The Argument Against Dieting

Every Day Should Be ‘No Diet Day’                    

This was the latest column in the Fredericksburg Free Lance-Star

You may not have been aware, but May 6thwas No Diet Day. Or if you were, you may have wondered what it was all about.

That Enforced Diet Won't Work

Aren’t doctors and others always fussing about the obesity epidemic? Surely the solution is not “no diet” but to diet all the more?

No way, says dietitian Faye Krause MS, MEd, RDN, owner of Energized Intentions in Fredericksburg and a Licensed Facilitator of the Am I Hungry?Mindful Eating Program.

An accomplished lady who has taught earth science, been a personal trainer and is now studying integrative medicine, she explained to me how I, and pretty much all the rest of the medical profession, has it wrong. Not to mention the massively profitable diet industry. 

Destructive Diets

No Diet Day was the concept of British feminist Mary Evans Young who was anorexic. But there are many players and much information supporting the idea that diets just don’t work – or worse, they do a lot of harm.

A good example were the contestants in “Biggest Loser” Faye Krause told me. They lost an average of 129 pounds, but were unable to keep it off. After 6 years, they had gained back on average 70 percent – and many gained back more than they lost. 

A sinister effect of dieting is that it resets your body weight “set point” and when you lose weight, your body reverts to its stone-age metabolic adaptation that you are starving and lowers your metabolic rate.

Biggest loser contestants were found to have dropped their resting metabolic rate by 500 calories. This seems to explain the yo-yo diet phenomenon, and the research that shows girls who diet at an early age are three times more likely to finish up obese or with an eating disorder (and reports are that 80 percent of 10- year -old girls have been on a diet already).

Not So Deadly And A New Approach

Overweight people are shamed and told they need to go on a diet for health reasons. But this isn’t warranted Faye told me - citing the work of neuroscientist and author Sandra Aamodt, in an article in the New York Times and a TED talk she gave, “our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly, is mistaken” Aamodt asserts.

The reality is being unfit, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all stronger predictors of early death – being unfit for example is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the United States, while obesity accounts for only 2 to 3 percent.

A far healthier approach is to become mindful about our eating – which is what she teaches in the 8-week Am I Hungry?Mindful Eating Program – a program created by family physician Michelle May MD, who became obese when her parents were having marital problems, making her realize there are many triggers to eating other than hunger.

You will “Relearn your natural ability to eat just the right amount of food” notes May in the forward of her book Eat What You Love. Love What You Eat.

“This is a program to change your relationship with food” Faye Krause told me, and includes teaching people to ask themselves where they are on the Hunger and Fullness Scale, between a 1 (ravenous) and 10 (bloated) before eating. The course also includes going to a restaurant to simulate real life challenges. 

Food and eating are affected by emotion and many other factors, so learning to understand what prompts us to eat, and the choices we make, is vital. “We need to listen to our bodies and not just eat according to the rules of some diet plan.” 

 There’s too much emphasis on weight and measurements she says – criticizing we doctors for insisting on patients being weighed every time they come to the office.

Quick Fix That Doesn’t Work

The diet industry – for whom she worked temporarily when first out of college – “is selling us a quick fix,” but one that doesn’t work in the long term, she says. In private, the diet industry has acknowledged this in a memo to the industry in 2003, stating that 231 million Europeans attempted some kind of diet, but “only 1 percent will achieve permanent weight loss.”

Instead be mindful. Don’t eat in the car or in front of the TV – be like the French or the Italians and revere food. We need to ditch the bathroom scale, says Krause, and not eat - or exercise (she includes instruction on mindful exercise) – determined by some set weight or calorie criteria. 

The admonition to be mindful seems to pervade our every activity these days. But if diets don’t work, and are actually making us gain weight in the long run, lets eat mindfully and make every day No Diet Day.

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