you were to stop dieting, do you worry about what others think of you? Do you worry others will think you are irresponsible or unhealthy? Consider again, how has dieting improved your health.
Write down and practice speaking about this with family and friends. You don’t have to stand for comments about your health or weight no matter how well meaning. It is your body and your health, only you know what is best.
Think about other ways you can work toward these goals without a focus on weight. If you have health related goals you are discussing with your GP it can be worth asking "what would you recommend to a person in a smaller body"? Remember people of all sizes suffer these ailments.
Remember, only you can decide what is right for your body. If dieting does not feel it is improving your health, then you have every right to ditch diets and focus on what makes you feel good.
Written by Emma Townsin, Registered Dietitian and Certified Intuitive Eating Counsellor
Emma is the founder of Food Life Freedom and the host of the Food & Life Freedom Podcast. For personalised support to stop stressing over health and heal your relationship with food and your body, learn how you can fast track your way food and life freedom.