This is a guest post by Angela Stathakis Porisse and the first of a series of blogs on dieting and weight loss.
Are you fed up with yo-yo dieting?! Do you rush to try every new trendy diet that will finally get you to that perfect weight, where you will finally be happy? Are you tired of feeling constantly disappointed with yourself when you don’t manage to stick with the diet, or you have great success, get tons of compliments about how good you look only to put all the weight back on (and sometimes more) after the diet is finished?
Did you buy that great new outfit that is still sitting in your wardrobe, because even though the scales say you are thin, the weight loss didn’t change how you feel about your body?
If your answer to any of these questions is yes, then you are just like me.
We spend too much time worrying about our weight and trying the latest diet craze….
One of my earliest memories of my mother is of her and her friend in their 1980’s gym clothes, talking about their pursuit of thinness. Even in the last days of her precious life, I was sitting on her bed in the hospice while she justified to me her size was due to water retention caused by her illness, rather than her ‘weight’.
Recently her goddaughter told me that one of my mother’s biggest regrets was wasting so much of her life on diets.
It prompted me to ask myself the same question, how much of my life has been absorbed by obsession with the number on the scales?
• The endless fighting with myself
• The hours spent doing exercise
• The endless weighing and measuring of my body
• The stress of being in social situations that involved food that wasn’t on my eating plan
• The fear and dread upon waking up each morning, knowing ahead of me was yet another day trying to control what I ate
And it goes on…
Diets don’t work!
The evidence is mounting, diets don’t work. Since the mid-century, western culture has been obsessed with weight loss, however statistics prove this obsession has not made us thin, nor has it made us healthy. Studies have shown that dieting is in fact a predictor of weight gain. So why is weight control so difficult? First we need to look at why some of us overeat, or make choices in our diet that are not considered to be healthy.
There are many potential outside factors that may contribute to our desire to overeat. Our natural instinct as humans is to feed ourselves. Starvation for a human being is a lot more life threatening than obesity. For our ancestors, food was not as readily available as it is today and we are thus wired to seek out food for survival. Today however there is increased availability of energy dense and nutrient poor foods. We have also become accustomed to larger portion sizes.
We need to listen and trust our natural appetite signals
Rather than eating when we are hungry, we often eat as recreation, as part of a celebration, because it’s a meal time, to fill in for boredom or because we’re tired. As our lives become increasingly fast paced we may skip meals and then feel the need to binge in compensation, or hurriedly grab that ‘unhealthy choice’ of snack, as who has the time to actually sit down to a meal? We may eat because something smells good, looks good or tastes good. We may eat because we like the texture of something (yes, boxes of granola, I am talking to you).
There are factors within us too that may contribute to our eating patterns. What we call emotional triggers. Many of us feel uncomfortable with regards to our ‘feelings’. We have been conditioned since childhood to be ‘good’. To not show anger, sadness, hurt. To be brave. I have I lost count of the times I have been unhappy about a certain situation or life event, and sought out food in order to avoid having to feel the emotions that arose.
Thinness is promoted by media
We are constantly bombarded with pervasive food advertising, yet simultaneously told we need to lose weight. Thinness means success: celebrities are mostly thin. We are constantly exposed to the desirability of thinness:
• In images of idealised and often unnatural body shapes
• In persistent conversations about cellulite, love handles, bingo wings and saddle bags
• On social media, television, in movies
• In relationships with family, friends or work colleagues
We need to nourish our bodies not battle with them!
But what about our health? There is much misinformation regarding weight loss, for example the commonly repeated phrase “Eat less, exercise more”, which is in many cases is harming rather than helping our health. Depriving ourselves of a certain food will make us crave it more, and white-knuckling our way through cravings causes stress symptoms which have the ability to harm our health, emotionally and physically (anxiety, headaches, fatigue, irritability, depression, muscle pain…).
Neither does losing weight necessarily mean improving our health. In fact, studies have shown that in some cases, being slightly overweight can protect our health!
Dieting does not teach us how to make healthy, long term changes to our bodies. Diets do not encourage us to nourish our bodies. They in fact restrict us from listening to our body’s needs. Yes, diets may reduce weight temporarily, but they have been shown to have limited success in the long term.
In her book Why Diets Make Us Fat, Sandra Aamodt argues that our brains are predisposed to resist efforts to weight loss. When we regain weight after completing a diet it is not due to our lack of willpower, but rather a question of our natural biological functions.
Each person is individual, and each brain has a body weight range that it considers to be healthy and will defend. Even if that range is not in the range we strive for in our pursuit of thinness.
When we deprive our body of food when it is hungry, the brain senses stress. It goes into emergency drive and takes control. The survival mechanism is triggered. The brain sends a stress signal to the body to slow down metabolism and store more fat.
If you are exercising more than normal, your body is also under extra stress. Once the ‘famine’ is over, the brain has its chance to feast, and the dieter has more chance of gaining the weight back.
Yes, there are certain common factors which may contribute to an unhealthy diet, for example an excess of processed foods.
(Processed foods have been chemically processed, usually with added sugar and different artificial ingredients, giving them an almost addictive quality and often leading to over consumption. They also tend to be low in nutrients, high in refined carbohydrates and trans fats.) With regards to weight loss regimes however, all our bodies behave differently. Not all bodies correspond to any one piece of science.
We often put weight back on after dieting as we have listened to what some book or celebrity has told us, rather than listening to our bodies. The swing of the pendulum often goes from diet to binge, and we find ourselves in a painful, obsessive and unhealthy cycle of losing and gaining weight. Yo-Yo dieting.
So if diets don’t work, then what does? What healthy approach to eating exists? What could work?
Angela is a 2nd year Dietetique student in Paris. She was born in South-Africa into a Greek family and lived in London for 15 years before moving to Paris.
She is a mother to two teenagers, and when Angela is not spending her time trying to read in French, she works in restaurant in the 9th arrondisement.
Angela has always been passionate about health and nutrition, and grew up in a household where food was constantly part of the conversation. After 20 years serving in the restaurant industry she decided to take a leap of faith and try to use some of her experience and passion regarding nutrition to help other people.
After following Charlotte Debeugny on Facebook and reading her books “Comment j’ai decroché le sucre” et “Comment j’adopté le regime gras”, Angela contacted Charlotte and asked if she could spend 4 weeks with her as work experience, intergrated as part of her diploma.
As part of this work experience, Angela will be writing a weekly blog for Nutrition in Paris for the next four weeks.
We hope you enjoy reading the first post, “Why Diet’s Don’t Work” and we would love to hear about your experiences on this subject.