We’ve become so used to those around us, friends, family, neighbors, and colleagues, changing the way they eat throughout the year that its been normalized. Some say that 85% of women and will attempt a diet in their lifetime, most of which will continue dieting behaviors for upwards of seventeen years!
Dieters typically make four to five attempts per year. Even Men.
It seems there’s more going on here than just an effort to eat healthier…
So, what exactly is Chronic Dieting?
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition defines Chronic Dieting Syndrome as: “going on and off of calorie restricting for over two years”, as well as being “obsessed with weight and size.” It may be a surprise that we even consider Chronic Dieting a “syndrome,” since it’s such a culturally acceptable reality. Everyone is on a diet, and if not: we eye them with suspicion…
The billion dollar diet industry coupled with the beauty standards displayed to us in our visual media fuels this obsession with having the “perfect” body. There’s always another “new” and “fast” way to lose weight every month, to get smaller, leaner, tighter. In the supermarket checkout, cover after magazine cover, touts how much weight so-and-so celebrity just lost and how they did it.
Chronic dieting is camouflaged as a path to great wellness and health. In the 90’s it was all about waifs, and “heroine chic” – and now “strong is the new skinny“… However, the reality couldn’t be further from the truth. And deep down, we probably all know this: Chronic dieting actually erodes the health and wellbeing of our bodies. Chronic dieting can contribute to physical problems such as:
- high blood pressure,
- nutrient deficiency,
- a slowed metabolism. And often leads to
- psychological problems such as anxiety and depression.
Weight cycling – that yo-yo effect of going up and down in weight due to dieting – can lead to feeling like a failure because our “ideal” weight is never reached and if we do reach it, then it is so often unmaintainable. Overall, chronic dieting is detrimental to our wellbeing. Isn’t it time to get off the dieting hamster wheel and end this chronic obsession with dieting? The biggest question on anyone’s mind then is: sure – but how? How do we trust our bodies when we step away from trying to constantly control our food intake? How do we take a step towards a positive and powerful relationship with our food, that deeply supports true health and wellbeing instead?
As with any problematic habit that we seek to move past, we must first deeply understand our attachment to the behavior. We have to be willing to do the often difficult and honest inner work that brings about change and transformation.
Will it be easy? No. Will it be worth it? Always.
Our first task is to ask ourselves what compels us to engage in this behavior – what is the true underlying outcome that we hope to achieve? And, if we actually reach our goal, what then?
We must become more aware – and this takes time and patience and work. Shifting from an attitude of loathing and suspicion to one of self-compassion and curiosity about the process is key. This will give us the clues to help us let go of this painful cycle. We may find that chronic dieting:
- Gives us the illusion of control over our food our body, and even our life as a whole.
- Gives us “high” moments of success.
- Makes us feel like we are being virtuous, by always working towards being “good” when it comes to food.
- Keep us in a familiar (yet painful) emotional loop of feeling bad about ourselves, because we failed our diet yet again.
- Keeps us connected to a hopeful (yet elusive) belief that if we just work harder and strive harder, we’ll become the “better version” of ourselves that we long for.
The concern with all of these reasons for staying attached to our diet is that none of them come from a place of centeredness, peace or power: they are all born from stress and fear. The control, the emotional roller coaster, the self-judgment, the striving, etc. It all keeps us in a chronic state of stress. Checking out any of the latest studies on the effects of cortisol in our bodies alone should make us step back and reassess what we’re really wanting and what life is really asking of us.
Chronic Dieting is a Chronic Stress State
We know about stress in the 21st century – we know it’s the root cause of so many of our debilitating illnesses: cancer, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, heart conditions, and more.
Chronic stress also deeply impacts our ability to lose weight due to the way stress locks our body into a survival response, which in turn, slows our metabolism down. Our bodies have a job to do to keep us alive the best it way it can with tools and environment it is given to adapt to.
But why choose to survive when we can thrive?
Here at the Institute for the Psychology of Eating, we understand that in order to move towards the foods that deeply nourish us – and a body we love – we need to let go of things like chronic dieting, and chronic stress in our lives.
The good news is that there are many wonderful and varied ways to reduce our stress and get reconnected to our body in a way that promotes a much healthier relationship with food.
- gentle yoga
- slowing down
- self-acceptance and compassion
- any movement that makes you genuinely happy
- connecting to life’s joys and pleasures
All of these methods:
- Relax our body – which ramps up our metabolism (our ability to lose weight) – and strengthens our immune system.
- Connect us to the sensations of our body – which supports us in listening to our full and hungry sensations. We can then learn how to regulate our food intake – from the inside out, versus the dieting approach of portion control.
- Calm and soothe our mind and emotions so that we can learn how to be truly self-compassionate. Being kind to ourselves takes us out of the painful and stressful loop of self-judgment
Turns out that nutrition and health isn’t always about food.