Why Dieting Isn’t the Answer

Trigger warning: eating disorders, weight, anxiety.

I haven’t written about this topic in a while, because it hasn’t really been on my mind. I’ve worked hard to overcome my past eating difficulties, so I know this time of year is challenging for many. As the January dieting onslaught arrives, I want to share the advice I wish I’d received a long time ago.

There are many reasons you might be tempted to try the latest diet plan or cut back on food this new year:

  • You want to feel slimmer or fitter
  • You want to drop one or more clothes sizes, for the sake of seeing a smaller number on the hanger or the scale
  • You want to feel more attractive
  • You’re uncomfortable with events in your life and changing the way you look is the easiest thing to manage
  • You read about dieting trends or tips in a magazine or on social media
  • Someone told you about their new diet
  • Other people are eating less and you feel self-conscious about your intake
  • You don’t want to be “the fat friend”

Do any of these sound familiar?

Mainstream media, fitness bloggers and even well meaning friends or relatives can encourage these thoughts, emotions and competition, particularly between women. The message that many media brands and influencers promote seems to be:

Anything you can do, I can do backwards and in heels whilst living on 1200 calories a day and spending 2 hours in the gym.

It’s dull and, more importantly, dangerous.

If you’re caught in a dieting cycle or feeling pressure to restrict in the new year, here are some things to consider:

  1. You were not born thinking that your size dictates your worth. A smaller person is not inherently better – more disciplined, more appealing – than a larger one.
  2. If you are not “naturally thin” (i.e. someone who has a low BMI that allows their body to function well at that level), you will probably not be able to sustain a much lower weight or feel well when you reach that goal. Being underweight for your body type can cause many physical health issues.
  3. Foods are not good or bad. They are a combination of macro- and micro-nutrients we need to operate effectively. Eat your greens and enjoy that cake too.
  4. Brains and bodies function far better when they are well nourished. You need energy from food to move and laugh and think and work and make exciting future plans.
  5. Deliberate, gradual starvation – in the disguise of dieting – causes exhaustion and can lead to disinterest in anything but weight loss. Your relationships and goals are more important than that.
  6. If you’re having difficulties, such as anxiety, they won’t go away just because you lose weight. They will probably be magnified. Hanxiety is real.
  7. Clothes sizes are fairly arbitrary and vary between shops. If the numbers bother you, cut out the labels. Try to stop seeing one size as the ideal.
  8. You can be fit without being thin.

Over the past few years I’ve re-educated myself and grown in contentment and confidence. Those points may not be enough to convince you to appreciate yourself as you are, or to see through the messages you’ve been taught to believe. These books may also help:

I hope this serves as a brief reminder that food is a source of energy and enjoyment, and that you are worth far more than your weight. Happy new year.

If you’re struggling with disordered eating, visit the Beat and Student Minds websites for supportive resources. Speak to a friend, family member or doctor about how you’re feeling.

Be Good To Yourself Watercolour from A Colorful Life Journal

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