The debate as to whether dieting ˊactually worksˊ has been going on for about forty years. Ironically, around the time our access to massively caloric food surged exponentially, we started trashing weight losing diets as being ˊunhealthyˊ, a precursor to eating disorders, and even as the sole culprit in the obesity pandemic.
So: Is it dieting too much or eating too much that is making us collectively fatter?
The argument is that dieting will lead to subsequent binge eating – and this has become one of single most ˊconvincingˊ arguments many people use to avoid the issue of becoming more responsible with the way they eat.
If anything, the ˊanti-dieting fervorˊ of the public health community has been more confusing than helpful. With obesity rates hitting 36% in America, and with 68% of the population being overweight, the argument that dieting is making us fatter becomes even more ridiculous. Except that shockingly sad is probably the way I’d describe millions of people desperate for some decent advice for losing weight – as opposed to ridiculous, for instance.
For this reason, I am deeply challenged by health movements that claim you should ˊaccept yourselfˊ, or that if you feel upset by being overweight you simply have ˊbody dysmorphiaˊ. I see the latter as one of the cruelest juxtapositions of misinformation on the weight loss market. After hydroxicut and weight loss earrings, that is.
The take home message from many conversations I have had with a random human population (mean age ranging between tweens to geriatrics) is that we humans have a pretty impoverished sense of charity when it comes to people who are overweight. Now imagine if you are questioning whether you are fat enough to finally get going on a diet plan -I dont exclude myself here! I too go on diets!- and a health professional explains that all of those withering appraisals you have experienced from your fellow comrades of the human race are imagined. That, baiscally, you have body image issues !
Moreover, imagine this is followed with a long discourse about the fact that you will never lose weight, that you are somehow destined to be a certain size, forgo any kind of calorie cutting, and just accept the fact that the human race can be a pretty nasty bunch. Are we supposed to accept that the terrifying consequences of developing obesity (diabetes, reduced fertility, certain forms of cancer) are part and parcel of living?
Feeling empowered yet?
Recently, the degree of the dieting controversy grabbed the attention of the publishers at Nature. In an excellent review article, Jane Wardle and colleagues at the University College London stressed that self control is, indeed, beneficial and effective for weight management (Johnson, Pratt, & Wardle, 2011).
In other words:
- A sustained effort to monitor and control food intake characterizes successful long-term weight maintenance,
- Self-regulation in the eating domain is essential for those with a tendency to gain weight.
- Evidence from the literature on cognitive self-regulation suggests that there may be potential for people to learn to self-regulate better, both through training and controlled exposure techniques.
One caveat: if you are willing to adopt a new change to your eating behavior in order to lose a significant amount of weight, you will have to accept that the weight loss lasts as long as the weight losing diets do. It is absolutely true that the body will fight against any weight loss, since itˊs unnatural (and in evoltionary terms, weight loss is in fact undesireable). But the ember of hope is that it seems that after about ten years or so, your body does readjust to its new shape, but until that time, youˊll have to be careful.
Now that we live in the kingdom of cheese-its and ding dongs, this may be tough. But I’d prefer to hear that dieting will be ˊtoughˊ as opposed to ˊfutileˊ.
Good luck with it!
P.S.: Let me know about the strategies you use to curb your cravings and dieting tips that have worked for you. I will post them sometime mid week.
Johnson, F., Pratt, M., & Wardle, J. (2011). Dietary restraint and self-regulation in eating behavior. Int J Obes (Lond).