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

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✨ Find out more about what my clients say about our work together.

“From our first meeting - two faces on Zoom across the world from each other, there was a sense of familiarity and comfort that was a healing balm for a lifetime of food struggles and dieting. Without realizing how much damage I had done to myself by adhering, for decades, to restrictive food plans and rigid diet programs, Xen had a way of redirecting the harsh and negative self-talk and sending me forth each week with compassion, mindfulness and a new way of seeing myself in the here and now. Gone are the maybe somedays, and if-only, and when-I’m-smaller thinking. Now I am committed to the imperfect and rocky path to listening to my body, accepting my perfect imperfections, and rejecting diet mentality. Those negative voices will revisit me from time to time, I know, but Xen has offered valuable tools for meeting each day as a fresh start - another choice, another chance. Her devotion to this work and her belief in her clients is a remarkable gift; I am so fortunate to have found her. It is never too late to let go of the drama and embrace joy, ease and self-acceptance.”

Karen L, Denver, USA

“I felt hopeless and helpless in my daily struggle with mindless eating for many years. Then I found Xen which is exactly what I needed! My decision to work with her helped me to finally repair my relationship with food. It's changing my life for the better, one day at a time. Now I have control over the food, instead of it having control over me, which is the way it should be. I highly recommend Xen to anyone who has a desire to overcome similar food struggles. Xen, thank you from the bottom of my heart!”

Karen J, Colorado, USA

“I reached out to Xenia because 2021 started on a tumultuous note for me. Between deaths, businesses suffering, hospitalizations, and job losses in our personal circle, I felt depleted and found myself being available for everyone but myself. Then I was hit with an unexpected health diagnosis, which was the last straw as it meant giving up “healthy foods” and workouts that I leaned on for my well-being and stability. Despite working in wellness (Yes, coaches and healers are vulnerable too!), I found myself reaching out to desserts for comfort. I like to live a life of permissions (not labels or deprivation leading to bingeing), so I wanted to work with someone who approached healing from a place of mindful compassion. I didn’t want to be my own client. Xenia was great in reminding me to be kind to myself. Working with her, brought me peace and helped shift my mindset. I love how desserts and I look at each other now.”

Sweta Vikram, New York, USA

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Daniela Velásquez, Ottawa, Canada

“Working with Xen was a game changer for me. After working together for a few months my relationship with food radically changed. I no longer felt like a failure. I now have the tools to nourish my body with foods that feel good in my body. I don’t feel guilty about eating cake or chocolate, I also don’t overeat cake and chocolate. I no longer feel the need to exercise to compensate for my eating. I feel much more free around eating and I am more accepting of my body. Xen has a nonjudgmental and compassionate approach to coaching and really supports you in the process.”

Rachel, Dublin, Ireland

“Working with Xen has been very empowering. Her approach is so refreshing from the usual. I have learned that I am in charge and that I get to choose what I put in my body and how to move my body in a way that I like! I get to make my own choices. It’s so liberating. Once you get a taste of freedom with food, there is no turning back to old ways! Thanks Xen for guiding me along the way to freedom.”

Heather B, Cork. Ireland

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Michelle, Johannesburg, South Africa

“Xenia was a walking, living, breathing example of what can be done. I laughed and cried my way through a short course in this fascinating and invigorating programme with her, and have gained a designer tote full of coping skills that go way beyond containing kilogrammes. I feel infinitely lighter. I am doing this for me and, yes, you can do this for you too! And believe me, I’m cynical!”

Diana, Vancouver, Canada

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