Weight loss has long been promoted as the key to health in our society. However, not only does that not bear out in the research, but what does come to light is just how harmful the pursuit of weight loss can be.
It’s no secret just how low the success rate of intentional weight loss is for the majority of people. Around 95-98% are unable to sustain weight loss for more than a few years; and almost all who do successfully maintain it report obsessive focus on their food & movement in order to do so. If you’re here reading this, it’s likely you already know this from experience.
Given the difficulty in maintaining weight loss long-term, the process of trying to lose weight gives way to weight cycling (the process of losing and gaining weight over and over). In the research, weight cycling (regardless of a person’s weight) is associated with a number of health concerns including high blood pressure, heart disease, higher mortality, and some forms of cancer1.
In addition to the physical harms brought on by weight cycling, there are a number of psychological issues that arise as well.
Many develop disordered eating behaviors or eating disorders as a result of dieting. This creates intense anxiety and fear around food and social situations where eating is involved. This can cause greater and greater isolation as being alone feels easier than trying to navigate an unknown food situation.
In addition to anxiety, dieting is also correlated to feelings of low self-esteem and failure, regardless of one’s body size. This ultimately serves to erode one’s self-confidence, self-trust and self-worth.
Dieting also further distances us from our own innate body needs. We learn to ignore and reject the gentle signals our bodies send in favor of our diet rules. This lack of trust causes significant harm to our relationship to food and our body that takes an appreciable amount of time and energy to repair.
So if you’re working to intentionally shrink your body in an effort to improve your health, remind yourself that this type of messaging stems from diet culture, not the research. And often, you end up doing significantly more harm to your overall health and well-being than help.
- Bacon, L., & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shif. Nutrition Journal, 10(1), 9.
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