Why Diets Don’t Work: From an Eating Disorder Therapist Perspective
It usually begins with a diet. Maybe it starts as an attempt to lose weight for a sports team, a school dance, or an upcoming class reunion. Maybe it’s an attempt to have a fresh start somewhere new, like college or a new relationship. While the excitement and promise of a diet seems to almost guarantee physical results and never-ending happiness, they typically backfire, leading to disappointment, dissatisfaction, and many times, an eating disorder.
Diets cause more harm than good
I have yet to meet someone that told me they went on a diet, lost weight in a healthy manner, end of story. Most diets promote restricting, to a point where you physiologically are starved where you end up overeating or binge-eating. It’s not your intention, but it happens, because your body’s signals are saying FEED ME! Then comes the guilt and shame, and you are back to restricting again, or maybe over-exercising or taking diet pills to make up for “the damage”. Often time’s people gain weight due to the physical demands a diet takes on the body.
Diets don’t increase happiness
There is no finish line, and while seeing the number on the scale go down can bring excitement; the excitement is pretty short-lived before you’re back at it thinking about the next goal. The idea of weight-loss may seem great and even medically necessary for some people, yet diets are not set up to increase long-term happiness. Diets often take us away from finding joy with friends, family, and living life in a way that isn’t paralyzed by weight-loss and restriction. And they also don’t usually stop at one number on the scale, meaning once you’ve achieved one goal, the obsession to keep on losing more weight continues.
Diets ignore your emotional health
While diets almost seem to promise this sense of freedom, happiness, and ability to help you tackle anything once you’ve lost that weight, they don’t exactly care or address your emotional health. Why are you at a point where you feel you need to lose weight to be happy or ready or able to take that next step in your life? What would it look like to focus on something else to help you find happiness or be content with who you are? These are important questions that therapy can help you start to uncover, all without the nasty ups and downs of going on a diet.
Diets can lead to an eating disorder
I can’t tell you the number of clients who come to treatment for their eating disorder and say: it started off as a diet. It started off as limiting carbs, then limiting proteins, and before you know it, you’re engaging in a full blown cycle of restricting/binge-eating/purging/over-exercising/etc. And it’s very difficult to stop. If you notice you are starting to feel out of control and having more and more thoughts relating to losing weight and desire to be thin, then it is critical that you seek help. Eating disorders are serious psychological and physical conditions that can take over your life and lead to life-threatening consequences. Do not hesitate to seek help; contacting a therapist specializing in eating disorders can help you get your life back. Eating disorders are treatable, yet early detection is critical and can lead to quicker success in the recovery process.