Author: Ashley Wentworth
This is one of my favorite holidays! I practice No Diet Day every single day but this holiday gives me an extra chance to shout from the rooftops about how harmful diets actually are and that all bodies deserve respect.
Diets have been around for a long time. Some of the first diets were recorded as early as the 1700’s. I won’t bore you with all of them but here are a few of note:
- 1724 Physician George Cheyne published “An Essay of Health and Long Life”. This was the first record of someone pushing their own nutrition regimen that resulted in weight loss.
- 1863 William Banting found that restricting carbohydrates induced weight loss.
- 1930 Dr. Stoll’s Diet Aid was one of the first meal replacement drinks.
We have not evolved much since then. Despite decades of advances and innovation in medicine, science, and technology, we are no closer to finding safe, effective, long-term weight loss methods. Most current day diet plans include some sort of restriction, usually peddled by someone who has had initial weight loss with the plan. Restriction and dieting remain harmful to our physical, mental, and emotional health.
The Truth about Long-Term Weight Loss
A myriad of research tells us that there is no long-term weight loss solution. Many studies show that there is initial weight loss when embarking on a new diet or nutrition plan, but they often do not follow participants long term (>3-5 years). Following participants for such a short amount of time, usually somewhere between six weeks to one year, does not give us an accurate picture of how these methods play out in real life.
Dieting also wreaks damage on our health. Since diets and intentional weight loss do not work long-term, most people turn to diets off and on throughout their lives. One survey found that the average person tries about 126 diets over their lifetime. That’s a lot of diets! For an average person that roughly equates to about two diets per year.
The same survey also suggested that participants were confused about food, nutrition, and health. Here are some findings:
- Over half of the respondents (52%) said they are “really confused” about which fad diets are sustainable over long periods of time and which are intended for more short-term periods.
- One in five respondents said that they have no idea where to go for reliable dietary information
- More than half are “baffled” regarding which foods should and shouldn’t be cut out of their eating habits.
Another interesting note from this survey is that many people stopped dieting due to side effects like fatigue, weakness, and headaches. This should come as no surprise when dieting as these are all common side effects of not eating enough.
What Happens When You Diet On and Off
Dieting on and off, or yo-yo dieting, causes us to start a cycle of losing weight during the diet and then gaining weight back after the diet. This is also known as weight cycling. This happens to 95% of the population according to a hallmark study done in 1959 by Albert Stunkard. There has been research done since this study, of course, but we still do not have any better answers.
Here are some of the effects of weight cycling on our physical, mental, and emotional health:
- Higher risk of binge eating
- Weight gain
- Increased risk of death
- Loss of muscle tissue
- Chronic inflammation
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Higher risk of osteoporotic fractures
- Greater emotional distress
These are all things we are trying to solve or manage when we embark on improving our health. Why, then, do we keep turning to diets to help us solve these problems when they just make them worse?
Despite all of this research and evidence, most of us still believe that losing weight will definitively improve our health. But according to a 2014 review in the Journal of Obesity, “body weight is defended by a power biological system that reacts to a negative energy balance by lowering metabolism and increasing hunger, food preoccupation, and hedonic responses to food.”
All of that to say, our bodies choose a weight range they like to hang out in, where they feel healthy and comfortable—and it’s not based on weight charts, ideal body weight, or BMI. Once we start doing things that bring our bodies out of this range, our security alert system goes off (Warning! Warning!) and our bodies do everything they can to keep us from starving to death, including:
- Increasing our hunger cues so we will go find food
- Lowering our metabolism so we don’t need as much fuel for the same activity levels
- Increasing our thoughts about food so we will search out food
- Increasing satisfaction and pleasure of eating food so we will keep eating for adequate nutrition
The truth is, our bodies don’t know the difference between starving (not having enough food) and dieting (purposely restricting food) and it has a very powerful system in place to keep us eating enough.
How Did No Diet Day Begin?
In the 1980’s and 90’s diet programs ran rampant—Jenny Craig, Weight Watchers, Nutrisystem, Oprah’s journey with Optifast, and more. After hearing about the lengths people were going for the pursuit of weight loss (like stomach stapling) and the detriments of anti-fat bias (suicide), Mary Evans Young decided that enough was enough.
Young knew that dieting and pursuing weight loss was unattainable for most people and she understood the pressure of feeling the need to try anyways. Like many others, she had a history of an eating disorder, and experienced bullying, as well as body image issues.
Young wanted to spread awareness and education to prevent more people from being harmed by the diet industry. So, in 1992 she created “No Diet Day” to “celebrate the importance of body acceptance, diversity, and respect for all body shapes and sizes.” No Diet Day is now celebrated internationally each year on May 6th.
A few other organizations and movements with similar missions started to emerge around the same time including
- Council on Size & Weight Discrimination
- Health At Every Size ® approach (now supported by the Association for Size Diversity and Health)
How Can I Celebrate No Diet Day?
There are so many ways to celebrate! Choose what seems right for you. Here are a few ideas.
Enjoy Your Food
I mean, really savor it. Choose your favorite meals and fun foods today and more often in general. It doesn’t have to be a “cheat” meal. You don’t need to feel shame or guilt for enjoying your food. Eating is supposed to be fun! Try to bring some joy back into your nutrition. You don’t have to stick to having only “healthy” foods at all of your meals and snacks.
Share on Social Media to Spread Awareness
Share how you’re celebrating No Diet Day! The more people that know about the holiday and what it stands for, the better. We all deserve more than a lifetime of dieting—126 diets is too many.
Not sure what to post? The National Eating Disorder Association has some social media graphics to share.
Show Your Body Gratitude and Respect
Even if you don’t love or even like your body, you can still take care of it in ways that feel good to you. The more you show your body respect the more you may come to appreciate it. You don’t have to intentionally lose weight to do the things you want and enjoy—stop “weighting!”
Recognize That All Bodies:
- are good bodies, no matter what they look like.
- deserve kindness and respect.
- deserve access to quality healthcare.
- can have different health levels—and you cannot tell someone’s health status by looking at them.
Reflect and Evaluate Your Relationship with Food
- Does the thought of food and eating stress you out most of the time?
- Do you feel out of control around food?
- Do you have to track things like calories, macros, etc.?
- Do you feel like you need to exercise to “burn off” your food?
- Do you weigh or measure all of your food?
If any of these statements sound like you, it may be time to check in on your nutrition and health goals. These thoughts and behaviors are examples of disordered eating. They may seem “normal” because many of us do these things, but this is only because disordered eating has become normalized in our culture.
Dieting takes up so much of our time, energy, thoughts, and money. As Mary Evans Young said, “What do you think would happen if you spent as much time and energy on your careers as you do on your diets?” This statement can be applied to anything in your life, not just your career.
Dieting has proven to fail us—but makes us feel like we are the failures. This makes us feel shame, have low confidence, and lose self-trust in our bodies. It’s time to try something different and get our lives back! Happy No Diet Day!