How Dieting Wrecked your Self Esteem and Made you Overweight

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This article is for all serial dieters. If you’ve been dieting on and off for years yet never achieved or maintained your “goal” weight, you’ve been handcuffed to the multi-billion dollar diet industry. I’m here to tell you why you need to break free and how to do it.

Why You Need to Break Free From Dieting

If you are a perpetual dieter, in search of the latest magic weight loss diet or pill, you may be doing more harm than good.

Dieting Slows Your Metabolism
Losing weight leads to a drop in the amount of calories you burn each day so you need to cut your calories even more after you lose the weight to maintain your new weight. This happens even if you preserve muscle (each pound of muscle burns about four more calories per day then a pound of fat) (9). This is termed metabolic adaptation and the reasons for it aren’t entirely clear though the decrease in metabolism is correlated with how many calories you cut and changes in the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells; it helps regulate body weight and energy balance (7, 8).

The more you cut calories the more your metabolism will drop.

Rapid and massive weight loss seems to lead to the greatest drop in metabolic rate.

Though this happens, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lose weight if needed for health reasons. However, the “Oprah” cycle of repetitive low calorie dieting followed by weight regain needs to stop.

Diets Over Promise and Under Deliver
Diets promise you’ll get ripped in no time. Research tells us you won’t lose all of the weight you expect to lose (1). And that’s ok. However, unrealistic expectations are a problem because they make you want to ditch the diet or worse, binge eat because you are pissed off that you’ve been lied to.

Reign in your expectations with these validated weight loss calculators:

Pennington Biomedical Research Center Weight Loss Calculator

USDA SuperTracker

Your Life Won’t Magically Change
Dieting tells you your entire life will get better once you lose 10 lbs. Sure, you might need to hem a few pairs of pants and your self esteem may improve a bit. However, you won’t turn into a GQ or Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model. Your boss will treat you the same, your relationships won’t magically improve and everything else in your life might appear to be static if you are waiting for fireworks.

There are many times I run into people who want to lose weight and as I start asking questions and digging I realize they are attempting to control their weight and hyper control their food intake because there is something in their life that is out of control. They are transferring the focus on their body, food and exercise to calm their brain down and decrease anxiety about parts of their life that are raveling out of control.

Don’t use dieting as an excuse to avoid major life issues.

Dieting Tells You “You’re Not Okay”
Many popular diets, pills and programs marketed through airbrushed ads tell you one thing “there is something is wrong with you and this book, program or pill can help you fix it.” They are preying on your vulnerable self-esteem. Taking the bait is like jumping into a dark and depressing pit over and over, attempting to crawl out, losing your grip and getting kicked right back down. Every time you gain a little weight back or judge yourself based on the bathroom scale you’ll feel dejected.

“Where there is perfectionism there is always shame (guilt, regret, sadness),” Brene Brown.

Consistently feeding your mind with a diet of “I’m not good enough” is no way to live. Treat yourself with some respect.

“I’m not good enough” is also a mental roadblock to achieving your goals. One day you’ll have a tough day, come home and say “F this. I’m fat, I might as well eat this whole package of Milky Ways.” Next thing you know you feel like a failure and fall into the ultimate Feedback Loop from Hell. “Why can’t I stick with a diet? I suck.” Once stuck in this mindset, it’s hard to recognize there could be something wrong with the diet itself and the promises (lies) you’ve been told if you just follow it.

I’m here to say you are okay.

Letting Go of the Diet Crutch

If you’ve been dieting on and off for years, recognize that you will have some anxiety in letting go. That’s okay. There are steps you can take to combat anxiety over time and still achieve good health.

What if You Want to / Need to Lose Weight?
If you need lose weight for health reasons, yet you’ve dieted over and over in the past, without reaching your goal, it is time to do something different. Here are steps you can take to a healthier weight and life without dieting:

• Get Support – research shows people who have support are more likely to take weight off and less likely to gain it back.

• Keep in mind moderate weight loss can make a tremendous difference in health. Even small amounts of weight loss can lower blood fats (triglycerides), cholesterol, blood sugar, risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.

• Start with exercise while focusing on the immediate benefits of exercise – improved mood, improved memory, greater self esteem.

• Be proud of small “wins.” If you haven’t exercised since recess in elementary school, it isn’t necessary to jump right into high intensity interval training three days per week. Start small and be proud of your changes along the way. Even 5 to 10 minutes of exercise each day plus one diet change will help build healthy long-term habits.

• Realize that nobody is looking at you in your bathing suit on the beach and judging your body. We are the harshest critics of ourselves. Someday you will look back and regret not wearing that bathing suit and enjoying the water.

• Go on a diet from the media. Constantly viewing “ideal” body images reduces body satisfaction. In other words, the more you look at popular magazines with airbrushed pictures the worse you will feel about yourself (2, 3, 4). This is true for both men and women.

• Find a physical trait you love and focus on it daily. You will feel better about your body when you focus on the parts of your body you like the best. Conversely, focusing on the parts of your body you do not like will increase body dissatisfaction (5).

• Check out the Happiness Trap – an empowering self-help book based on behavioral psychology.

Follow This Approach
There are two approaches to not dieting and both go hand-in-hand. The first one is Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating breaks the dieting cycle and teaches you how to feed your body based on hunger and satiety cues. There are number of intuitive eating counselors who can help you with this.

The second approach is Body Kindness. This book is about creating a happier and healthier life. The focus is on spiraling up, the idea that your mindset and mood influences your choices and vice versa to help you stay more positive, optimistic and open to bring the best you to the world — and it has nothing to do with what you weigh. Author Rebecca Scritchfield, RDN, a former chronic dieter who broke free from the cyle of dieting and emotional overeating, believes dieting creates a downward spiral because it enhances your negative emotions. Body Kindness is based on three pillars: Love Connect Care. Make choices from a place of love, connect to your body to find out what you really need, and fully commit to your self-care plans.

I use diets, when warranted, and prescribed the right way for those who are not perpetual dieters. I do not recommend them for people who have gone on and off them for years and have a poor body image. I will never forget the time I counseled a woman in her 30s who had been on and off Weight Watchers since she was a pre-teen. She said, “it works for me.” And she was surprised at my response “no, it hasn’t worked for you because if it did you wouldn’t be sitting in front of me today.” She said she was ashamed about how she looked. My response, “let’s work on that. It’s time to let go, break free, give up emotional overeating and body shame.” That’s no way to live.

References

1 Dhurandhar EJ et al. Predicting adult weight change in the real world: a systematic review and meta-analysis accounting for compensatory changes in energy intake or expenditure. Int J Obes (Lond) 2015;39(8):1181-7.

2 Morry MM, Staska SL. Magazine exposure: Internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes, and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Can J Behav 2001; 33: 269–279

3 Grabe S, Ward LM, Hyde JS. The role of the media in body image concerns among women: a meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies.
Psychol Bull 2008;134(3):460-76.

4 Agliata D, Tantleff-Dunn S (2004) The impact of media exposure on males’ body image. J Soc Clin Psychol 23: 7–22

5 Smeets E, Jansen A, Roefs A. Bias for the (un)attractive self: on the role of attention in causing body (dis)satisfaction. Health Psychol 2011;30(3):360-7.

6 Lowe MR et al. Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite 2006;47(1):83-90.

7 Zhou Y and Rui L. Leptin signaling and leptin resistance. Front Med 7: 207-222, 2013.

8 Knuth ND, Johannsen DL, Tamboli RA, Marks-Shulman PA, Huizenga R, Chen KY, Abumrad NN, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic adaptation following massive weight loss is related to the degree of energy imbalance and changes in circulating leptin. Obesity (Silver Spring) 22: 2563-2569, 2014.

9 Johannsen DL, Knuth ND, Huizenga R, Rood JC, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012; 97: 2489-2496.

How Your Body Image Affects Your Weight & Health

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Today I’m going on a slight rant about something that has been on my mind for a while – body image. And because the majority of my clients (all but 1) are male athletes, I don’t run into the overt self-degrading body comments as often as many of my dietitian colleagues who work with women. However, I’ve run into a number of women lately who either put their bodies down, avoid social situations or the beach / pool / bathing suits because they feel “fat”, obsessively cover up their bodies, obsessively diet or exercise (or both) or engage in other self-depreciating comments and related behaviors stemming from how they feel about their body. And I always walk away thinking “one day she is going to look back and think ‘damn I looked good’ and regret wasting so much time and energy hating a body that helped her cross finish lines, hike mountains, pick up small children, build a beautiful garden and do so much more.”

And though I won’t get into the psychology behind body image and self worth or how to improve your body image (you can read more about that in this article), I do want to talk about how this affects a person’s overall health and sense of well-being. First and foremost, the people around you might not notice the subtle behaviors and words you speak (unless you have dietitian or psychologist friends) but your kids will (children, grandchildren, children you teach or coach). Anyone who has spent 5 minutes with a child knows they pick up everything. Now, let’s say you are that female who won’t wear shorts in the summer because you hate the way your legs look. Your little girl will stop wearing shorts and at some point think her legs look bad too. Or maybe you are the grandma who won’t wear a bathing suit to the beach because you can’t fit into the one you wore last year. Your grandkids will wonder why you aren’t going in the water with them. And finally, if you are a coach of young girls, an entire team will learn about how they should be viewing their bodies from what you think of yours.

In addition to affecting the people around you, I’ve noticed that women who don’t love the bodies they live in spend entirely too much time thinking about food and exercise. And by cutting out certain foods, going on cleanses or popular diets or drastically slashing their food intake, they are cutting out a number of nutrients necessary for good health. And the effects might not be obvious at first, but over time they will catch up to you. Cut calories and it will be difficult to get a number of vitamins, minerals and protein in your diet (And when you fall short on protein you will start losing muscle mass. Over time less muscle means you burn a few less calories each day and you won’t be able to exercise as hard in the gym so you burn fewer calories while working out. Both of these make it challenging to keep weight off over time. Plus less muscle means activities of daily living like gardening, picking up kids, or lifting groceries may be tough). Switch to a vegetarian diet and you better really plan on incorporating protein since you will need more total protein to keep and build muscle. Drop dairy and your bones, teeth and nails will suffer over time (yes you can eat kale, spinach and other leafy greens but you will need at least 10 cups of raw leafy greens a day if this is your only source of calcium). I’ve seen women in their 20s with osteopenia (low bone mass, this often comes before the brittle bone disease osteoporosis). And this is just the tip of the iceberg. But, here’s the most important point: your body image affects what you eat (more than just total calories) and don’t eat. And over time I’m going to make a stretch here and say (from observation) that body image-induced changes in diet affect your intake of vitamins and minerals and over time, consistent vitamin and mineral shortages will affect how your body functions and could impair several aspects of health. So, if you feel like you fall into this category of women or men who loathe your body, make the commitment right now to work on this. I promise you that you are wasting time as well as mental and physical energy. Plus, the changes you are making in an effort to keep weight off may be doing more harm than good.