Why are we seeing an upswing in the anti-diet movement?
I think there are two reasons for this.
The first, and the most important one, is we are seeing a focus on body-positive messaging. Women are stepping forward and saying “I’m plus-sized and I’m happy here”. The reason I love this message is that I see self-hatred on a regular basis. Society has seasoned women to believe that their value is in being perfect and that has done nothing positive for us. I see women who are a size 4 tell me they can’t look at themselves naked and that is heartbreaking. I was absolutely one of those women.
The reason I blame society for this is we aren’t born with this body shame. My daughter is 4 and is naked constantly. She has zero cares in the world what her body looks like. In time, she will, and that makes me very sad. No matter what example of a positive body image I set up for her at home and how I show her what self-love looks like, she will eventually be exposed to the ideas and beliefs of others, through peers and media. I can only give her a solid foundation and the rest is out of my hands. So, the idea that body acceptance is becoming mainstream thrills me.
I know you’re probably thinking “but, Sophie, you literally work in the diet industry” – and you’re right. But what I know from working with women for a decade is that body composition cannot change without self-love and self-acceptance. I mean, it can change temporarily – but it cannot be sustained.
Losing body fat and maintaining your body composition at any size requires making choices every single day that align with your goals and values. If your goal is body weight maintenance and your values are acceptance, respect, and compassion – you are going to make choices that promote wellness, self-care, and nurturing your body and heart. You’re not going to load your body up with things that make you feel bad physically or oppose those values. You’re not going to shame and ridicule yourself for eating a brownie because “it’s bad” or because “you’re overweight and don’t deserve treats’. Imagine your 4-year-old saying that about themselves?
If you’re functioning from a place of fear and shame you will be reactive. You’ll feel emotional discomfort and reach out to scratch that emotional itch. You’ll aim to end the discomfort regardless of your goals. This is so very many people. This is why I love the body positive movement. You can’t shame yourself into positive change.
Committing to accepting your body and loving yourself for where you are right now doesn’t mean you don’t want to make changes to your life or body composition. In fact, people who love and accept themselves frequently seek challenges that contribute to their sense of competence. Competence is one of our basic human psychological needs and feeling competent literally makes us better humans.
If you are happy and you’re overweight -it’s not my job to tell you differently. There is no rule about what size you should be and if anyone tells you there is – stop listening. I do, however, hope that it is truly a love relationship and not a relationship of defeatism and “I guess I am just destined to be overweight” – because that is just not true.
There are many, who feel defeated and betrayed by their bodies, who are anti-diet because they feel “they don’t work” and people just end up chasing this impossible dream furthering their sense of incompetence and fueling shame and self-hatred. I see this daily. But, when people say “diets don’t work” they are suggesting people aren’t able to lose weight and we know that isn’t true. What they are more likely saying is more to the fact that 95% of dieters regain their lost weight within 2-3 years. Now, this we know is true.
That doesn’t mean that diets don’t work. It means people don’t understand the definition of the word “diet”. There are 2 definitions for this word in the dictionary and the first is this: the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats. The second is “a means of restricting food to lose weight or for health reasons”.
So, let’s talk about that.
When most people come to me it’s to change their body composition. In order to do that we have to look at the math of their intake and find a target calorie intake that meets their daily energy needs. It would surprise most people to know that a woman who is under 5ft 8in and inactive usually doesn’t require more than 1500 calories per day. Some, as low as 1200 calories per day. Of course, there a number of factors that influence this but right now we’re just talking about basics. Please don’t start eating 1200 calories a day – a lot of factors go into discovering your BMR.
The first thing we do is establish someone’s BMR, then if they wish to lose weight, we create a deficit either by food or exercise – or both. If you are in a calorie deficit and you STAY in a calorie deficit, you will continue to lose weight. When you’ve reached your goal weight or you’re happy with your body composition, we slowly adjust your calorie intake again to ensure your weight remains where it is. If you follow that calorie target, the weight will stay off.
But, it’s not over just because the weight is off. You have to practice good maintenance behaviours or you will regain the lost weight. This is why the anti-dieting community says diets don’t work. People “diet” then they go back to their previous habits, regain the weight and the cycle of self-hatred continues. They feel that the dieting is fueling the self-hatred. But, it’s my opinion that the self-hatred fuels the FAD dieting.
If you treat a diet as a means to an end and then return to your previous diet once you’ve achieved your goal, you will absolutely regain your weight. It’s basic math.
Where the lines get crossed is in the definition of diet one chooses to adhere to. MOST people see a diet as a means to an end and chose the magic bean that seems most appealing to them. It’s either the easiest or the one that’s in current popularity, or one that their Aunt Karen did that worked for her. Spoiler alert – it’s probably keto or intermittent fasting.
So, the issue lies here: remember I said that “it’s not over just because the weight is off”? You have to practice good maintenance behaviours or you will regain the lost weight.” Well, let’s say you chose keto to lose weight and you happened to get yourself in a caloric deficit within that diet and you lost 20lbs. If you didn’t know how many calories you ate to lose that weight – even if you remained on keto forever (which I highly doubt) or you return to your previous diet, how will you maintain that loss? You won’t. Because fat loss is math.
Let’s say you used intermittent fasting to get your results and you lost the weight you wanted to, but post-IF, during your eating window you ate 2000 calories a day when your BMR is 1500 – you’re going to gain again. Because you didn’t sustain the previous method. If you didn’t even know how many calories you ate to lose that weight you will most certainly gain it back because again, fat loss is math. Most people don’t intuitively eat exactly what their body needs.
So, under this definition of the word “diet” – the anti-diet community is right. Diets don’t work.
Here’s the thing. I mentioned “practice good maintenance behaviours” and what I mean by that is this: when your weight loss phase is complete whatever you did to get there, you have to continue in order to maintain that loss. So, the primary definition of Diet is: the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats.
So, if the habitual eating that got you to your goal remains habit – your “diet” will work.
Now, I’m very aware that a larger issue for the anti-diet community is the shame that comes with failing at being able to conform to the societal expectation of what a healthy person looks like. When someone is trying to lose weight because they can’t stand the reflection looking back at them, they’re far more likely to engage in drastic measures to lose weight. They’re the ones who reach for the quick fix and the magic beans.
Until people get out of the mindset of dieting as a means to an end and into the mindset of “this is how I eat because it contributes to my goals and values,” their chosen diet will remain a prison and they will perpetually be in a shame cycle.
My hope is that society does become a place where body-shaming and body-image issues are a thing of the past. They help no one. In fact, they are so harmful that many people die trying to obtain this so-called perfection. I almost did.
So, I guess my answer to why there is a trend toward anti-diet culture is because sometimes my industry is just garbage. This is the very reason I started my business. I was coached by many people who used body shaming and fear as motivators to get their clients to their leanest and while it got me there, it also primed me for an epic rebound every single time. Any extreme diet is unsustainable and increases our sense of deprivation. When we feel deprived we feel a loss of autonomy. Autonomy is also a basic human psychological need. So, what happens when we feel deprived? We spiral out of control. I can tell you some epic stories of post-bodybuilding prep spirals that resulted in upwards of 50lb gains in 2 months. It’s heartbreaking.
I personally wish anti-diet culture would identify as anti-fad diet culture but truthfully that’s up to us. By us, I mean the diet industry. There are lots of us doing the right thing. The problem is we tell you upfront it’s going to take work – hard work – and lifelong change. That’s a lot less sexy than “lose 50lbs in 4 weeks with these magic keto beans”. If professionals in the industry were focused on their clients’ health and wellness rather than their revenue, there would be a lot fewer supplements on the market and fat-diets would be seen as what they really are – trash.
So, I’ll close out with this: Love your body and all it does for you, so much that you constantly strive to honour it with good fuel and healthy movement. If you choose to change your body composition, do so because you love it so much you want it to perform it’s absolutely best for another 80 years. Know that the method you choose will only work if you can maintain it. So, find a method you love so much you look forward to it becoming the way you show yourself love and respect, daily.