10 Myths About Dieting, Food and Our Bodies

10 May 2017 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

Welcome to Autumn!

I am reading Beyond a Shadow of a Diet by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel and it’s probably one of the best books on the non-diet approach I have read in a while.

I can highly recommended it if you want to go deep into our relationship with dieting, food and our bodies. In the book Matz and Frankel give a list of diet myths,  I am going to share them with you in this week’s blog.

Myth 1: Dieting is a good way for people to lose weight

It’s absolutely not! In fact 95% of people who go on a diet gain back the weight plus more! Dieting causes weight cycling and weight gain NOT weight loss for the large majority of dieters.

What can you do instead?

Step one is to stop dieting!

Focus on changing eating behaviours and stop focusing on weight loss as your goal. Eat what you want when you are hungry and stop when you are satisfied.

Aim to eat food for fuel most of the time and fun food (chips, cake, sweets, etc) some of the time for the pleasure of the taste.

Myth 2: It is possible to stop your body from adding fat cells by eating less

The authors state that around puberty young girls will develop fat around their hips, thighs and bum. This is meant to happen, if you try to stop this process by eating less and restricting your food during adolescence, your body is programmed to think that you will not be ready for child bearing years and as a result, your body will produce more and larger fat cells that will be with you for life.

What can you do instead?


This one is tough but it goes in line with the mindfulness and Buddhist principle of impermanence. We need to accept that our bodies will change during the different phases of our lives. Celebrate the health and functionality of your body rather than striving to achieve the “thin ideal” our culture pushes. Time to rebel against the culture of the thin ideal!

Myth 3: We should only eat healthy foods

It is important to eat a variety of foods and mostly foods that fuel and nourish your body for health. However, it is what we do MOST of the time that counts. When we cut out food groups like carbs or tell ourselves we can’t eat cake, we tend to feel deprived and eventually we rebel against the restriction and eat more carbs and cake than our bodies need. This often feels as if we are out of control but it’s a normal backlash to years of dieting and restriction.

What can you do instead?

Do not judge your food and allow yourself to eat all foods by keeping all foods “legal”. When we eat a big variety of foods in response to stomach hunger, chances are your eating will become nutritionally balanced. And remember nutrition is not just eating “healthy” foods, it is also not feeling deprived by sometimes eating low nutrient foods for the pure pleasure of the taste. Allowing ourselves to eat all types of foods helps to avoid the diet-binge cycle which ultimately does much more harm than eating fun foods some of the time! The 2 main reasons we eat are to fuel and nourish our bodies and for the pleasure of eating something delicious that is not necessarily nutritious!

Myth 4: The more exercise we do the better it is

Exercise is a great way to keep our bodies strong and healthy. If exercise is used for a result on the scale, it will disappoint and it will also be difficult to sustain. Moving our bodies is like a gift we give to ourselves for physical, emotional and mental well-being. It’s easy to justify over-exercising because it is seen as such a healthy activity. Exercise can also become compulsive and cause problems… If you find yourself exercising to make up for eating a lot or if you feel bad because you haven’t exercised and you fear gaining weight, this may be the start of an unhealthy relationship with exercise.

What can you do instead?

Choose a type of movement that feels good to you and not that necessarily burns calories. Do exercise for well-being versus weight loss. Find some form of movement that you love and be flexible about it. Sometimes parking the car far away and walking to the shops can be good enough!

Myth 5: People who are thinner are healthier

There are healthy thin people and unhealthy thin people just like there are healthy overweight people and unhealthy overweight people. Health comes in every size!

What can you think instead?

Size is not a determinant of health. There are many other health factors to consider like sleep, exercise, smoking and drinking.  Let’s focus on wellness at any size rather than size itself. Embrace body and size diversity.

Myth 6: I can’t be happy unless I am thin

There are happy thin people and unhappy thin people. Thinness is often seen as a prerequisite for happiness for many of us who have been in the pursuit of thinness most of our lives – we get this! There are happy and sad people in every size!

What can you do instead?

Start the hard work of accepting your body. The first step to body love is acceptance of how your body is right now. You don’t need to love your body – if you can, that’s great! Can you start by respecting and being grateful for the functionality of your body? From there can you become more neutral about the parts of your body you don’t like?  You don’t need to like them but can you accept these parts?

Myth 7: Losing weight is all about willpower

So often I hear, “I just don’t have enough willpower or self-control” and that is usually from people who have done countless restrictive diets AND who have studied, have a good job and also run a home.

In order to do those things you need willpower and self-control.

A consumer report study found that the promises of commercial weight loss programmes are false. The Federal Trade Commission in the USA now requires programmes to qualify their results. This shows that individual dieters are not lacking in willpower or at fault for their “failures”. The report shows that regaining the weight after the initial losses is the norm. Often dieters believe it’s because they don’t have willpower that they haven’t kept the weight off, but the reality is that the dieting industry has failed us, we have not failed. The time has come not to doubt the dieter but to doubt the billion dollar dieting industry that relies on repeat business!

“The Diet Industry is a $60+ billion industry with a 95% failure rate and YOU think you are the one that’s broken??”
— Brittany Brown —

What to think and do instead

Firstly remind yourself that it’s not a matter of willpower. In fact, control, willpower, restriction and deprivation lead to disordered eating. Do not beat yourself up for not having enough willpower or not maintaining the weight loss – only 5% of people who diet can do that, yet we blame ourselves. Would you fly on an airline with a 5% success rate??

Rather than feeling shame and guilt, can you try some showing yourself some compassion? We live in a culture that encourages the “thin ideal” – it’s hard enough as it is! Instead of trying to change the size of your body could you try and neutralise some of the messages you have internalised?

Myth 8: People who are larger eat more than people who are thin

Large people eat the same amount of food as people considered to be an average size.

What to think instead

Genetics plays the greatest role in determining size along with changes to your body and metabolism due to years of yo-yo dieting.

When we consistently diet and restrict food, our metabolism slows down because the body responds to starvation mode by holding onto body fat.  If you notice that you binge eat; it is often due to deprivation and restriction.

Myth 9: If I understand the emotional causes of my overeating, it will stop

If only understanding was enough to end overeating! Understanding is one part of the process but action steps is what leads to change.

If emotional eating has been your way to cope, it will probably be your default but with mindful awareness and practicing “the pause”, you may be able to reduce the frequency of emotional eating and the amount of food you eat. Mindless eating and binge eating can also be due to emotional distress; we need to learn to deal with our emotions and thoughts that lead to overeating or eat emotionally mindfully – emotional eating does not need to be emotional overeating! Here is the step-by-step process. Ultimately our freedom lies in being willing to feel the discomfort of difficult emotions; often that can be too hard and eating is a momentary pleasant escape. Here are 52 things you can do other than eat!

Myth 10: Even though I understand that diets don’t work, I do need to stay away from certain foods so that I don’t gain weight

When our primary focus is on weight and weight loss or preventing weight gain, it usually results in a disordered relationship with food. If we eliminate or restrict foods it often leads to a backlash and overeating of those foods. So whether you physically restrict those foods, or you emotionally restrict them by judging the foods and yourself each time you eat them, the result is diet mentality.

What to do instead

The most difficult principle of Intuitive Eating — “Make Peace with food… Give yourself unconditional permission to eat what you want”. Let go of judgements about “good” or “bad” food. Instead, let your body’s hunger signals guide you to make food choices that satisfy you physically and emotionally.

May you find peace with your body

May you take care of your body with joy

May you find pleasure in food and eating

May you be well, safe and happy




PS. As a gift to you, here is a free recipe for mouth-watering Fresh Tomato Soup.

Are you ready to end the struggle with food and explore Mindful and Intuitive Eating? Do you want to feel free and at peace around food? Join my ‘Make Peace with Food’ Workshop on Saturday 21 July 2018 in Jo'burg or book a FREE 45 minute Introductory Session with me. You can also start learning about Mindful and Intuitive Eating by signing up for my email series - 30 Days of Mindful Moments.

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Certified by The Life Coach School Certified Weight Loss Coach Certified Life Coach Certified and Trained by The Original Intuitive Eating Pro