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The Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting [An Unbiased Guide]

In today’s society, ‘dieting’ is a word we hear all too often. It’s not only normalized, but dieting and weight loss are often highly praised. Weight loss tends to be conflated with the key to a healthier and happier life – but is that really the whole story? 

We so often hear about “the dangers of gaining weight and overeating,” but we almost never hear about the downsides of weight loss and restriction. The disadvantages and dangers of dieting are just as real, yet they’re almost never part of the conversation. 

I believe in autonomy and informed consent, so I want to uncover the WHOLE truth about dieting and arm you with the knowledge to make the best choice for yourself.

In this post, I’ll explore the physical, psychological, and social costs of dieting, as well as the alternatives to dieting and how to break free from the diet cycle. I’ll also provide you with some self-reflective tools and questions that will help you to gain some clarity on your decisions about dieting. 

By the end of this post, you’ll see dieting in a new light. Ready to dig in?

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What is Dieting?

In this post, I use the term “dieting” to refer to any form of dietary restriction that is aimed at controlling your body’s shape or size.  This could include calorie counting, limiting carbohydrates, following strict eating times, or any other method that restricts what, when, and how much you eat.

It’s also worth pointing out that ‘dieting,’ as I’m discussing it here, also includes subtler forms of food restriction. This might show up as those ‘healthy eating’ regimes that cut out entire food groups or the wellness plans that secretly revolve around losing weight… looking at you, Noom!  

If the main goal is about body control, restriction, or strict one-size-fits-all rules rather than health, autonomy, and individual goals, then it’s ‘dieting.’  

When I say ‘dieting,’ I’m not talking about medically necessary diets. If you need to avoid gluten because you have celiac disease or you’re following a low FODMAP diet for IBS, that’s not the type of ‘dieting’ I’m referring to. 

Diet Red Flags

Since diets are often disguised as wellness plans, it can be helpful to be aware of diet red flags. Here are some potential “red flags” that indicate you might be on a potentially harmful path: 

  • Any diet that has rules about what, when, or how much to eat.
  • Promises quick and extreme weight loss
  • Removes or restricts whole food groups 
  • Encourages fasting
  • Removes or restricts any macronutrient (carbs, protein, fat)
  • Promotes detoxing or cleanses
  • Uses before and after pictures, shame, guilt, or generally make you feel bad about your body
  • Uses anecdotal evidence 
  • Labels foods as “good” or “bad.”
  • Requires the purchase of specific supplements or branded products.
  • Endorsed by a celebrity or influencer 

With this definition clear, let’s explore the less-talked-about downsides of dieting.

Long-Term Sustainability of Diets

Before we dig into the disadvantages of dieting, let’s answer this key question. Because if diets seldom lead to lasting results, are they worth the struggle in the first place?

Research has consistently shown that long-term, diets don’t work. 

Why do you never hear about this? Because there’s money to be made in the weight loss industry, and a lot of it. The diet industry is a multi-billion dollar industry and growing. 

Plus, research isn’t typically presented in the media. Instead, we’re just bombarded with advertising from commercial weight loss companies, and these companies prefer to provide anecdotal evidence and exaggerated testimonials. 

Unfortunately, no commercial weight loss company has ever published and publicized its long-term success rates. I mean, let’s be real, all they really care about is the money, and long-term data wouldn’t be good for their wallets.

While it’s hard to know the true statistics (given the complexities of this type of research), some weight loss programs have reported a long-term (2- 5 years) success rate of only ~5% (1, 2). 

However, more optimistic researchers have suggested a long-term (1 year) weight loss success rate closer to 20% (3). 

It’s important to note that follow-up rates in weight loss trials tend to be low due to dropouts, so the actual success rate is likely even lower than reported.

Not only is the success rate of dieting pretty dismal, some research suggests that people who frequently diet end up GAINING weight (4). 

In a 2007 study, dieting was a consistent predictor of weight gain, and up to 2/3 of people regained more weight than they lost (2). 

In a study on twins, dieting predicted weight gain in a dose-response fashion, independent of genetics (5). That means the more frequently they restricted calories, the more likely they were to gain weight, unrelated to genetics.

Although these are primarily observational studies, they do show that dieting is not a solution.

Even on the higher end, a 20% long-term success rate is still bleak. Would you buy into anything else with such a low success rate OR that had the risk of achieving the OPPOSITE effect? Imagine if that were medication or a car. 

Physical Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting

Dieting is often seen as a way to lose weight and improve health. However, there are many physical dangers associated with dieting. These dangers can range from mild to severe, and they can affect your overall health and well-being. Here are some of the physical dangers and disadvantages of dieting:

  • Adaptive thermogenesis (metabolic adaptation): This is the body’s response to energy restriction, leading to a decrease in metabolic rate, thus making it harder to lose weight and easier to gain it back.
  • Leptin Decreases; Ghrelin Increases: Leptin reduction makes it harder to feel full, while increased ghrelin levels cause you to feel hungrier physically.
  • Thinning hair: Dieting can lead to nutrient deficiencies which can lead to hair loss. 
  • Weight cycling: Weight cycling, also referred to as yo-yo dieting, is the weight loss and weight gain experienced from multiple bouts of dieting. Research has found weight cycling is associated with cardiovascular disease, suppressed immune system, increased visceral fat, endometrial cancer, diabetes, gallstones, depression, and all-cause mortality 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11.
  • Decreased immune system functioning: Decreased nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) and stress from dieting can compromise your immune system, leaving you more susceptible to illnesses.
  • Digestive disturbances: Dieting behaviors, such as restricting certain foods, fasting, compensatory binging, or eating ‘diet foods’ like sugar alcohols, gum, and excess caffeine, can lead to significant gastrointestinal (GI) distress. This can manifest as bloating, constipation or diarrhea, reflux, or irritable bowel syndrome. These symptoms can be linked to both nutrition and mental stress associated with dieting. Malnutrition from long-term dieting further strains the digestive system leading to more distress. 
  • Poor sleep: Diet-related stress and hunger can affect your sleep quality.
  • Decreased muscle mass: Losing weight often leads to decreases in muscle mass. 
  • Decreased endurance and strength: Reduced calorie intake not only reduces muscle mass, it also reduces available energy and energy stores to fuel workouts. That means physical activity feels tough. You have less energy, you stop making progress, or you may even lose strength or cardiovascular capacity. 
  • Menstrual cycle disturbances: A reduction in caloric intake can lead to hormonal imbalances that disrupt the menstrual cycle. This might cause irregular periods or even amenorrhea, where periods stop altogether. This happens when the body, lacking enough fuel due to reduced caloric intake, prioritizes conserving energy for essential functions for living like breathing, heart function, and maintaining body temperature. In this energy-saving mode, maintaining regular reproductive functions becomes a lower priority. 
  • Fatigue: Diet-induced fatigue can result from reduced calorie intake, lack of essential nutrients, intense workouts without enough rest days, and/or the added effort and mental energy spent on diet planning, thinking about food, watching videos, meal preparation, etc. Together, these factors can lead to constant tiredness.
  • Reduced sex drive: Dieting can lead to hormonal imbalances affecting libido.
  • Nutrient deficiencies: Diets may lack (or have reduced levels of) essential vitamins and minerals, leading to deficiencies.
  • Decreased bone density: Dieting with reduced calorie intake can lead to decreased bone density over time. Additionally, deficiencies in nutrients like calcium and vitamin D can further weaken bones, increasing the risk of fractures and osteoporosis. 
  • Dehydration and Electrolyte imbalances: The use of laxatives, diuretics, “detox” teas, and other fad supplements in dieting can lead to dehydration and imbalances in electrolytes. This disruption can cause symptoms like fatigue, muscle cramps, dizziness, or more serious health concerns.
  • Decreased fertility: Reduced intake can affect reproductive hormones and lead to fertility issues. 

Psychological Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting

We’ve assessed the physical implications, but dieting doesn’t stop at the body. Dieting can affect your mental well-being as well. Here’s how:

  • Preoccupation with food
  • Body dissatisfaction 
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Increased stress
  • Decreased cognitive function 
  • Food guilt or shame
  • Eating in secret
  • Feeling out of control around food
  • Decreased cognitive function 
  • Fear of weight gain
  • Increased anxiety and depression

Social Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting

Dieting is often seen as a personal choice, but it can have a significant impact on our social lives. When we diet, we may avoid social events that involve food, or we may feel self-conscious about our bodies and avoid social situations altogether. This can lead to isolation and loneliness, and it can also strain our relationships with friends and family. Here are some of the social dangers of dieting:

  • Avoidance of events with food
  • Avoidance of events because of body image
  • The strain on relationships if the diet becomes more important or too time-consuming
  • Difficulty managing going out to eat with friends or family
  • Irritability taken out on relationships
  • Decreased energy and focus on being present 
  • Increased Isolation and withdrawal

Financial Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting

Dieting might appear as a simple decision, but its financial repercussions can be substantial. Beyond the potentially normal and everyday expenses like groceries and gym memberships, there are hidden and long-term costs to consider. Here are some of the economic implications of dieting:

  • Cost of specialized diet foods 
  • Cost of unnecessary supplements 
  • Expensive diet programs or meal plans
  • Expensive gym memberships or fitness programs 
  • Potential medical expenses due to health complications 
  • Opportunity costs from poor energy due to being in a calorie deficit 
  • Decreased productivity and efficiency 

Dieting and Disordered Eating 

Dieting is a strong risk factor for disordered eating and eating disorders. Disordered eating has become normalized and even praised in our society it can be hard to notice, even though it causes harm and distress.

One of the most significant contributors to the development of disordered eating is the internalization of the unrealistic beauty ideal of thinness. This often leads to dieting for weight loss in hopes of achieving a thin appearance (12). 

While dieting may seem like a path to more confidence and better health, the restrictions and rules around food commonly lead to an unhealthy relationship with eating.

In fact, dieters are up to 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder compared to non-dieters (13). This connection between dieting and disordered eating needs to be acknowledged. 

The pursuit of an ideal body can trap people in a “diet cycle”: a frustrating loop of restricting, feeling hungry, and then binge eating or feeling out of control around food. This isn’t about failing or a lack of discipline or willpower; it’s a natural response to deprivation. 

A lot of times, dieting behaviors are so normalized that they can be easy to miss. Disordered eating may include: 

  • ​​Food preoccupation
  • Skipping meals or intentional fasting to change body size 
  • Food restriction
  • Avoiding eating when hungry
  • Feelings of guilt and shame that arise from eating
  • Loss of control around food
  • Eliminating certain foods or food groups 
  • Use of laxatives or diuretics
  • Exercise as a way of burning calories or punishment for eating
  • Obsessive calorie or macro counting 
  • Methods of appetite suppression 

Societal Impact of Dieting

Dieting not only affects people on a personal level for the reasons listed above, it has effects on a societal level as well.

Defining Diet Culture

Dieting, on a societal scale, reinforces the perception that smaller bodies equate to better health, attractiveness, and overall value, impacting how we interact with and judge one another.

This creates a culture where thinness is worshipped, and people in large bodies are deemed unhealthy, unattractive, and lazy, and they must lack self-discipline.

Diet culture is everywhere, from the media to our workplaces and doctor’s offices. It’s not just background noise; it shapes real inequalities for people in bigger bodies, affecting everything from seating in public spaces to healthcare. 

As awareness of the harms of diet culture has grown and people are buying into it less, diet culture has been repackaged into ‘wellness’, masking weight loss as health. If you take a peak under the shiny new packaging, you see that it’s not usually about health but rather about conforming to the same societal body standards. 

Whether diet culture or wellness culture, the same problems persist: health is about way more than weight alone, bodies come in different sizes, and weight loss diets seldom work long-term for the majority of people. 

It’s a culture that places blame on the individual for their inability to achieve an unrealistic standard rather than societal factors of health like systems of oppression, equitable and accessible healthcare, and safe environments.

The Profitable Trap of Diet Culture

If diet culture had a motto, it would be: “Your body is flawed, and we have the solution $$$!” 

Diet culture sells us the dream of a ‘perfect body’ and, in the process, creates a multi-billion-dollar market. In 2019, the weight loss and diet industry was valued at a staggering $192.2 billion (14). 

In our capitalist society, diets are lucrative. They exploit insecurities, promise unattainable dreams, and consistently repackage the same promises to keep people coming back. 

But here’s the catch – most diets don’t lead to long-term success. Instead, they trap you in a cycle: adopting a diet, struggling with its demands, facing inevitable weight regain, and then battling feelings of guilt and inadequacy. 

And as people get stuck in this loop, the industry’s profits continue to soar.

Unraveling the Link Between Diet Culture and Weight Stigma

Because diet culture worships thinness and pathologizes fat, it is the direct cause of weight stigma and weight bias. Neither would exist if it weren’t for diet culture.

  • Weight stigma is discrimination or stereotyping based on an individual’s body size or weight and is reflected in the treatment of people in a larger body. Alarmingly, It’s one of the only forms of discrimination that is still tolerated in society.
  • Weight bias is negative thoughts and beliefs about people based on their weight.

Because of diet culture, we are exposed to these messages on a daily basis everywhere, from TV to ads and social media to our own doctors, and we subconsciously begin to believe these messages to be true. With every exposure, we internalize those messages and believe we are not healthy, not valuable, not desirable, or not worthy unless we fit the unrealistic societal standard. 

Weight stigma is all around us, and sometimes, it’s so sneaky we don’t even recognize it. But for those who’ve felt it, it’s painfully real.  Examples of weight stigma include:  

  • Being told to “lose weight” at the doctor’s office before receiving treatment that someone in a smaller body would receive leading to delayed care.  
  • Students being bullied at school for their weight. 
  • Missing out on job promotions or facing workplace discrimination based on body size.
  • Friends or family making unsolicited comments about eating habits or the need to “get healthy.”
  • Larger-bodied characters being portrayed as lazy, unhealthy, and unattractive or as “the funny one” in media.
  • Healthcare providers underdiagnosing people in smaller bodies (i.e., assuming someone in a smaller body can’t have type 2 diabetes) and misdiagnosing people in larger bodies (i.e., blaming symptoms on weight when there is an underlying cause).
  • Struggling to find clothing that fits in mainstream stores.
  • Inadequate representation of all body sizes and shapes in media.
  • Receiving negative glances or comments when exercising or eating in public.
  • Being told weight loss is “just about willpower.”
  • Uncomfortable public seating in places like cinemas or airplanes designed for a narrow body standard.
  • Personal relationships strained due to judgments based on weight.

Over the past couple of decades, public health campaigns against obesity have ramped up, fueled by the “war on obesity.” There is this widespread belief that people can be shamed or scared into losing weight- you know,  the “tough love” approach. However, as public health efforts have ramped up, so has weight stigma and negativity towards those with larger bodies.

The incidence of weight stigma has increased by 66 percent, unsurprisingly correlating with the rise of public health efforts to ‘fight obesity’ (15).

On a societal level, the belief that weight stigma disguised as ‘concern’ can motivate healthier choices is misguided. In reality, it perpetuates stereotypes, exacerbates health issues, and actually leads to weight gain. Weight stigma has been shown to: 

  • Fuel emotional distress, depression, and low self-esteem.
  • Exacerbate body image dissatisfaction.
  • Lead to avoidance of healthcare settings, resulting in missed preventive screenings or delayed necessary care.
  • Deter individuals from gyms or exercising outdoors due to fear of ridicule.
  • Lead to binge eating and disordered eating.
  • And has been correlated with inflammation, stress, and increased blood pressure and blood glucose levels.

What’s the Alternative to Dieting? A Weight-Inclusive Approach

If you’ve been presented with dieting and weight loss as the solution to your problems your whole life, it can be hard to see any alternative. However, weight loss usually isn’t even the *true* end-goal of dieting. Let me explain: It’s not the weight loss that people want, it’s what being in a thinner body brings. 

Reflect on this: if a genie magically appeared and could grant you the body you want, what does that bring you? Write down or envision all the outcomes of being in a different body. This will look different for everyone. Some possible outcomes may be:

  • Improved health
  • Improved fitness
  • Less joint pain
  • Less oppression in a fat-hating culture
  • Improved confidence
  • Increased belonging 
  • Increased knowledge about nutrition, health, fitness, etc. 
  • Increased energy
  • Development of discipline 

These are just some possibilities. Write down all your reasons and then rank them from most important to least and choose your top 5. These are your *true* goals. And all of these can actually be pursued without waiting for weight loss. 

For example, if your goal is improved cardiovascular endurance, you actually accomplish this through cardiovascular activity, not weight loss. Even thin people can become deconditioned, and the way to improve cardiovascular fitness is the same: start slowly increasing your activity. 

If your goal is improved health, health can be pursued at any size regardless of weight changes. People of any size can incorporate more fruits and vegetables, reduce or seize alcohol, cigarettes, or drug use, engage in more movement, attend to mental health, build social connections, etc. 

If you want to reduce joint pain, see a weight-inclusive physical therapist who can create an exercise plan that is tailored to your specific needs and goals. Joint pain is caused by many factors. People of all sizes can experience joint pain, and there are many effective treatments that do not involve weight loss.

Weight is not a behavior. Focus on the behaviors that lead to your desired outcomes. 

Intuitive Eating: An Alternative to Dieting

Are you ready to give up dieting and start living a healthier and more liberated life? Intuitive Eating is an alternative to dieting that can help you achieve your goals in alignment with your values. 

Intuitive Eating is an evidence-based, weight-neutral approach to eating that works to heal your relationship with food and body image. 

What does that mean? Instead of a goal of weight loss, Intuitive Eating is about health gain. 

Weight loss diets use restrictions and rules to change your body into something “better” and are typically driven by self-loathing and shame. 

In contrast, Intuitive Eating is about tuning into your body’s internal wisdom to honor, nourish, and respect your body and is driven by self-compassion and values.

How to Break the Diet Cycle – Tips to Get Started with Intuitive Eating

  1. Eat enough: Make sure to eat enough by paying attention to both the amount you consume and how often while also incorporating a wide variety of foods. Don’t let yourself get too hungry since this can lead to a primal drive to eat and feeling out-of-control around food choices. 
  2. Eat for Nourishment & Satisfaction: Opt for foods that support your well-being while also meeting your preferences, including what’s accessible, and ensuring a satisfying level of fullness.
  3. Mind Your Media: Be selective about the social media accounts you follow and the media you consume. Choose sources that promote body acceptance and inclusivity.
  4. Explore Eating Beyond Weight Loss: Explore eating for reasons other than just weight loss, such as for health goals, cultural connection, enjoyment and fun, supporting local or ethical businesses, bonding with loved ones, etc. 
  5. Curate Your Social Circle: Surround yourself with supportive people who understand and respect your journey and seek to educate or set respectable boundaries with those that don’t.
  6. Find a support group: Look for support groups, both online and in-person. Many of them are free and can provide a community of understanding peers.
  7. Shift Your Perspective: Transition from body dissatisfaction to body appreciation. Appreciate what your body can do and how it supports you, and show yourself care no matter how your feel about your appearance.
  8. Be patient and compassionate with yourself: Learning to eat intuitively takes time, patience, and self-compassion. Be kind to yourself along the way. You’re unlearning years of diet culture, it doesn’t happen overnight.
  9. Seek Professional Help: If within your means, consider seeking out an Intuitive Eating and body image coach to guide and support you.
  10. Join my newsletter for monthly tips and support: I offer a free monthly non-diet newsletter with tips and support for people who are practicing Intuitive Eating and body kindness. 

Should I diet? Pros and Cons of Dieting

After exploring the disadvantages of dieting and alternative approaches, you might still be asking, “Aren’t there pros to dieting”?  Let’s delve into some of these pros (and realities) of dieting so you can make an informed decision for yourself. 

Pro: Improved Health

Perceived benefit: Dieting can lead to weight loss, which can improve health.

Reality: Weight and health are often conflated – meaning that what we’re taught is the more you weigh, the more unhealthy you are, and all weight loss will improve health. 

However, that is incredibly simplistic and potentially not even accurate. The truth of the matter is health is WAY more complex than weight alone. Weight does not equal health. 

What we know:

Yes, there is a strong correlation between weight and health, and that weight loss can lead to improvements in health. However, the majority of research on obesity doesn’t consider weight stigma, oppression, weight cycling from years of dieting, trauma, or adverse event in childhood,  as confounding variables to health. These are all factors often experienced by people in larger bodies and can have a significant impact on health outcomes.

What we also know but is often left out of the conversation: 

  • Weight loss likely isn’t sustainable long-term for most people. 
  • Simply the loss of fat through liposuction doesn’t improve markers of health.
  • Health behaviors (eating vegetables, engaging in movement, attending to mental health etc.) lead to improved health regardless of weight or size. Health can be pursued by people of all sizes, regardless of any weight changes.  
  • Access to equitable and non-stigmatizing healthcare, inclusive environments, and safe communities improve health outcomes.
  • Weight cycling from years of dieting harms health.
  • Having an unmarginalized status and access to wealth and privilege are more strongly associated with health outcomes than any individual choice.
  • Shame and guilt lead to a decrease in health behaviors, while compassion, support, and acceptance lead to increased health behaviors. 
  • Permanent health isn’t attainable for anyone. Eventually, all of us will inevitably encounter illness, injuries, disabilities, disease, and/or death. While prevention and delay of challenges are important, it’s equally important to emphasize the need for compassionate and equitable care for everyone, regardless of their health journey.

In essence, our understanding of health, when centered solely around weight, misses the larger picture. By zeroing in on weight, we sidestep the full spectrum of health and well-being. Additionally, we must consider not just the individual but also societal determinants of health, environments, and the overarching framework of health justice, which will have a bigger impact on people. 

Pro: Social Connection and Bonding

Perceived benefit: Dieting provides a sense of belonging since people bond over shared diet experiences, challenges, and goals.

Reality: The notion that dieting strengthens social connections might have some truth—after all, shared experiences can indeed forge bonds. But is dieting the most authentic or healthful avenue for connection?

Points to Consider:

  • Bonding over diets reinforces negative behaviors, restrictive patterns, and mutual body dissatisfaction.
  • The diet industry thrives off creating a community feeling, but often, this is designed more for profit than for genuine support.
  • The focus on a shared diet experience can overshadow deeper, more meaningful conversations and connections.

Connection Beyond Dieting:

  • Social connections can be formed through countless shared experiences beyond dieting, such as hobbies, passions, interests, challenges, and personal growth journeys.
  • Diet talk alienates and causes harm to those around you, especially for people with certain body types, dietary needs, and/or eating disorders.
  • Forming bonds based solely on mutual dietary struggles might lead to relationships that aren’t as lasting or profound as connections based on mutual respect, shared values, or common interests.
    • Getting to truly know someone involves discussing topics broader than dieting. Open up about dreams, fears, passions, and personal experiences. Active listening and showing empathy can deepen connections.

Pro: Improved Body Image

Perceived benefit: Losing weight or changing my appearance will lead to better body image and confidence.

Reality: Changing your appearance won’t improve your body image. Body image is more about your internal feelings and thoughts than your external appearance.

Think about this: how you feel about your body can change significantly from day to day, or even within the hour, even though your actual appearance remains fairly stable. 

Striving for a specific appearance often leads to a never-ending chase. Ever glanced at an old photo and thought, “I looked great, I wish I looked like that again”? However, think back to that time. Were you comfortable with your body, or were you chasing a different body goal back then too? Often when you reach a goal you once thought was “ideal,” you set a new one. It becomes an ever-changing goalpost. 

While changing your appearance may seem like the key to improving body image, it’s actually more about the amount of worth you assign to your appearance.

While striving for a specific look may give temporary satisfaction, it’s fleeting. We all have days where we don’t feel our best, and that’s perfectly normal. Additionally, bodies change over time.

If your worth is entirely based on your looks, your mood, and habits can suffer greatly.

It’s important to cultivate worth beyond appearance. By doing so, you set yourself up to lead a richer, more meaningful life aligned with your values. And, on challenging body image days, grounding in these values promotes treating your body with respect and care still. 

Pro: Less Weight Stigma and Oppression 

Perceived benefit: Losing weight will lead to less oppression, stigma, judgment, bullying, and more options, spaces, care, and compassion from society.

Reality: This one is difficult because all of the above is an unfortunate reality. We live in a fat-shaming culture where oppression, stigma, and bias based on body size are everywhere. 

It’s completely understandable to want to distance yourself from a marginalized and oppressed group. It’s so understandable that you’d want to pursue a smaller body to live a life free of judgment and bias, AND at the same time, dieting is an energy-suck that comes with many risks and may have caused you harm already. 

Whether you want to shrink your body to fit the standard or you want to avoid weight gain to avoid the stigma that comes with it, I have so much compassion and understanding for you, AND distancing yourself from oppression isn’t going to change the oppressive systems. 

It is so tough and so complex, so it makes sense that you’d want weight loss, AND at the same time, dieting won’t set you free from the vicious cycle. 

Pro: Access to Healthcare and/or Surgeries 

Perceived benefit: If I lose weight, I will have better access to medical treatments, surgeries, and improved quality of healthcare, or, similarly, I need to lose weight to have access to a surgery that will improve my life and/or health. 

Reality: First, if you are facing this, I am so incredibly sorry. It sucks, and it’s unfair that institutions work this way still. It’s okay to be angry, hurt, or sad. You shouldn’t be required to do something harmful or unattainable, and this is the unfortunate reality we live in.

You do have some options. You can get s second opinion from another doctor. You can search for a weight-neutral doctor. 

You can also choose to go on a weight loss diet to obtain a healthcare procedure. It’s your body and your choice, and it’s understandable that you would choose this option while knowing the risks and realities of it. 

You can choose weight loss AND still do body liberation work. The work you do is still meaningful and important regardless of the choice you make. 

You know what’s best for you, and it’s often not straightforward. These decisions are incredibly complex and multifaceted. 

What if I still want to Diet and Lose Weight? 

So you’ve made it this far, you know the risks and realities, and you still want to lose weight. 

I get it.

Dieting can provide a sense of control, belonging, acceptance, comfort, and/or excitement. Giving it up can bring on a fear of being judged, shamed, and oppressed. That is not easy to give up, so it’s understandable if you want weight loss still. I have no judgment towards you, and I don’t think you’re a bad person for it. 

First, I want to acknowledge own my thin privilege here, and I’m not going to influence you to make one decision or another.  Only you know what it’s like to move around the world in your body.  

My goal with this post wasn’t to change your mind, my goal was to make sure you have all the information to make the best decision for you and to help you explore any uncertainty. 

I’m going to say it again, you know what’s best for you, and it’s often not straightforward. These decisions are incredibly complex and multifaceted. 

Journal Prompts for Assessing the Disadvantages of Dieting 

Still on the fence about dieting? Here are some journal prompts to help give you some clarity and guidance: 

  • What diets, meal plans, or “wellness programs” have you tried? Did you lose weight? Did you gain the weight back? How long did it take? Why wasn’t the plan sustainable? Do you want to be on a diet for the rest of your life?
  • At what age did you begin dieting? Has it made your life better, worse, or neutral?
  • In what ways has dieting and obsessing over food and weight loss impacted your life? 
  • How much time, energy, and mental space has dieting taken up? Is that how you want to spend your time and energy?
  • What do you hope to accomplish by losing weight? Does losing weight actually help achieve that outcome? Can that outcome be achieved in other ways?
  • In what ways does dieting serve you? Why do you come back to it? Are there other ways to meet these needs that don’t contribute negatively to your life?
  • In what ways does diet culture or the diet mentality show up in your life? Can you reduce it? 
  • What are your core values? Does dieting help you live in alignment with your values? Does it move you further from your values?
  • In what ways have you experienced weight stigma? How can you deal with weight stigma or other variables out of your control in a more positive way?
  • Who is in your support system? Do you surround yourself with people who accept your body as it is and value you for qualities outside of appearance? Do you have ways to cope when people make comments on your appearance?
  • What steps can you take to make it easier to feel accepted? I.e., block all weight loss ads or only follow body-positive Instagram accounts.
  • How do you envision your life in a world where there’s no pressure to conform to a certain body size or shape?
  • How might your daily life change if you decided not to pursue dieting? What activities or interests could you invest in with the time and energy saved?
  • Have you ever felt pressured by societal standards, friends, or family to look a certain way? How did it make you feel?
  • What are some non-diet related goals you have for yourself in the next year? How might dieting impact these goals?
  • How do you think dieting impacts your relationship with food? Does it enhance or hinder your ability to enjoy and appreciate meals?
  • Think about your favorite memories or life experiences so far. Were they related to your body’s size or appearance?
  • If a close friend or family member came to you with concerns about dieting, what advice or insights would you offer them based on your own experiences?

Final Thoughts on the Disadvantages and Dangers of Dieting 

Dieting has its challenges, and the choice to pursue dieting is a personal one. Your reasons are valid, and your choices are your own. I hope that this post has shed light on some of the complexities surrounding dieting and has equipped you with information to make choices that resonate with your values and needs.

If you’re interested in learning more about Intuitive Eating, check out some of these other blog posts on Intuitive Eating and Body Image. 

If you’re looking for personalized support,  I offer one on one nutrition and Intuitive Eating counseling services to help you find food freedom. My one-on-one services are tailored to your specific needs and concerns. We work to develop a plan together that will help you achieve your goals and fit into your life. Whether you’re looking to break free from the diet cycle, overcome emotional or binge eating, or stop hating your body, I’m here to help. 

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