Tackling The Big Three Pressures That Keep Fad Dieting Alive
By: Malcolm Evans
Dieting critics often say that the main reason why diets almost inevitably fail other than in the short-term is the biological fact that the body will rebound with stored weight after it suffers food deprivation.
This theory has been tested under laboratory conditions and it is tested year after year by thousands of desperate long-term dieters. But accurate though it is, this is actually only of secondary significance in explaining why obsessive dieting not only persists within our culture but is in fact on the rise.
Solutions lie in the mind — and until dieters are taught how to unpack and reframe the influences that trap them within anxious minds and overweight bodies, the only things that will change are the names of fad diets.
These obsessive dieting pressures come from three areas: the emotional, the cultural and the commercial.
At The Weight Foundation we have launched an awareness campaign concerning an escalation of the Food Industry's hard sell, which we call Meal Stealing. Extra pressure is piling up on the millions of people already suffering confusion and panic regarding what they should do next about their growing dieting and weight worries.
The move comes as part of an overall campaign to make accessible to all dieters in a useful format the findings of the latest research into why people just cannot seem to stop dieting, even though all it is doing is making them even more overweight and even more miserable.
And the attack on promoting unhealthy habits coincides with the release of the new 3 Small Steps self-help system, designed as the start of a non-commercial and collaborative solution towards assisting problem dieters worldwide to regain self-control against all of the influences supporting obsessive dieting.
Meal Stealing is a dramatic way of visualizing the commercial pressure helping to create the dieting culture, with strong emotional and cultural pressures completing the dieter's unholy trinity of beliefs and behaviors.
Consumers are used to seeing sex, fashion, love and status being used to sell food — and the food companies can and will quite naturally do everything within the law to promote themselves.
However, we are now witnessing more and more attempts not just to squeeze certain foods on to the menu but also to force themselves further in as major dietary staples.
In the States, where snack food and out-and-out junk has for a number of years sought to displace traditional and balanced meals from the household menu, the trend is even more advanced than it is the UK — but this market is rapidly catching up.
We identify three specific areas which illustrate the trend. The first concerns breakfast cereals, the advertising of which has traditionally been about the choice of start-up fuel early in the morning. However, many commercials now present packaged cereal as an all-day food option.
Another example is the attempted re-branding of flavored noodles from being a snack into the status of a traditional food staple. This is a progression down the same road already well-traveled in the US, where a TV dinners mentality has become semi-legitimated by time alone.
A third area is that of convenience shopping. A typical example is that of the multi-role juggling of a modern homemaker. Her delayed and late evening food is shown as something like ice cream or chocolate, or even alcohol in place of food altogether, naturally on special offer that week in her local convenience store.
The Weight Foundation does not support suggestions that the law should be changed to clamp down on food advertising, concentrating instead on developing strategies to assist individuals to make more informed choices about their eating habits and lifestyles.
The answer must also be found in tackling something the registered charity has identified as Diet Shock, which we characterize as the loss of rational faculties regarding personal feeding which are buried under the ongoing avalanche of conflicting and often bad dieting advice.
Other dieting commentators use the term Diet Shock to describe the famine conservation mode previously mentioned but we redefine it in this way as part of our overall philosophy that the psychology of weight control must lead the biology if we are to make inroads in to the obesity and dieting epidemics.
Seduced away from conventional eating by advertising on the one hand and bamboozled on the other by the ceaseless tide of eating and dieting advice, many people have simply lost a clear picture of how to feed and care for themselves.
The Weight Foundation already publishes online its popular The Hardcore Dieting Index free self-test questionnaire, helping dieters to assess their personal behavior. Dieters self-categorize as Swingers (down but back up due to failing to resolve core issues), Flatliners (continual emotional strugglers) and Lifers (constant and obsessive food restricters).
Feedback from many long-term dieters in several countries has allowed the refinement of a fresh methodology to tackle unhealthy obsessions with eating, weight-loss and self-image issues.
3 Small Steps is designed to loosen the three restricting bands which usually keep dieting fixations in place despite endless failed dieting attempts.
These ties are identified as the emotional, the cultural and the commercial pressures which make Hardcore Dieting — the Manchester UK-based charity's term for persistent and obsessive dieting — so rampant in the West. Many experts now acknowledge that repeatedly failed dieting is a contributory factor to the Obesity Endemic. The growing frustration and disillusionment with dieting approaches stems from their inability to address these wide-ranging underlying concerns.
Ignoring any one of them will almost certainly condemn a problem eater to weight-control failure.
Dieters are invited to question closely what they are using food for. Is it a substitute or a comfort for other factors in their lives? Emotional over-eating is thought to be a significant contributory factor in many cases of long-term obesity.
On the cultural front, persistent dieters are asked whether they are unthinkingly buying into a cult of excessive thinness, or following the herd instinct in the stampede from one fad diet to the next.
Everyone thinks they operate as individuals but, in fact, we are all under great pressure to conform. For many women that can mean aspiring to excessive thinness, which in many cases is sure to lead to a rebound from self-deprivation into overeating and even greater misery.
Less widely appreciated than the unrealism of waif-thin icons is the need women especially feel to be involved with dieting — the need to fit in with your friends and society generally by being able to talk, live and suffer it. Hardcore Dieting has sadly become for many a rite of passage into womanhood.
The 3 Small Steps approach to the commercial pressures to eat abnormally or diet is to ask "Who's stealing my meals?" and to refuse to be dragged from a natural and normal eating rhythm.
3 Small Steps combines elements of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Neuro-linguistic Programming (NLP). CBT aims to reconstruct an individual's relationships to life experiences by providing a critical faculty where previously there might only have been panic or depression. In short, it allows people to think for themselves. The problem with much of CBT self-help is that it is simply too long, too daunting and too complex to follow through. 3 Small Steps is designed around the fewest possible strong measures capable of making a major impact.
NLP goes further by attempting to eliminate chronic and self-defeating habit patterns in favor of dynamic new actions. Its key component is the implanting of strong, positive and enabling emotions. There is nothing stronger or more positive than seeing a previously problem eater living her life free from food issues.
All the calorie-counting and all the BMI charts in the world cannot teach what actually matters. The difference between a lighter, happier person and a heavier, unhappy one is that for the latter food is a major and dominating issue.
Mind-shifts cannot happen on paper charts, or through contrived and unnatural diets. Changes of attitude occur in the mind and that is where the battle over dieting and obesity is won.
The goal of The Weight Foundation is to become the leading international free weight control resource, relying on the goodwill and input of dieters everywhere to keep refining the research and shared self-help strategies.