Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

The Diet Mentality

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What scientists call "Overweight" ch...

What scientists call “Overweight” changes with our knowledge of human health (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The French have had one of the lowest obesity rates in the world and when their eating habits are studied, one of the major ones that stands out is that the French don’t traditionally diet, at least with the vengeance that Americans do when attacking weight gain. However, this is changing unfortunately due to a lack of adherence to their traditional diets. Currently about 1 in 10 French people are obese and almost 40% are overweight (including the obese)

According to Will Clower, PhD and author of The French Don’t Diet Plan:10 Simple Steps to Stay Thin for Life, “the French love their food, but not the way Americans do. In America, we confuse enjoyment of food with over-consumption.” The result: only 39% of Americans claim to greatly enjoy eating, compared to 90% in France.

The current diet mentality of Americans is:

It is impossible to be fit and fat at the same time.
All large people must lose weight in order to be healthy and fit.
All large people are in poor health.
Everyone can lose weight if they just follow the proper diet and regular exercise program.
The main reason people regain weight is their failure to comply with prescribed diets or make long-term commitments to weight loss.

All of the above are false.

Dieting makes you fat”. This was a title of a book written in the UK in 1983. It was dedicated to “the scores of millions of people in the West who are fatter than they want to be, who have tried dieting, who have found that dieting does not work, and who want to know why”. This was among the first books written on non-dieting weight control.

The legacy of the book is not its content; it presented a new way of looking at body weight and its accompanying paradox by suggesting that a behavior (diet) intended to facilitate weight loss actually has the opposite effect. Subsequent research has shown that dieting is associated with negative outcomes such as increases in anxiety and depression, cognitive performance deficits, increased risk of eating disorders, and even increased morbidity and mortality,

The size of the diet industry has grown commensurate with the rise in obesity. Most of the products produced by this industry are viewed as being ineffective and to be truthful, a company that marketed products that are safe and effective would commit financial suicide eventually from a business standpoint – no more customers. The diet industry is one of the several major and global concerns, including agriculture, pharmaceuticals, and the food industry itself, that make a profit out of obesity, according to Marion Nestle, author of “Food Politics”.

There is such as thing as a “diet mentality paradox” in that in a recent study in the Journal of Obesity, normal weight teenagers were more likely to be overweight 10 years later if they thought of themselves as overweight to begin with. Another earlier study in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association reported that kids who feel fat are more likely to be fat years later. Dieting creates a perfect storm of restrictive eating patterns that cannot be maintained, along with feelings of shame and guilt. This leads eventually to “fall off the wagon” leading to weight gain.

There may be several reasons why this occurs. Often stress hormones are blamed. These hormones can wreak havoc when we are stressed or anxious with “feeling fat”. Another culprit is dieting itself in that the act is basically a self-destructive pattern of thinking and behaving.

More recently, “Health At Every Size” (HAES) is a non-diet program to managing weight using a mindful-based eating approach. It promotes self-esteem and body acceptance and supports people in adopting health habits for the sake of health and well-being, rather than weight control. Using some common sense, maybe we ought to try to break this dieting pattern that has become so prevalent in our society or maybe we ought to decide to re-think this whole diet mentality thing and substitute a healthy mentality instead

This topic is further discussed in a previous post. 


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