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Get off the Diet Rollercoaster and Embrace Health at Every Size

By Jessica Berens, Dietetics Student, University of Florida

Reviewed by Laura Acosta, MS, RD, CSSD, LD/N, Department of Food Science and Human Nutrition, University of Florida

Most of us have had those days: a day when we find ourselves staring longingly at a piece of cake, a day when we aren’t sure how to stick to our diet and also be a good role model for our kids, or just a day when we hear an inner voice saying “No, don’t eat that” or “That’s too much!”

Dieting is an endless cycle of counting calories and restricting foods with the hope of losing weight. Why do we put ourselves through this painful and often frustrating ordeal? Is being thinner really equal to being better? For that matter, are diets typically positive for our health?

A Diet Can’t Hurt, Can It?

Despite widespread belief, weight loss from a diet rarely lasts for the long term. The book Big Fat Lies by Dr. Glenn Gaesser, renowned researcher and professor at Arizona State University, explains that people who have lost and regained large amounts of weight are at a higher risk for both type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.

In one study, Harvard alumni were asked how many times they had dieted and how many times they had lost weight. The participants were also asked about weight gain. It was the yo-yo dieters–those who continually lost and regained weight–who were at the highest risk for chronic disease.

If Not a Diet, Then What?

In a thin-obsessed culture, breaking free from the diet mindset can be difficult and isolating. Fortunately, there are a growing number of groups that embrace a philosophy of “Health at Every Size.”

The basis of the Health at Every Size (HAES) movement is that weight and body mass index (BMI) are not true evaluations of a person’s health status. HAES works to combat weight bias, and to overcome the stigma that being overweight makes a person lazy or unattractive.

Weight is defined by more than just energy balance (calories consumed versus calories burned). A person is born with a weight “set point,” which is controlled by a number of complex variables such as genetics, environment, and metabolism. While we can control our behavior, we unfortunately have little to no control over the more innate factors that affect our weight. HAES is not about doing away with healthy behaviors, but rather about having respect for our bodies (no matter their sizes) and working to keep them as healthy as possible.

Health is Determined By Many Factors

You may be wondering: if we stop focusing on weight as a proxy for health, what can we highlight instead? A positive body image and a healthy lifestyle focused on moderation are two great places to start. Choose a balanced diet based on USDA’s My Plate that focuses on the major food groups, but still leaves room for the occasional (guilt-free) treat.

Share with your family the mentality that health comes in all shapes and sizes.  Work toward unconditional appreciation and care for your body, and help your loved ones to do the same. And most importantly, make it a family goal to live a healthy, compassionate, and, ultimately, diet-free life.

Further Reading:

What is Health at Every Size?

Health at Every Size Approach

References:

Gaesser, G. A. (2002). Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health. Calrsbad, CA: Gurze Books.

Lee, I. and Paffenbarger, R. S., Jr. (1992). Change in Body Weight and Longevity. JAMA. 268(15), 2045-2049.

May, M. (2011). A Non-restrictive Approach to Weight Management for the Patient Who Has “Tried Everything”. The Maryland Family Doctor, 47(4), 13-16. 

Photo Credits: Todd Warnock/Digital Vision/Thinkstock