Thursday, March 13, 2008

What is life like without dieting?

Imagine not dieting. Picture how you would look and feel. Do you look fat and ugly, and feel unhappy?

Giving up dieting is like giving up an addiction; it is difficult to visualise life without it. Suggesting that people should stop dieting often causes quite strong reactions. In the course of my work I have had numerous people criticise my belief that dieting is self-destructive. I thought I would include several of these comments and illustrate how many of these criticisms are based on the myths surrounding dieting and are not founded in fact.

'It is all right for you to say don't diet, but I would feel happier if I were thinner.' This woman associates dieting with getting thinner, and being thinner with being happier. Firstly, dieting does not make most people thinner most of the time and, secondly, being thinner does not make most people happier.

'You are all right, you're not fat, but I need to keep on dieting.' Firstly, this women assumes that only fat people diet. Women of all shapes and sizes diet, up to 90 per cent of women see themselves as being larger than they want to be; dieting is motivated by perceived size not actual size. Secondly, she believes that if she continues to diet she will lose weight. Dieting involves thinking about losing weight but not necessarily achieving it. It is only necessary to realise how few dieters are successful to understand that dieting is not about weight loss.

Diet Start

'If I didn't diet I'd be enormous.' This women assumes that dieting is preventing a massive weight gain. Some people do manage to limit their food intake continuously and for extended periods of time so that they can keep their weight below their natural set points. If such people returned to eating the volume of food they ate before they started to diet, they probably would gain weight owing to a lowered metabolic rate. However, most dieters are not eating less overall, but fluctuate between episodes of undereating and episodes of overeating. What they are doing is thinking about eating less. In which case, if they stopped dieting they would not gain weight, but would stop being preoccupied with food and feeling miserable.

Giving up dieting is a positive step. Dieting does not make you thinner, happier, in control or successful, so why do it?

What are the benefits of not dieting?


Stopping dieting means you can accept yourself for who you are now, instead of looking to the future for a better person to emerge. It means you can be proud of yourself, and no longer make endless comparisons with better, thinner and more beautiful role models. As Anne Dickson says in her book The Mirror Within, that comparison is:

such an automatic process that we sometimes forget to ask ourselves too big/flat/short, for whom? Having learned the need for attractive parts, we compare these fragments to external media models, usually without any specific person in mind, and we rate ourselves in fragments and against some internal ideal.

Stop dieting and you can stop making these critical comparisons. The present you becomes important and the discrepancy between that and the future ideal can be forgotten.


Stopping dieting means freedom from thinking about, dreaming about and denying food. It means you can go out for dinner when you want and join in wholeheartedly at social occasions. Stopping dieting means eating what the rest of the family eats and no longer cooking two separate meals. It means freedom to fill your time with other things. Time need no longer be taken up with planning diets and reading diet books but can be spent doing all the other things there are to do.


Stopping dieting means that you will no longer be faced with disappointment, feelings of failure and depression. You will no longer need to set yourself unattainable goals resulting in guilt and feelings of weakness. Your confidence and self-esteem will grow as you no longer constantly undermine yourself with self-criticism.

Eating behaviour

Your eating behaviour will change. Dieting causes changes in all the factors which contribute to eating. Attempting to eat less creates:

  • depression which results in eating to feel better; preoccupation with food resulting in thinking about food and so eating more;
  • preoccupation with weight causing eating to compensate for no weight loss;
  • feeling out of control and therefore undereating followed by overeating;
  • deprivation and increase in the urge to eat;
  • certain foods becoming treats, becoming more desirable and so being eaten more.

Dieting aims to result in eating less, but paradoxically can cause overeating. Giving up dieting takes away this problem. Initially you may eat as a response to the new-found non-dieting freedom but gradually food will no longer play a central role in your life. Stop dieting and you will think about food less. You will eat when you are hungry, not when your craving for food becomes too strong to ignore. You will no longer wish for platefuls of cakes and high calorie foods because knowing that you can eat them whenever you want stops them from being so attractive. Cream-cakes every day may seem wonderful on a diet but as a reality will become boring. Stop dieting and eating will become less important to you.

Stop dieting and you can get on with life and appreciate all the other things that there are on offer.

... andjoyohoxing