Dieting can take over your life and actually make it less enjoyable, when the goal is often the opposite.
“The Good Place” star Jameela Jamil recently took to Instagram to rally against a post of the Kardashian family that assigned an estimated weight to each woman. Jamil described the post as “toxic” and urged women to share their non-numerical weight.
She listed “lovely relationship,” “great friends,” and “I love my job” as some of the things that she weighs.
In a culture obsessed with thinness, fad diets, and celebrities’ tricks to looking fit at 40, there’s a lot of pressure to diet. Even for people in smaller bodies.
Many people diet to lose weight so they can be healthier and lower their risk of certain diseases.
But dieters go to unhealthy extremes to lose weight in the name of well-being.
Restrictive food rules, calorie counting, and daily weigh-ins can be a sign of disordered eating, or an unhealthy relationship with food at the very least.
But for those who don’t identify with Jamil’s message, this dieting reality may be more compelling: Hitting a goal weight is often a major letdown.
Just start to Google “I hit my goal weight,” and you may see “I hit my goal weight now what?” come up as a search prediction.
While many people could be looking for ways to maintain their new weight, others realize that losing weight hasn’t fixed all of their problems.
Just take it from Andrew Shananan, founder of the website Man v Fat, who writes that “for many people, when they reach their target [weight] there is an initial joy, but it quickly pales with the realization that losing weight isn’t a golden ticket to a trouble-free life. In fact, for many, reaching their goal really only highlights some of the issues that have been obscured by their weight — whether it is depression, relationship issues, or health concerns.”
While some people realize there’s an empty payoff to dieting after achieving their goal weight — much of the time, only temporarily — it’s often looking in the face of yet another diet that prompts people to think, “I just can’t diet anymore. Is there another option?”
Rebecca Scritchfield is a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of “Body Kindness.” This book espouses a weight-neutral approach to well-being that she says “starts with acceptance and being kind to yourself.”
Part of an anti-diet, yet health-conscious movement that has gained steam over the past few years, body kindness offers a way out of the endless “on the plan, off the plan” cycle, according to Scritchfield.
Scritchfield developed the philosophy following her own experience with chronic dieting, as well as realizing that strict calorie-based diets weren’t working for her clients, either.
After years of tracking every calorie and going into a self-shaming spiral whenever she ate “bad” food, Scritchfield realized she had “a messed-up relationship with food.”
“I thought ‘I can’t go on another diet, but I don’t know what to do,’” she told Healthline.
After years of dieting, “a lot of people end up questioning if they are really happy,” said Scritchfield. “They realize the diet is getting in the way of things they want to do or pursue in life. Then they start to realize they aren’t the problem and the diet is.”
One red flag that dieting is taking over your life is reducing social time because you need to fit in a workout or don’t want to be forced to order at a restaurant because the food options are outside your control. A lot of chronic dieters also don’t have great sex lives because they can’t relax in the bedroom, Scritchfield revealed.
Focusing on developing healthy habits without the goal of weight loss or changing your appearance is an alternative to a life full of rigid food rules. The body kindness practice brings together lessons on intuitive eating, joyous movement, self-acceptance, and nutrition. But it also comes without assigning judgement to certain foods or behaviors, which can cause shame.
Scritchfield isn’t promising that the method will result in weight loss, though people often lose weight on it.
But to truly practice it, any sort of upholding that you’ll lose weight needs to be thrown to the wind. “That’s just not relevant,” Scritchfield explained. “You put weight loss on the backburner. But as you build new habits, you will drive your health that’s in your control. And enjoy your life!”
It can be very difficult for people with a long history of yo-yo dieting to accept the idea that a lower number on the scale doesn’t mean healthier. But, said Scritchfield, “You have to believe life will be better overall if you stop the self-flagellation and at least try to stop dieting and start treating yourself with kindness.”
Bernie Salazar, season five at-home winner of “The Biggest Loser,” lost 130 pounds after an extreme diet and workout regime for the show. Focusing on the scale created shame around eating and amplified problems with self-acceptance.
“I still cringe when I see some vegetable juices, because on the show, I’d drink a meal,” he said of the lasting effects of “The Biggest Loser.”
“I was feeling broken, and so I reached out to Rebecca [Scritchfield] as a friend,” Salazar told Healthline. “My wife and I were expecting our first child. I just knew I didn’t want to feel this way and become a father. I was feeling less than because I couldn’t keep the weight off.”
Salazar has shifted to a weight-neutral approach to health, which makes him happier and feel like he’s a better role model for his child.
“I was able to reclaim my life. I now see my body in completely different way,” he said.
“Placing emphasis on enjoyable movement and enjoying what I put in my body has allowed me to appreciate something in moment instead of mapping out what I was doing wrong,” he explained. “I’ve been liberated.”
The universal body kindness question asks, “Is this helping to create better life for myself?” That question can apply to staying up late scrolling through Instagram (which will probably leave you exhausted the next day) to reaching for a pastry (sometimes the answer is absolutely yes, you can savor the pastry, and sometimes it’s that you don’t actually want the pastry, you’re just stressed).
Here are three ways to get started.
Throw out all the diet stuff
Put your scale, diet pills, low-fat bars, and meal planners in a bag and donate them — or at least hide them in the back of your closet. Delete all calorie tracking apps on your phone. “I still believe there is a healthy way for some people to lose weight. It’s pretty simple, actually. Don’t’ set weight loss as a goal — at all,” Scritchfield writes in “Body Kindness.”
Make a list of things you’ll be able to do after you quit dieting
From diet foods to Weight Watchers subscriptions and gym memberships, dieting is expensive. Salazar points out the extra money you’ll have once you stop spending money on things with a weight-loss goal. “Take that money and buy a museum membership and have a good time with your kids. Take what you would put into diets and apply it to something you’d actually love to do or learn,” he recommended.
Diversify your social media feeds
“Exposure to a variety of body sizes and shapes makes you feel less alone and is very empowering,” Scritchfield pointed out. Consider following people who are having similar conversations about appearance not equaling health, like Ragen Chastain, Rosie Molinary, and Megan Jayne Crabbe.
“Surrounding yourself with individuals who understand diet culture isn’t for them is so important,” Salazar said. “It’s nurturing yourself in a positive way.”