Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.
Danielle Basye, RD, LD
As we close down 2018 and welcome 2019 with open arms we also will again be surrounded in loud attempts for recruitment into diet culture as a method of self-improvement. For those people who are struggling with weight/size acceptance, body image, and food it can be hard to quiet the noise of weight loss and dieting. Gym memberships are going on special, the new and improved juice detox is advertised to rid the body of holiday toxins, weight loss competitions begin, and there is a push to get “bikini read”. Let’s stop the insanity! In order to wear a bikini– all you need is a body, ANY body! It’s become the social norm to make changes to one’s diet and body in efforts to make up for or undo all the things we weren’t happy about in the year before. A new year symbolizes a fresh beginning and the pressure for a smaller waistline. With a 95% failure rate for sustainable weight loss through dieting, it’s no wonder that we’ve been taught that each year we can start again, until one day we get it right. Here are some dieting myths debunked to put into your toolkit to resist dieting cultural norms.
Myth #1:Thinness=Health: Weight loss and dieting is often sold as a way to increase health. There is a misconception that weight loss will automatically lead to an increase in health and overall wellbeing. There is research that shows that initial weight loss can improve health risk factors short term, however, there is no long-term research that suggests health improvement and sustained weight loss and lifestyle patterns. Increasing health promoting habits can be done without pursuit of weight loss. Take some time and think about what parts of health you do value most and what parts you could focus on more. Keep in mind that health expands much further than nutrition and physical health. Health includes spiritual health, financial health, mental health, and social health. All aspects of health influence the way our bodies and mind function. When focusing on only physical health other areas of health are compromised such as spiritual or social health. For a great video watch this video by Jessica Setnick, MS, RD, CEDRD-S, “What is Health?”.
Myth #2: Eat less, weigh less: Our bodies are so smart, and like it or not there is no fooling biology. The human body is designed to naturally defend against weight loss at all costs in order to survive. Weight loss and energy deprivation are a threat to the body as it interprets this as a famine. Little does your body know there is a cupboard full of untouched groceries.. With each diet or deprivation, the body learns behaviors and patterns to better adapt for the next time there is a restriction of food. One adaptation that can occur is the increase the production of the stress hormone cortisol and insulin. This sends signals to the body to slow down metabolism and store fat due to energy deficit. Deprivation and dieting also can lead to increased urges in bingeing behaviors. Biology takes over in an overly hungry state and it’s hard to listen to internal cues. Chronic yo-yo dieting with cycles of weight loss and gain is a predictor of overall weight gain. As the metabolism slows the body attempts to resist weight loss. With each diet, the rate of weight loss will slow.
Myth #3: Weighing less will prolong life expectancy: As Linda Bacon, PhD writes in her book “Health at Every Size” no one has proved that losing weight will prolong life expectancy. There is however evidence that suggests that lifestyle changes independent of weight loss can correlate to improved life expectancy. So focusing on overall wellbeing and all aspects of health instead of weight loss will have you living a full life expectancy.
Myth #4: Avoiding carbohydrates is necessary to maintain weight: This myth is broadcasted everywhere. Carbohydrate is the macro-nutrient on the chopping block, much like fat was in the 80’s. Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy and keep our brain functioning at full capacity. I can’t wait to live in a world where bread will be legalized! Contrary to what is taught to us from a young age forbidding or actively avoiding certain foods only increases our desires for these foods. Having a wide variety of foods and allowing yourself to honor cravings, will put all foods on morally equal playing ground.
Myth #5: BMI determines health: Often times, health status is determined by the Body Mass Index (BMI). BMI is the ratio of our weight and height. BMI was created in the 1800’s by a statistician for a research study, it later became popular in the 1950-1970’s. It was never intended to be used as a diagnostic tool. BMI doesn’t look at lifestyle, bone structure, genetics, physical mobility, or muscle mass. It’s a readily available equation, which makes it convenient for anyone to use. We’ve been taught by schools, medical professionals, friends, and many others that in order to be healthy we must fall within this small range. In an article review done by the Journal of Obesity in 2014, the group with the highest life expectancy would be considered “overweight” in the BMI scale. Health comes in all shapes, sizes, and BMIs.
With the myths debunked, here is a list of some strategies to support body/size acceptance along your own personal journey of health and well-being:
- Clean out your social media, let go of all media that idealizes certain body types and promotes weight loss.
- Add body positive pages to your social media. Find an online tribe that supports self- love and body/weight acceptance. Some positive accounts include: Mary’s Cup of Tea, NEDA, Christy Harrison, Taryn Brumfitt, Tess Holiday, and Aerie clothing brand. These are just a few people who can lead you to many more positive and influential social media accounts.
- Change self talk. Use affirmations, intentions, mantras, and gratitude lists. Surround yourself in the affirmations or mantras that are important to you. Create collages, vision boards, or write yourself a little love on a sticky note.
EX) Gratitude: I am grateful for my hands and the art they allow me to create
EX) Mantra: I am enough, I am worthy of happiness
- Respect your body: Find movement that nourishes your body and soul. Try new activities like racquetball, water zumba, taking a walk with a loved one, or maybe even laughing yoga. Give your body days of rest and tune in to internal cues as a guide in picking what movement or non-movement activities are right for you.
- Non appearance based compliments. Compliment yourself and others on something other than weight loss, appearance, or body shape/size.
EX) You are such a good friend
EX) I love coming over to your house because you are such a great host
EX) You have such a great sense of humor
EX) I admire how hard you work
As you start this New Year, remain curious about health and nutrition claims/statements you see in the news social media, or in health magazines. Embrace your individual and unique health and celebrate all the things that truly make you who you are.
Cheers to the New Year and everything that makes you uniquely you!
Tylka, T. L., Annunziato, R. A., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, E., Davis, C., & Calogero, R. M. (2014). The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity, 2014, 1-18. doi:10.1155/2014/983495