January, a.k.a. resolution season, is fast approaching. Diet culture and pressures to pursue weight loss are especially strong this time of year. Before you sign up for another restrictive eating plan, take a moment to learn why this registered dietitian thinks you should ditch dieting all together.
In our wellness-obsessed culture, there is a lot of misinformation surrounding health and wellness. I reached out to an expert to better understand why diets fail and how to honor your body instead of obsessing over how to change it. Kathleen Meehan, MS RDN LDN is a non-diet dietitian with a bachelors and masters degree in nutritional science. She embraces the principles of intuitive eating, an evidence-based mind-body approach, and Health At Every Size® (HAES), the idea that health varies with time and circumstance for every individual. As a self-proclaimed “cool dietitian,” Kathleen is passionate about helping people cultivate nurturing habits and behaviors while eating in a satisfying way.
Every year, new year’s resolution season reinforces the false and dangerous concept that we’re not good enough as we are. The $60 billion diet industry hits us with an onslaught of propaganda and endless articles about dieting and weight loss resolutions. This is diet culture in disguise. Meehan defines diet culture as “the belief that thinness is better, and the not so subtle suggestion that we should all be striving to meet that ideal.” It equates worth with thinness and the pursuit of health or ‘perfect’ eating, says Meehan.
Why Diets Don’t Work
In the first few weeks of a diet, most people will lose weight. But it isn’t sustainable and generally doesn’t yield long-term results. Meehan explains how your body resists weight loss, “Our bodies view dieting as a form of starvation. As a survival mechanism, our metabolism slows and hormones that regulate appetite and satisfaction change.”
“Diets increase the chance of binge eating or feeling out of control around food.
While dieting doesn’t actually lead to long-term weight loss, it’s also harmful and ultimately damaging to your health. “Diets increase the chance of binge eating or feeling out of control around food,” says Meehan. “They often lead to weight fluctuations, and we have research that shows that weight fluctuation is associated with a higher risk of death.” She adds, “We also know that dieting, independent of a person’s genetics, can predict weight gain over time.”
Food Has No Morality
While it’s true that some foods are more nutritious than others, food doesn’t have any sort of moral implication. Dieting tends to reinforce the idea that some foods are ‘good’ and others are ‘bad.’ Meehan shares, “it disconnects people from their bodies, as well as their internal physiological cues that regulate hunger and satiety.” Plus, these food labels lead to guilt and shame, which can take a toll on your mental health.
Weight ≠ Health
Contrary to popular belief, people can be healthy or unhealthy at almost any body weight. Meehan shares, “Health is complex and considering size as a proxy for health is an incomplete assessment.” There’s research to show that being in a smaller body does not always indicate better health, and determining health based on BMI can wrongly misclassify people in larger bodies as unhealthy, says Meehan.
If you want to get healthy, be healthy, and stay healthy, then focusing on health-promoting behaviors is far more important than worrying about weight. Meehan recommends, “normalizing your relationship to food, sleeping well, managing stress, and finding movement you enjoy.” Intuitive eating, the approach Meehan takes with her clients, honors health by listening to internal wisdom and cues, without allowing external influence to disconnect a person from their body’s experience. “It helps a person rely on their own expertise to eat in a satisfying way”, she shares.
Intuitive eating honors health by listening to internal wisdom and cues, without allowing external influence to disconnect a person from their body’s experience.
Meehan still helps her clients find structure and recognizes that some diets are necessary for chronic conditions. However, as she’s learned more about the futility of dieting, the harms of weight cycling, and the psychological impact of restriction, she’s shifted her focus to well-being instead of weight or body size.
Tips for a Healthy, Happy 2019
The bottom line is your body is one of the only constants in your life. You should try to maintain a healthy relationship with it by practicing respect, compassion and non-judgement and being more reflective of the amazing things your body can do. Meehan recommends “practicing flexibility with your relationship to food and listening to how your body feels with certain behaviors.”
If you are looking for more resources to support you on a journey away from toxic diet culture and toward healthful living, Meehan recommends the following: