Category Archives for "Diets Don’t Work/Stop Dieting"

diet industry mind games

Diet Industry Mind Games… I’m Looking at You, Weight Watchers

 

Many years ago I wrote a blog post about diet industry mind games (on a blog that’s since gone wherever blogs go to die) directed towards Weight Watchers. It was January, and the diet ads were in full force, taking advantage of New Year’s resolution time.

I forget the exact year, but the anti-diet message had picked up steam and it probably scared many diet companies, including Weight Watchers. Their new slogan that year was, “Stop Dieting, Start Living.” The first time I saw this on a WW commercial I was horrified and indignant at the same time.

How could they get away with claiming that Weight Watchers isn’t a diet? The claim went on… “Weight Watchers works because it’s not a diet. You’ll learn how to eat right and live healthy so you can lose the weight and keep it off.” They actually had the nerve to say “…it’s not a diet.” I just stood there, trying to understand how they could say such a thing.

Nothing had changed about the program. It was similar to what I had gone through many years earlier. But they were using the “points” system by this time. I was in Weight Watchers when they still used “exchanges” as the way to determine how much (or little) you could eat each day.

My old post on diet industry mind games certainly conveyed how insulting and disgusting it was for Weight Watchers to take advantage of the non-diet/anti-diet movement and co-opt its message as well. Not to mention that this claim was absolutely, 100 percent FALSE. It was kind of fun to put my frustration into a very snarky post addressing Weight Watchers and their claim for anyone to read.

Since then, Weight Watchers has come up with all kinds of new advertising campaigns. Some are horrible, others make the usual promises that 97% of members will never achieve. And now Oprah is part owner of the company… well, that’s a rant for another day. But I have heard her claim recently that it’s not a diet, which is simply hilarious.

However, as the company has continued to grow, several former members, leaders and even a few from the corporate office of WW have been exposing the truth. I don’t have links or references handy, so I will list them another time when I can include the sources.

But just the other day I was looking over one of my favorite newsletters, Recovery Warriors, when I saw an article by Kelly Spears called, “How Weight Watchers Fueled My Eating Disorder.”  Kelly was a reluctant Weight Watchers member turned leader, then corporate employee. It didn’t take very long after attending her first WW meeting for her to become a huge fan:

“Weight Watchers fed into my perfectionist tendencies by insisting it was acceptable—and celebrated—to write down everything I ate. “BLTs” (bites, licks, and tastes) became little reminders that I had no willpower, and every morsel must be recorded to keep me accountable.

 

‘Nothing tastes as good as thin feels.’

 

That became my mantra. And it stuck with me for years as I plummeted into a full-blown eating disorder.”

I remember that saying, that “nothing tastes as good as thin feels.” All the women were standing in what I called the “cattle” line (because we were herded together in one place, waiting to be weighed in front of everyone else) and one day someone said those exact words. All of a sudden, everyone was saying it, including me. That saying now makes me want to punch something, and then go eat a piece of delicious chocolate cake in that same line and tell them, “Nope, this cake tastes much better!”

Nothing Feels As Good As Making Peace With Food

I was thin several times during my years of dieting and binging. It never felt good. I was a nervous wreck, afraid to eat anything for fear of the weight flying back on. And it always did. I would cringe when a man would look at me. I thought I wanted that, but it only made me feel exposed and uncomfortable. Thin also “felt” like hours at that gym daily for 60 minutes of boring, soul-sucking cardio exercise – that I later discovered actually made it harder to keep the weight off.

(For the record, when I lost weight after learning to eat intuitively, it felt good, I suppose. However, what was more important is how I felt – and that was very good – and it had nothing to do with the number on the scale.)

I actually only made it through 5 weeks in my first Weight Watchers attempt. That first week I lost weight, mostly water, but as long as the number was lower I didn’t care. Miserable, I quit after my 5th meeting. A year later I made my second and final attempt. I went to the same meeting I had attended before. There I was standing in the same line waiting to be weighed like cattle once again. I noticed many of the very same women standing in line who had attended the meetings a year ago, and they looked exactly the same.

For once, I made a smart decision about dieting and left. I didn’t want to spend a year of my life going to Weight Watcher meetings, being humiliated and judged by strangers who weighed me, just to remain at the same weight. The thought actually made me want to binge! But this was only the very beginning of my 15-year diet journey that caused more diet-binge cycles than I could count as well as a huge escalation of the binging behavior that had begun 10 years earlier.

Kelly’s story is quite familiar to me, but in many ways her journey was different. Her binge eating disorder started after she became a chronic dieter.

“My disordered eating took root quickly after that first binge. In hindsight, I see that it actually started the moment I began counting points.

 

I began a cycle of counting and tracking points, bingeing, hating myself, restricting my food intake, exercising compulsively, feeling hopeful, and then spiraling downward again.”

Even worse, as a Weight Watchers leader and employee, she had to maintain her weight. If she deviated even a few pounds, her job was in jeopardy. They have removed many amazing meeting leaders for gaining a few pounds. It makes me wonder what happens if someone has a medical condition, such as a thyroid issue, that causes weight gain.

The weight I gained at the start of perimenopause came on quickly. There was nothing I could have done about it. Would I have been sent packing if I had been a leader? Imagine the message that could be sent to members – that life goes on and you can be happy, even if you gain weight! But I suppose that wouldn’t be good for business. Diet companies survive because diets have a 97% failure rate. They count on you not being able to keep it up.  Then they play their diet industry mind games and say it’s all your fault, you’re the failure.

Kelly was able to get help and learn more about how and why she developed binge eating disorder. It could have shown up anyway, she says. But her time with Weight Watchers had a huge impact on how it came about. She reached the conclusion that many of us eventually come to:

“One thing I do know is that I can no longer attempt to control my weight. Looking back, I realize that I never had control of it at all. My body was always in control. My dietician taught me intuitive eating, and I’ve learned that no foods are good or bad.”

Her journey continues, but she is clear about one thing:

“People used to tell me that Weight Watchers isn’t a diet but it is. I back that statement by explaining that the program encourages its members to focus on external goals and cues rather than trusting and honoring their bodies. Any program that focuses on weight control or has rules is, indeed, a diet. People don’t fail; the diets they keep going back to fail them. We are not at fault.”

I couldn’t have said it any better. But I’ll say it again…

Weight Watchers is a diet and always has been a diet. Their diet industry mind games are classic and easy to spot. So Weight Watchers, you can pretend you’re a “lifestyle change.” No matter the euphemism you use, a diet you will always be. And diets fail people, that’s their job.

You can read the complete story of Kelly’s experience on the Recovery Warriors site: https://www.recoverywarriors.com/how-weight-watchers-fueled-eating-disorder/

 

2 missing the point of intuitive eating

Missing the Point of Intuitive Eating

A few weeks ago, I received a message from a colleague. She told me another professional in our field was advocating adding calorie counting to the intuitive eating process. Why? Apparently, according to this person, because intuitive eating “doesn’t work for weight loss.” This is another example of a disturbing trend of completely missing the point of intuitive eating.

There are (at least!) two huge problems with combining calorie counting with intuitive eating. First, counting calories is a waste of time and can actually cause you to gain weight. I will share more about this in an upcoming post.

Second, anyone that actually knows what they’re talking about will tell you that weight loss is NOT a goal of intuitive eating. Never has been, never will be.

This is really annoying. Almost daily I see a post, video or podcast talking about how intuitive eating “doesn’t work” for whatever reason. I’ve seen even worse said about it by people who think fat shaming and deprivation are perfectly acceptable.

The internet is pretty awesome, but the trolls are working overtime to make it all about them and their insecurities… but I digress.

A couple weeks ago I saw an article on what I think is a lifestyle site for millennials. (I’m guessing, I didn’t take the time to find out exactly what it was.) What caught my attention was an article by a woman who tried the “intuitive eating diet” for a week.

She actually called it The Intuitive Eating Diet.

I left a lengthy comment explaining that intuitive eating was not a diet, and to call it a diet went against everything it stood for. I doubt anyone read it. It was likely lost among the comments about the images of the food the writer ate during her week.

Talk about missing the point of intuitive eating!

I try to see this trend as a good sign. The word is spreading about intuitive eating, even though many don’t quite get it. I am happy about this.

But the more the word spreads, it becomes a horrible game of “telephone.” As more people talk about it, the purpose and intention behind it become twisted and distorted by those that are simply missing the point of intuitive eating.

The ‘Limits’ of Intuitive Eating?

One of the worst examples of missing the point of intuitive eating comes from a study that was written about in the New York Times in November 2015. This study used a painfully small sample size of 16 “overweight” men and women recruited from a community college.

Half the volunteers were put on a diet of 1200 to 1800 calories a day, according to the NY Times. They also learned how to eat “healthy” given the calorie restriction.

The other half were instructed to follow the 10 principles outlined in the book Intuitive Eating. All subjects were measured, weighed, etc. at 3 weeks and at the end of the 6-week study.

In the end the diet group lost an average of 5.3 pounds. The intuitive eating group lost very little, and some gained up to 2 pounds.

According to this article, the lead researcher, Judith C. Anglin, said about the intuitive eating group, “…their discipline, luck or bodily self-awareness apparently deserted them, and most began regaining weight.”

Really? I have a feeling Judith C. Anglin didn’t read her copy of Intuitive Eating.

Discipline? That’s for dieting, NOT eating intuitively.

Luck? What does luck have to do with anything?

Bodily self-awareness? In 6 weeks, with minimal instruction – they wouldn’t have developed it, let alone be “deserted” by it! (I sense a snarky tone in our friend Judith’s comments as well, how about you?)

A Flawed Premise Delivers Flawed Results

Can you see the serious flaws in this study? They practically scream out to me, and to the large number of other professionals that spoke out against this article and the study it described.

The New York Times also posted this article on their blog, giving many of the frustrated professionals, advocates and those whose lives have been changed by intuitive eating a chance to have their say.

There are over 90 comments! An overwhelming majority point out that the researcher and writer are missing the point of intuitive eating.

While this article came out in late 2015, a year and a half later the misconceptions and inaccurate claims continue. It’s frustrating to hear a professional tell her followers that intuitive eating doesn’t work for weight loss and counting calories is the way to go. This is coming from someone that claims she doesn’t believe in diets!

So I’m going to do what I can to set the record straight – about this study and in general, here in my little corner of the internet. I’ll do my best to keep it to 3 short points…

#1: I can’t say it enough: Weight loss is NOT the goal of Intuitive Eating! I guarantee if you approach intuitive eating with the intention to lose weight, you never, ever will. Many people do lose weight as they make peace with food and learn to eat intuitively…

But not if they are focused on weight loss.

No one that truly understands intuitive eating will ever claim it’s a weight-loss method or program! Those that do are completely missing the point of intuitive eating.

#2: No one becomes an intuitive eater in 6 weeks! The way this study was designed set the intuitive eating group up for failure before it even began (kind of like diets do!).

Intuitive eating is a journey. Part of this journey includes a healing process – your body and mind must both heal from the damage dieting has caused. For many, disordered eating patterns have developed over years, and it will take longer than 6 weeks to identify and overcome these patterns and their cause.

Disordered eating, emotional eating and binge eating behaviors didn’t develop overnight. Therefore, they won’t go away overnight either.

I wonder how much instruction the intuitive eating group received about the 10 principles in the book, Intuitive Eating. It’s likely it was a simple overview of these principles, which isn’t very helpful, especially without assistance in learning how to apply them to your own unique situation. Six weeks isn’t anywhere near enough time to learn all 10 – they build upon each other and often you need to have a good understanding of one to move to the next.

It’s also extremely difficult to see past your own diet mentality thinking and behaviors. Self-sabotage will happen in the process of making peace with food. But it’s very hard to recognize it when you’re the one engaging in it. This is a journey that requires patience, time and support.

#3: The ill-informed comments of the researcher of this study, “…their discipline, luck or bodily self-awareness apparently deserted them, and most began regaining weight,” seems to imply that the subjects using intuitive eating had failed, or at the very least that intuitive eating failed.

If the intention behind intuitive eating were to lose weight in 6 weeks, then yes, it would be considered a failure. But again, weight loss is not the intention of intuitive eating.

In fact, a small amount of weight gain is actually normal in the very early stages of the intuitive eating process. When you’re making peace with food, you will inevitably be adding back in several foods that you’ve restricted for years.

The “diet deprivation backlash” the Intuitive Eating authors talk about can show up, causing some overeating when introducing a formerly banished or restricted food. But the overeating doesn’t last very long.

“If I let myself eat (your favorite food here), I’ll never stop eating it,” is a common objection to making all foods legal.

I certainly had these same thoughts. I also didn’t want to gain weight to make peace with food. But my mentor in this process asked a very important question, “Are you willing to gain a few pounds now, to eventually reach your natural weight and stay there without any effort?

I was willing, but not thrilled with the idea of gaining more weight. However, after gaining a few pounds, my weight stabilized and stayed there for a while I was working through the process. Apparently, I wasn’t at my natural weight, because I did eventually lose weight. In time I became more comfortable in my body and I maintained my weight without any focused effort. This is exactly what my mentor had told me would happen.

My experience is similar to what I see with my clients. Some gain weight in the beginning, but usually no more than 5 to 10 pounds. The others stay at their current weight while their bodies are healing from the damage done by yo-yo dieting.

This healing begins when you begin to honor your body by feeding it when you are hungry. It will begin to make the changes needed to return to optimal functioning, including releasing more fat for fuel, rather than storing it, and returning to a healthier, properly functioning metabolism.

There are even more incorrect statements being spread by those who are obviously missing the point of intuitive eating – statements like, “it doesn’t work,” or, “you can’t lose weight while eating intuitively,” and my favorite, “too many people are turning intuitive eating into a diet…

(If you do see comments saying intuitive eating doesn’t work because people turn it into a diet, understand this is flawed thinking. It does happen, but it doesn’t mean intuitive eating doesn’t work. Check out my thoughts on the “intuitive eating diet” for the truth.)

The Reality: Intuitive Eating Is Not A Weight Loss Strategy, but…

I want to be very clear: intuitive eating, mindful eating, making peace with food, whatever you call this process, it is NOT a weight loss program. Weight loss is not and never has been the intended outcome. Only those that are missing the point of intuitive eating make these claims.

Yes, you can lose weight during or after you’ve made peace with food and made intuitive eating part of your life. But weight loss is a natural process that your body takes care of – we have no control over it, and this is a good thing!

Anytime you focus on losing weight, you’re creating a stressful situation for both your body and your mind. This stress puts you into fight or flight, causing many physiological responses that keep your body from releasing stored fat. These responses include stimulating carbohydrate cravings and an inability to fully absorb the nutrients from the food you are eating.

From my own journey in making peace with food and my 13+ years of working with clients on chronic dieting, emotional overeating and binging, I know that weight loss as a goal is always going to backfire. In fact, we’ve all heard that 95% or more of diets don’t work, right? Well, every single one is focused on losing weight.

Why will a focus on weight always backfire?

Because weight, whether lost or gained, is merely a symptom of something else going on in your life.

This symptom of weight gain comes about usually by overeating or yo-yo dieting (also known as weight cycling). What causes the behavior that leads to the symptom of weight gain?

It could be something very emotional, like the loss of a loved one or going through a divorce. It might be an environmental trigger. For example, you might walk by a bakery every day and develop a habit of grabbing a donut.

Whatever is causing the symptom, finding the cause and dealing with it is the way to eliminate the behavior and the symptom. When you focus on just losing weight, all you do is eliminate the symptom. But the cause will continue to trigger the behavior and the weight will simply show up again.

Intuitive eating, when used as intended, will not only address the behavior, but also the cause(s). The weight will resolve itself – that is your body’s job.

Anyone offering intuitive eating/mindful eating as a weight loss strategy or program is doing you a disservice.

Resist the temptation to take the bait. Chances are very good you’ll end up disappointed, and possibly weighing more than when you started. Understand that using intuitive eating to lose weight will give you the same results as any other diet. Instead, try something completely different from dieting. Focus on and find the cause for the behavior leading to your weight gain and/or disordered eating. Once you do, you can address this cause, putting an end to the actual reasons why you’ve gained weight.

And remember, you MAY lose weight while learning to make peace with food and eat intuitively. Many people lose weight after they have made peace as well. But there’s a big difference between this type of weight loss and an “intuitive eating weight loss program.”

If you aren’t at your natural weight (which isn’t the same thing as ideal weight or goal weight), when your body is ready, the weight will be released. The best part of this process? You’ll already be eating intuitively and have peace with food when the weight is released!

This means you’ll be able to maintain your natural weight without dieting, restricting, counting calories or putting forth any focused effort! Doesn’t that sound better than spending every day for the rest of your life counting calories and having to obsess over food? It’s completely possible – I know you can have peace with food, too!

woman chooses between cookies and carrots

Kick Willpower & Failure To The Curb (Along With Dieting)

”Realize that failing at a diet is not about lacking willpower, diets are set up that they fail people.”

How many times have you “failed” at dieting? I think it’s safe to assume you’d say, “As many times as I’ve been on a diet.”

You may have considered some of the diets you’ve been on as actual successes. If this is the case, what is your definition of a “successful diet”?

I’ve talked to many people that tell me about the diets or programs they’ve been on that “worked.” They usually say, “The [name of diet] worked for me – I lost 30 pounds – but I blew it as usual, and the weight came back, plus more.”

Can you see the problem with this thinking? How can a diet be successful if the weight comes back? But I do understand this thinking, and I know exactly why it persists. It’s all part of the diet mentality.

Diet mentality is comprised of several ways of thinking (such as black and white thinking) and beliefs (including rules and ‘shoulds’ about food and eating).

One major belief of diet mentality is that you need willpower to “control” your eating and eat less. Another is if you “fail” at a diet (which happens at least 95% of the time), it’s your fault – it has nothing to do with the diet – you are the failure. I hear it all the time, “I really blew it on my diet, I need to have more willpower!”

The fact is, however, that willpower isn’t necessary to make peace with food, or to lose weight. Willpower implies suffering, which most diets require. You can’t eat just because you’re hungry. If you’ve eaten all you’re allowed for a given day (according to the diet), you can’t eat any more. Otherwise, you’ve “cheated,” which brings you back to thinking you need more willpower!

The idea of failure, especially that YOU have failed, is the way the diet industry keeps you coming back, diet after diet after diet. The truth is that all diets, every last one, have failed you!

This idea that you’ve failed is pure manipulation and it drives me crazy. The larger diet companies use manipulation and shame, as marketing tactics, to ensure their customers keep coming back.

After one diet fails, they tell you that you just need a little more willpower and you’ll lose all the weight you want, and, you’ll live happily ever after as well. Another way they entice customers back is with their “new and improved” programs. These programs usually have an impressive name or added gimmick that they imply is “the solution” or “missing link” to finally losing weight and keeping it off.

Diet companies know their programs don’t work. They also know that in business, it’s easier (and less expensive) to keep a customer than it is to obtain a new customer. If they keep their customers coming back, they’ll have a higher profit margin, which makes all involved happy, except the customer, who ends up gaining the weight back, if they lose any, and the added bonus of more guilt, shame, and feeling like a “failure” once again. Additional shame comes in the form of thinking about how much money money has been spent trying to lose weight, only to end up often at a higher weight than when the dieting began.

It’s disgusting that the diet industry continues to get away with all these lies. What other industry would survive with a consistent 95-97% failure rate? If 95% of all iPhones didn’t work, could Apple actually convince you that it’s your fault and you just need to try harder to make it work?

Just because you haven’t been able to sustain any weight loss that came through dieting, it doesn’t mean it’s your fault. But if you continue to believe it is your fault, the diet industry will continue to flourish and profit – and you’ll continue to be stuck in diet prison. In addition, millions of women and increasing numbers of men will continue to put their lives on hold, not fully living until they lose the weight, which will never happen on a long term basis through dieting.

If you haven’t yet, I invite you to reject dieting in all its forms. Quitting the diet roller coaster is a huge step towards taking care of yourself and your body. It will reduce stress – on your mind and body – which allows for mental & physical healing, and will give your metabolism a chance to get back to normal.

The best part of rejecting diets for good? You can finally live your life now – no more waiting to lose weight before you start living again. Ironically, living your life now may be just what your body needs to actually start releasing the weight you’ve been trying to lose through dieting, restriction, deprivation and forced willpower.

Don’t put your life on hold another second! Dieting will only support the dieting industry and allow it to continue to control your thoughts and how you feel about yourself!

Coaching Question: What would your life look like if you gave up dieting? How much extra time would you have on your hands? What could you be doing with that time?

Take out a piece of paper and write down all the things you have wanted to do but haven’t had the time. Make sure these are things you WANT to do. Dream – money is no object here.

Now pick one item from this list, something small and doable, and the next time you are compelled to search for a new diet, start beating yourself up for what you ate, or have a “fat feeling,” distract yourself by engaging in the item on your list.

After you do this once, you can do it again! Eventually you won’t think about dieting or losing weight each time you have a few extra minutes or when an uncomfortable feeling comes up. It works!