Why Diet When You Don’t Have To?

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This review of the Non-Diet Approach session at FNCE 2014 was written by: Collier Perno

Let’s face it, dieting sucks. Yet the promise of a quick fix is so enticing that an estimated 45 million Americans go on diets each year though nearly 65% of dieters regain their lost weight within three years1. So why do we keep trying these trendy fad diets? The diet industry is a booming business raking in nearly 20 billion dollars each year2. Diet books, diet plans, and diet pills all focus on one thing: weight. These extreme diets and intensive eating regimens may work well at first but typically do not last over the long term. Plus, diets also can have many harmful side effects including weight cycling, increased anxiety about weight, eating disorder behaviors, and increased risk for osteoporosis. Instead of focusing on weight, shouldn’t our motivation be to live a healthy lifestyle? By using a non-diet approach known as Health at Every Size (HAES) people can make lifestyle changes and build healthy habits.

Instead of counting calories or fat grams, HAES values pleasurable eating and honors internal cues of hunger, satiety, and appetite. HAES also focuses on movement and becoming more active by choosing activities that are enjoyable. The HAES philosophy celebrates size diversity (love your body!) and takes the focus off weight and places it on enjoying eating and activity.

How does HAES fair compared to traditional dieting? Six randomized control trials have compared non-diet approaches to diet approaches or control groups. None of the studies found any negative outcomes from the non-diet approach and some trials found the non-diet approach groups improved health behaviors, physiologic measures, and psychological improvements. Dr. Linda Bacon conducted a study on female chronic dieters to test the success of a 6 month randomized clinical trial where half of the participants were put on a diet and the other half used the HAES philosophy. Measurements were collected immediately after the intervention and at a two-year follow up. The participants in the diet group lost weight and improved LDL cholesterol, systolic and diastolic blood pressure after the six-month intervention, but all of these changes returned to baseline at the 2 year follow up. At the two-year follow up the non-diet participants showed significant improvement in depression scores, body image, and self-esteem and maintained their body weight. Non-diet participants also improved total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure at the two year follow up. The drop out rate for the diet group was 41% compared to the 8% drop out rate for the non-diet group which suggests the non-diet approach is not only easier to stick with but can also improve health when followed over time3.

HAES encourages individuals to adopt health habits for the sake of health and well-being. By embracing this weight neutral approach we can finally enjoy exercise and eating without the stress of following a restrictive diet.

If you’ve struggled with diets and feel like you are on a ferris wheel going no where, it’s time to stop and try another approach (because a diet hasn’t worked for you if you have to go on it over and over again). Consider adopting the Non Diet Approach by starting with the suggestions below:

  • Turn off the television and put away any other distractions. Mealtime should be in a calm environment to help you fully enjoy and focus on the food you are eating.
  • Find an activity you enjoy whether it’s playing outside with your kids, dancing, hiking, or gardening.
  • Pay attention to your body’s physical signals and eat according to your hunger and satiety cues.
  • Avoid categorizing foods into “good” and “bad”. All foods are acceptable and dietary variety is encouraged to obtain different nutrients and experience joy in eating.

To learn more about HAES go to www.haescommunity.org.

References

  1. O’Meara A. The Percentage of People Who Regain Weight After Rapid Weight Loss and the Risks of Doing So. Livestrong. Available at: http://www.livestrong.com/article/438395-the-percentage-of-people-who-regain-weight-after-rapid-weight-loss-risks/. Accessed October 27, 2014.
  2. 100 Million Dieters, $20 Billion: Weight-Loss Industry by the Numbers. ABC News. Available at: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197. Accessed October 27, 2014.
  3. HAES® Curriculum | A peer-reviewed curriculum designed for teaching health professionals and university students about the Health At Every Size® model. HAES Curric. Available at: http://haescurriculum.com/. Accessed October 27, 2014.

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