The Dangers of Dieting

23 August 2019 | Written by Xenia Ayiotis

My dieting days began at the age of 12, a typical age for young girls to go on their first diet. This was the beginning of about 30 years of dysfunctional eating, food obsession and negative body image.

Weight Watchers now rebranded as WW have launched a new dieting app for young children. If you want to read more about this, fellow intuitive eating counsellor Christy Harrison writes about it in great detail for the New York Times.

Whilst I am grateful for my struggle with food and dieting because it has come with so many blessings like doing this work, practicing mindfulness and meditation, learning about self-care, boundaries and many other things. Thinking about young children exposed to WW brought back so many difficult memories of those dreaded dieting days. I was reflecting on the dangerous effect of dieting on my life and the lives of most of my clients. The dangers of dieting are multi-faceted and have an effect on our body, our mind, our heart and our soul.

Body

I never actually lost the weight permanently. I would lose it and gain it back and lose it and gain it back. This went on for almost 30 years.

My metabolism slowed down, which led to thyroid issues in my later years. My weight set point just got higher and higher and it became more and more difficult to lose the weight.

I put my poor body under such distress. I took injections and pills that led to heart palpitations and sweaty palms. Never did my mother and I think to ask what was in the injections or what the side effects were of those pills? Anything was okay in the name of thinness. A few years ago I discovered that those pills (Ponderacs) have been taken off the market because of the high incidence of strokes. My body suffered the abuse of over-exercise and living on very little food. No wonder I couldn’t concentrate at school! I remember going to a friend for the weekend and for every piece of chocolate we ate, we had to swim 10 lengths of her pool. I thought of the hours at the gym atoning for my sins and running until the point of exhaustion before an evening out, so that I could have dessert or extra wine. I needed to earn the right to eat. I was completely disconnected from my body. I had no idea what normal hunger was! I knew starving and stuffed. Not only did my body endure physical abuse, but the verbal abuse was equally painful.

Mind

I would lie in bed at night doing an audit of what I ate and how I would eat less the next day. The next morning upon waking my mind would immediately go to food and how it was going to be a good day. That meant no sugar, no carbs and no cheating. My behaviour became so dysfunctional that if I but licked a spoon of Nutella, all was lost and a binge would follow, sometimes for days. The post binge beating myself up and the barrage of judgement was so debilitating, I would be ratty and grumpy with anyone who crossed my path.

I would always worry that people would judge me about my body or what I was eating. I remember friends of my mother’s telling me what a pretty face I had and if I could just lose the weight! I felt embarrassed to eat cake in front of people. A meal out with friends was not a simple occasion, it was fraught with comparison – is she eating more than me? Oh good she’s eating bread – so can I! If I was in a bigger body, I would only order salad. I felt that people at the gym were judging me, that people everywhere were judging me but the truth was, that my judgement of myself was worse than anybody else’s could be!

Heart

My happiness was determined by the number on the scale. If the number went up or I was gaining weight, despair and depression would set in; euphoria and triumph would follow if I was losing weight and the number was going down. There was promise and hope at the start of a diet only to be feeling crushed and shameful when the weight would come back on again. I believed I was a failure because I couldn’t stick to a diet and that I was destined to fail in other areas of my life. If only…I could just stick to it everything would be all right.  At the time, I didn’t know that I was part of  95% of people who don’t succeed at dieting. Not because we are deficient but because diets are inherently faulty. I remember how addictive the praise and compliments were when I would lose weight and the shame when it would come back – wanting to hide away and not see anyone.  My mother would give me the disappointed sigh and “look” of “hmm she’s done it again”.

When my life felt out of control, dieting was the answer, it provided structure and safety. It provided a distraction from things that were too difficult to address.

Soul

My soul ached for connection and fun. But I would turn down invitations to pool parties or to weekends away because I didn’t want to be seen in a swimming costume. I would decline invitations because I couldn’t trust myself around food and buffets. I denied myself so many things because I believed I wasn’t worthy in the body I had. Often, I didn’t go to parties, auditions or interviews. As a way to compensate, I would either be drinking or eating to numb my dreams and hopes. When I met my husband I couldn’t believe that he loved me and chose me.  When my daughter was born I felt such shame that I couldn’t lose the baby weight and felt desperate every time I would re-join weight watchers and fill in my tracker with the points of the day. I would compare myself to thinner moms and it felt that they just had it all together and I was floundering between a career I hated, a body I hated and navigating motherhood.

This story is by no means unique. It’s the sad tale of most people with a history of dieting and hating their bodies in a culture that promotes a certain body ideal. When are we going to acknowledge the dangers of the dieting and the pursuit of weight loss? These dangers affect our bodies, our psychological well-being, our behaviour, our emotions, our souls and ultimately our lives.

I am very grateful that I found my way out of this prison. If you are here please know that there is hope, it doesn’t have to be a struggle. There is a way out of this and it’s to stop the madness of dieting. It’s hard work. It requires trust, acceptance and patience. It also requires a huge serving of compassion.

The 1st step – stop dieting and stop with the food rules and yes, stop the pursuit of weight loss. The 2nd step read Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. To be continued…

May we all be free from suffering around food
May we all be free from the struggle with our bodies
May we all find peace with food and our bodies

With love
Xen

Are you tired of overeating and feeling out of control around food? Ready to end the war with your body?

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