By Wendy Oliver-Pyatt, MD, FAED, CEDS
As a practitioner who specializes in eating disorders, it often occurs to me that the definition of delusion applies when we cling to the idea that dieting is a healthy behavior. And when we are praised for our dieting by friends, family and health care providers—who often prescribe diets. Why is this a delusion? Because dieting and weight cycling are dangerous.
Let me explain. When I was in training to become a psychiatrist, we learned many new terms. One of those words was “delusion.” We were taught that the definition of a delusion was a “fixed false belief.”
Diets do not result in long-term weight loss
For about 97% of the people who diet, dieting does not result in long-term weight loss.
If you went to a specialist for a serious condition, and that specialist said a particular course of treatment has a 97% failure rate, would you do it?
Weight loss does not equal health
Further, weight loss does not actually equate with health. Long-term studies show a broad range of BMI associated with the lowest mortality rates and among the lowest mortality rates are those with BMI in the “overweight” range of 25-29.
Why it is that our society is so fixated on dieting and the idea that weight loss equals health is a subject for another discussion. For now, let’s remember just remember this: that dieting is not associated with long-term weight loss. And weight loss is not necessarily associated with improvement in health.
Then there are the risks of dieting
The RISKS associated with dieting are rarely, IF EVER discussed. One of the most significant risks is weight cycling, otherwise known as “yo-yo dieting.” Yo-yo dieting is when temporary weight loss is followed by a period of weight gain, with the long-term trajectory of weight gain over the course of your life and a lifetime of a painful relationship with food and your body.
Warning: diets are actually dangerous
If dieting just wasted your time and energy, it would be enough. But dieting is also dangerous—not just for those with eating disorders, but for everyday dieters. Weight cycling does not just impact your self-esteem. It can damage your body as well.
Diets drive weight gain
Dieting, even when it does result in temporary weight loss, has an associated price. In addition to the psychological deprivation that can be the springboard for binge eating, dieting also has physiological effects, including increasing stress and reducing metabolic rate. Both of these factors drive weight gain.
Weight cycling damages your body
Weight cycling can cause damage to your heart, cardiovascular system, bones, gall bladder, and immune system. It places you at greater risk for alcohol abuse. And it negatively impacts your mental health, affecting your self esteem and body image and resulting in anxiety and depression.
When I was a little girl, my father taught me something that applies to this discussion. He said, “Wendy, there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch.” We don’t get away with dieting without it costing us.
Weight cycling is way more harmful to health than obesity
We hear so much in the media about obesity. But we do not hear much at all (if anything) about weight cycling, which is actually far more dangerous to your health and often results in higher weight gain in the end.
Diets don’t give you the results they promise. The more likely outcome is that it won’t work in the long-run and sets us up for a lifetime of weight cycling.
So, yes, we are delusional if we cling to dieting as method to create health. Because it’s just not true.
More about Wendy Oliver-Pyatt
Wendy is founder and executive director of Oliver-Pyatt Centers. She received her specialty training at New York University-Bellevue Hospital in New York City, where she served as Chief Resident. She has held faculty positions at New York University, Albert Einstein School of Medicine and University of Nevada School of Medicine. Prior to founding Oliver-Pyatt Centers, she founded Center for Hope of the Sierras and Eating Recovery and Wellness Center of Nevada. She served as the Medical Director for the State of Nevada Division of Mental Health and Disability Services, Medical Director and Chief of Staff of Northern Nevada Adult Mental Health and has received Senatorial Recognition for her commitment to the mental health community. As an Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Wendy educates medical students, nursing students, and psychiatry residents on the treatment and medical consequences for all forms of eating disorders, including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, binge eating disorder, and exercise addiction.
She co-authored the Academy for Eating Disorder’s Guidelines for Obesity Prevention Programs. Her book, Fed Up! The Breakthrough Ten Step No Diet Fitness Plan, written to prevent dieting and disordered eating, has been featured in a variety of national publications, including Family Circle, Psychology Today, Women’s Health and Fitness, and Town and Country, and has been reviewed in the AED Forum, published by the Academy for Eating Disorders. She has given frequent presentations and interviews throughout the country and at national and international eating disorder conferences, and has been featured on WebMD.
Wendy is a Fellow of the Academy for Eating Disorder (served as the Advocacy Co-Chair), an active member of the National Eating Disorders Association, and serves on the Board of Directors of the International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals and the Binge Eating Disorder Association.
© Wendy Oliver-Pyatt July, 2015