What happens when we engage in long term dieting? I have talked to people who have been dieting in some way for 20, 30 years or more. Sadly, this is not uncommon today in our weight obsessed society. Given that’s the case, the question of what does all this dieting do to us should come up often but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to-at least not in our culture at large. One of the biggest impacts of long term dieting is that dieting tends to become more difficult. This tends to lead to feelings of guilt and shame i.e. feeling like we must “lack willpower” or that there must be something wrong with us or our body.
Let me give an example of how this plays out in action. You start your first diet. It seems surprisingly easy, you are able to follow it to the letter, and in all likelihood lose weight fairly quickly and easily. This goes on for quite a while successfully. At some point down the road however, the weight starts to creep back on. This usually leads to not just diet number two, but multiple subsequent diets with each attempt being slowly but surely shorter and shorter and less “successful” in terms of weight loss. This also usually includes periods of binge eating the foods you have restricted in between diets. Yes, at this point (usually after a pretty extended period of dieting history), you are now firmly entrenched in the diet/binge cycle. This often comes with weight gain in addition to those intense feelings of guilt and shame. This tends to worsen as we continue dieting.
When we talk about this in terms of long term yo yo dieters this can be profound. For myself for example, someone who yo yo dieted consistently for 13 years, this cycle got to the point where I couldn’t follow any diet for more than a day or so without feeling the need to binge on foods that were labeled “off limits” on whatever diet I happened to be following. This is something I see my clients experiencing often and typically is referred to as diet backlash. This also absolutely sets the stage for eating disorder behaviors in order to try and compensate for what we see as our dieting failures.
Many people stay in this place for years and years feeling like they have to keep trying to diet out of a need to “get skinny” or even just improve their health in spite of the hardship this causes them. I think often this is the point when people seek help, when they are feeling truly out of control around food and their bodies. Imagine the impacts outside of weight this has on us. Long term dieting effects our mental health, our physical health, our enjoyment of other things in life outside of food and body, and really just our overall wellbeing.
Eating in a mindful and intuitive way helps us reconnect not just to food and our bodies, but to get back to enjoying our lives! What does that look like for you? People frequently find themselves enjoying new hobbies (I discovered I actually really like to dance..alone), developing new and deeper relationships with others, being more productive at work, etc. It’s a very individual process, but it truly is a worthwhile one.
Do you have questions about diet backlash or the diet binge cycle? Feel free to let me know!