The Shakespearean Dilemma – to diet or not to diet?

A few days ago I went for coffee with two women I’ve known for years, although I don’t see them very often. As we sat down and greeted each other, they started talking about this diet they had been on, which apparently they were doing together. It got me thinking that, for years, every time I’ve seen them they’ve been on one diet or another. Now, regardless of any factual, visible progress or not, they obviously don’t think they have been successful since they are still dieting.

there has been a lot said about yo-yo dieting. More studies are being done about the effects of losing weight and putting it back on in this seemingly endless cycle. Some studies imply there are increased risks of high blood pressure, cholesterol and gallbladder disease. This said, these are also some of the risks associated with obesity, but nobody is a hundred percent certain. The studies realised are insufficient to assert anything with certitude like the one we have in that smoking causes cancer, for example. The existing studies can be interpreted in many ways and some of those ways are being interpreted as that there is no real risk to yo-yo dieting.

The issue, I believe, is not so much with dieting as such – meaning a moderate control on food to lose weight – but with ‘miracle diets’ or programmes. There are a myriad of these and products out there that offer great results. Some of them are diets and some of them are exercising programs that include a diet. You’ve probably seen the infomercials, the sweat dripping men and women, the before and after pictures… forty-five pounds lost, twenty pounds lost… and then, in smaller letters ‘after two cycles of the programme’, ‘after three cycles’.  The diets that come included involve cups, teaspoons, weighing and, often, vege or meats you can’t find if you don’t live near a big city.

And then there are the diets as such. There are clubs and meetings, all of which you have to pay for, with systems that promise to be simple, mostly based on ‘stop counting calories but count/check these instead’. There are stricter programs based on pills or milkshakes. Then there are those which send you the meals all ready made (I’ve tried that, meals for 30 days that don’t go bad? They taste disgusting). Not only are these very expensive but they are also not meant to last forever. You can’t spend your life counting points, nor can you go forever exercising six or seven days a week. You can’t eat tasteless food forever either. These programmes are only manageable for a certain period of time.

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Either way, they are widely used across the world. There is a reason why the weight-loss industry is called that, an industry. Like every other industry, they generate revenue. And it’s not only the big known weight-loss orientated brands, it’s the everyday brands too. What product doesn’t have a ‘light’ or ‘low-fat’ version?

At the end, you have spent all this money and time into these programmes and diet-friendly products that are commercialised and marketed, and you are exactly (or worse) where you were before. And forget for a minute about the possible health effects of this going back and forth with diets, the key effect is maybe the less talked about, the psychological effect. It is a verifiable fact that the long-term success rates of diets is very low. These numbers vary from a 5% success rate to as low as 1%, which means that 95-99% of the people who have dieted regain the weight or put even more on. It’s been in the papers this year how the former contestants of ‘The Biggest Loser’ had most of them regained a lot of the weight they had lost. How must they feel? Well, probably a lot like I felt most of the time until not that long ago. Failure, disgust, the occasional tears when I caught my reflection in the mirror…

It’s difficult to know what to do. Based on this, it feels impossible to lose weight. Some studies indicate that yo-yo dieters end up finding it harder to lose weight, yet others say there is no evidence to conclude that. And that’s fine, but it doesn’t help, because when you’re caught in that sort of cycle, what you want is to get out of it, not to be told that you might still be able to lose weight.

I reached my ‘ideal weight’ once in my life, at the expense of starving myself for months. I was more reasonable when that period of dieting started but I became stricter and stricter, saying I wasn’t hungry and eating only an apple or a peach for dinner, my grandmother standing over my shoulder while I weighed myself. Everyday. I suppose that’s the closest I’ve ever been to anorexia, although I am not one for starving for too long. So after this period of ‘successful’ dieting, I regained all the weight and more. Much more.

And then I lost some.

Put on some more.

Lost some again.

Put on some more.

Eventually I figured maybe there was a problem and as I did some research (what would we do without the Internet!), I realised I did have one. It was almost a relief, truth be told. In the process of recovering, a process I am still working on, I have discovered a lot of things, some of which I’ve shared in previous articles, but one of the things I’ve discoverer is this:

No diet, no program, not even doctors, have EVER mentioned to me ‘normal eating‘. ‘Better choices’, ‘lower calories’, ‘lower fat options’, ‘healthier choices’, yes. No sweets, no cakes, no butter, no sugar in your tea, grill your chicken, don’t fry, steam… but not ‘do you know when you’re hungry and satisfied’ (more about this here). Nobody tells you what to do next. Nobody tells you either that the ‘ideal weight’ you’re striving to reach is an illusion (see my article on BMI and what it means here).

The diet and health industry has forgotten one big thing: we are all UNIQUE. My ideal weight is not yours and your ideal weight is not you best friend’s, even if we’re all five feet tall. Nor is my appetite the same. Yes, there is value in making healthier choices and there is value in trying to lose weight, but the only way losing weight is going to be successful is when done in a reasonable manner, by listening to your body and treating it well, not torturing it with deprivation and self-hate. I suppose it all comes to this:

love-thyself

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