Today – Monday, May 6 – is International No Diet Day, which acknowledges the potentially problematic nature of ‘diets’ and how they can hinder, rather than improve our overall well-being.
‘Diets’ have long been used as a tool to manipulate body weight or shape. Consequently, we continue to be relentlessly bombarded with advertisements and claims of ‘wonder’ diets and weight loss miracles.
While there are a multitude of different diets claiming to have the answers, they often have the following similarities:
- Reduction of overall food / energy intake;
- Eliminating certain foods or food groups
- The creation of, and adherence to, food rules
Food rules are what make diets, diets. They are the set of conditions, either given to us or self-developed, which aim to alter food or eating behaviours. Common examples of ‘food rules’ include fasting (e.g. not eating after 6pm), not eating carbohydrates for dinner, meal replacements (e.g. shakes or smoothies), not eating out more than once per week, or ditching dessert.
The question is, are food rules beneficial? For some, food rules may encourage better-quality eating and making rules flexible may encourage more realistic adherence. However, for others, implementing food rules may prove harmful.
Many food rules we are encouraged to follow can negatively impact our everyday lives. What may begin as a harmless change with the intent to improve eating behaviour, could result in detrimental obsessions that ultimately affect other aspects of our life.
As humans, we enjoy socialising over meals. However, this means that a seemingly harmless rule of eating out only once per week could mean excluding yourself from social events with friends and family. Take the following scenario: after a long week, you and your partner decide to go out to dinner on Friday night, however, your friends then ask you to catch up over brunch on Sunday. Rigid dieting rules may mean you have to say no to your friends and miss out on seeing them. Choosing to be ‘flexible’ with how you choose to eat (within reason) can help to avoid having to miss out on events and may also prevent unnecessary feelings of anxiety or guilt associated with ‘breaking’ your rules.
Diets and their notoriously rigid rules very rarely work long-term, with a large proportion of people who lose weight through dieting eventually regaining that weight, and sometimes even more. Other healthy lifestyle behaviours, including a nutritious diet and regular physical activity, can be beneficial to overall wellbeing without necessarily resulting in weight-loss.
Tips for healthier eating without the need for ‘diets’:
- Focus on what you can add to your diet, rather than what you think you should exclude. For example, adding an additional serve of fruit or vegetables each day.
- Avoid completely cutting foods, or food groups, from your diet, unless, of course, you have allergies, intolerances or other medical conditions that require you to avoid specific foods or ingredients.
- Listen to hunger and fullness cues – our bodies are pretty smart, so we should trust them!
- Try not to solely associate food with weight, and instead focus on the positives that nutritious foods can provide, such as stronger bones, reducing risk of chronic disease, and providing us with energy for exercise, work and family time.
- Acknowledge food as an essential element for life – much like water and oxygen!
- Remember that food is more than the nutrients it provides. Food not only plays a vital role in keeping us alive, but also is an important part of culture, social events, and can taste delicious!
- Learn some new, healthy recipes to have on hand. Healthy doesn’t have to mean boring!
To learn more about how to foster a healthy relationship with food for life without ‘dieting’, speak to an Accredited Practising Dietitian registered with The Dietitians Association, here.
Article written by Georgia Thacker
Georgia has a master’s degree in Health Promotion and looks at health through a social-cultural perspective. Her passion lies in food, nutrition and promoting positive body image, with strong interests in women’s health and wellbeing. Follow Georgia @ggeorgialily.