We all know by now how sneaky diet culture is. But had you considered just how much you’ve been living according to its arbitrary rules?Continue reading
Feeling as if food dominates your life is common, but it doesn’t have to be! Many of our clients report feeling out of control around food and often associate this with a lack of self-restraint…Continue reading
As the name suggests, secret eating is a disordered eating behaviour that involves eating at times, in locations or in ways where you won’t be seen, with the intention of hiding what or how much you’re eating from other people…Continue reading
If you’re reading this, you probably have some vague idea of diets and diet culture by now. You may very well have been on a diet at some point, perhaps long ago or even last week.Continue reading
Although our internal views may be challenged, it can be another hurdle to vocalise this, speak up against diet culture, and navigate talk in the workplace, home, and social events.Continue reading
How to move away from the shackles of diet culture by challenging your food rules
If you’ve ever felt guilty or anxious around food and eating, you’re probably be influenced by your food rules.
Food rules are beliefs about foods that are collected over time and form the basis of our food choices when we are not eating intuitively. They dictate things like the types of food you’re allowed to have, how much you should eat, and the timing of your meals and snacks. You may not even realise how many food rules you have until you start your journey towards intuitive eating and begin to question the reasoning behind your eating habits!
This article will give you three simple steps to help you get to the bottom of your food rules and overcome them, in order to learn to eat based on your internal body cues.
ONE: Renourish your brain
In order to do the difficult work of changing your thinking patterns and belief systems, you must first ensure that your brain is functioning to the best of its ability. We know that the brain needs a tonne of energy to do its job properly; this means that getting adequate nutrition is one of the most important steps you can take if you want to change your cognitions.
One of the most well-known studies showing the effects of inadequate nutrition on the brain is the Minnesota Starvation Study. Amongst other ground-breaking discoveries, the study found that the restriction of calories causes impaired concentration, reduced alertness, poor comprehension and problem solving, and reduced motivation. Learn more about the effects of starvation on the brain and body here.
Ensuring you are eating regularly and adequately to give your brain the fuel it needs will make the next two steps that much easier.
TWO: Unpack the rule
It can be helpful to understand the origin of your food rules and what exactly they mean to you. This can allow you to develop a deeper understanding of you thought processes, making it easier to challenge them.
Some questions you can ask yourself to begin this process are:
- Where did this rule come from?
- When did I first begin following this rule? What triggered this?
- What do I believe this rule will achieve? Is this belief logical?
- What are my specific fears around breaking this rule?
- How is my life affected by this rule?
THREE: Conduct an experiment
The most effective strategy for breaking down food rules is experimentation. Put your scientific hat on and approach your beliefs with curiosity and a methodical mindset.
The first step of this is to select a rule to challenge. Begin with the more flexible and less fear-inducing rules – there’s no need to throw yourself in the deep end!
Next, form a hypothesis about what you think (or what you fear) might happen. This might be structured like “If I do X, then Y will occur”.
Here comes the scary part – testing your hypothesis out. You might like to ask a friend or family member to support you through this if you’re expecting it to be particularly difficult. Keep in mind that you may need to test your hypothesis several times in order to come to a conclusion.
The last step is to evaluate the results. What actually happened? How did this compare to what you expected to happen? If it was different, can you come up with an alternative belief that might be more accurate?
Continue to repeat this process with all your food rules, gradually progressing to the more challenging ones. With patience and practice, you’ll be eating according to your body cues in no time!
If you believe you would benefit from individual support with your journey towards intuitive eating, our expert dietitians are here to help! Get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about how we can work with you to achieve your goals.
Karli Battaglia, APD
EHL Team x
Four reasons why your body weight is overrated
Weight has been considered to be a key indicator of health for as long as we have known. It continues to be a fundamental factor that is looked at in research surrounding health and lifestyle. But how accurate is it actually at determining our health at an individual and population level?
You may have read our previous blog post where we picked apart the reliability of BMI. In this article, we will dig deeper into the literature surrounding weight science and what the implications really are when it comes to our health.
What is weight science?
Weight science refers to the research on body weight, which includes and is not limited to:
- The regulation of body weight (weight loss or gain)
- Internal and external factors influencing weight change or maintenance
- Intentional or non-intentional weight loss or gain
- The relationship between weight and health
A lot of weight science research takes into account health outcomes concerning weight or BMI. This might be because the assumption that BMI is a useful indicator of health is still held by many scientists and health researchers. The general consensus is that:
- Achieving a BMI in the normal range of 18.5-25 will improve health.
- Dieting and exercise should be encouraged in those lying outside this range to ensure they work towards achieving a ‘healthier’ BMI and are no longer considered ‘obese’ or ‘overweight.’
Read on to explore four reasons why we believe weight can sometimes be overestimated as an indicator of health.
ONE: Weight is more often than not, an inaccurate predictor of health.
When we dig deeper into the research, we realise that and social determinants of health play a much greater view than we think. Social determinants of health (SDoH) are the conditions in which we are born, live, work and age.
SDoH can be thought of as the ’causes of the causes’ as they often shape how we may receive or learn about health and the conditions that may promote good health or disease risk and are the biggest single cause of health inequality. (1)
We also know that being in a larger body may actually be protective, particularly in old age and may have more favourable outcomes.
A 2011 review showed that those with particular health conditions such as cardiovascular disease survive longer and have a lower mortality rate than those considered a ‘normal’ weight. (2)
Research also found that any effects related to obesity were counteracted when fitness was incorporated, suggesting that low fitness and activity levels may be more damaging to health than being at a higher BMI or weight. (2)
TWO: Weight loss is not associated with improved health.
A 2013 review by Tomiyama et al. (3) looked at the changes in cholesterol, triglycerides, systolic/diastolic blood pressure, and fasting blood glucose and weight loss.
The findings showed minimal improvements in these biochemical markers after weight loss interventions. However, there was no correlation between the actual amount of weight change and the improvement of these factors.
The review also showed that some confounding variables in the interventions, such as diet and exercise change, might have had an impact. These and engaging actively with your healthcare system are perhaps more beneficial than weight loss. (3)
Other studies have shown that weight cycling (repeated periods of losing and regaining weight) can actually be detrimental to health, increasing mortality risk. (4)
Park et al. showed that weight cycling increased risks of developing type 2 diabetes and can be considered an independent risk factor for the condition. (5) In addition, Welti et al. found that some cancer incidences increased (including a 38% increased risk of endometrial cancer) with weight cycling. (6)
Byun et al. similarly discovered that weight cycling led to poorer heart health, particularly in premenopausal women and women with no history of pregnancy – so we can see a trend here with the negative consequences weight cycling may have on our bodies. (7)
THREE: Dieting can lead to poorer mental and physical health.
For those of us who have tried dieting, we know that it quickly loses the fun and excitement that it may have initially started with. Research shows that diets are a cause of stress, creating hypervigilance around food and weight.
This increased thinking and anxiety around food can make us more restrictive when it comes to our diet and may potentially develop into disordered eating or even an eating disorder.
In a study by Bombak et al., it was shown that dieting is also associated with a loss of bone and lean mass and poorer immunity and skeletal integrity. (8)
This is significant, as we believe our bones reach their peak mass around the ages of 25-30, and any bone mass loss after this age can be irreversible. This increases our chances of developing osteopenia or osteoporosis and being more prone to fractures and serious injury. (8)
FOUR: Weight loss is not often achieved and maintained in the long term.
Countless studies have shown that weight loss is uncommon initially, but lasting weight loss is even more rare to accomplish. In fact, some research even shows that more weight is sometimes gained than what was lost in the first place. (9)
A further review by Ayyad and Anderson found that the median success rate of a diet program is around 15%. We believe that this is due to the physiological and psychological effects of dieting, as mentioned in the previous point. (10)
Improvements to health can be obtained without a focus on weight, and non-diet approaches have sparked interest in recent years to improve body image, self-esteem, depressive and disordered eating behaviours. (11)
Non-diet interventions also have displayed improvements in diet quality and diversity of foods, including a higher fruit and vegetable intake and less restriction and stress around food. (12, 13) They have also shown to improve physical activity participation, blood lipid and glucose levels, and total cholesterol and blood pressure. (12, 14)
By reading this, remind yourself that you are already embarking upon an incredible healing journey and have come so far to begin to break away from what may be a period of disordered eating.
We hope this article helped to outline some of the research surrounding why weight loss may not always be as great as diet culture often makes it seem. Until next time, keep your head up and rise above restriction!
Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x
1. Irwin A, Valentine N, Brown C, Loewenson R, Solar O, Brown H, Koller T, Vega J. The commission on social determinants of health: tackling the social roots of health inequities. PLoS Med. 2006 May;3(6):e106. doi: 10.1371/journal.pmed.0030106. PMID: 16681414; PMCID: PMC1459479.
2. McAuley PA, Blair SN. Obesity paradoxes. J Sports Sci. 2011 May;29(8):773-82. doi: 10.1080/02640414.2011.553965. PMID: 21416445.
3. Tomiyama AJ, Ahlstrom B, Mann T. Long-term effects of dieting: Is weight loss related to health? Social and Personality Psychology Compass 2013; 7(12): 861-877.
4. Tae Jung Oh, Jae Hoon Moon, Sung Hee Choi, Soo Lim, Kyong Soo Park, Nam H Cho, Hak Chul Jang, Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study, The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, Volume 104, Issue 3, March 2019, Pages 639–646, https://doi.org/10.1210/jc.2018-01239
5. Park KY, Hwang HS, Cho KH, Han K, Nam GE, Kim YH, Kwon Y, Park YG. Body Weight Fluctuation as a Risk Factor for Type 2 Diabetes: Results from a Nationwide Cohort Study. J Clin Med. 2019 Jun 30;8(7):950. doi: 10.3390/jcm8070950. PMID: 31261984; PMCID: PMC6678837.
6. Welti LM, Beavers DP, Caan BJ, Sangi-Haghpeykar H, Vitolins MZ, Beavers KM. Weight Fluctuation and Cancer Risk in Postmenopausal Women: The Women’s Health Initiative. Cancer Epidemiol Biomarkers Prev. 2017 May;26(5):779-786. doi: 10.1158/1055-9965.EPI-16-0611. Epub 2017 Jan 9. PMID: 28069684; PMCID: PMC5413381.
7. Byun SS, Bello NA, Liao M, Makarem N, Aggarwal B. Associations of weight cycling with cardiovascular health using American Heart Association’s Life’s Simple 7 in a diverse sample of women. Prev Med Rep. 2019 Nov 2;16:100991. doi: 10.1016/j.pmedr.2019.100991. Erratum in: Prev Med Rep. 2020 Oct 29;20:101236. PMID: 31750075; PMCID: PMC6849443.
8. Bombak A, Monaghan LF, Rich E. Dietary approaches to weight-loss, Health At Every Size® and beyond: rethinking the war on obesity. Social Theory and Health. 2019 Mar 1;17(1):89-108. https://doi.org/10.1057/s41285-018-0070-9
9. Bravata DM, Sanders L, Huang J, et al. Efficacy and safety of low-carbohydrate diets: a systematic review. 2003. In: Database of Abstracts of Reviews of Effects (DARE): Quality-assessed Reviews [Internet]. York (UK): Centre for Reviews and Dissemination (UK); 1995-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK69697/
10. Ayyad C, Andersen T. Long-term efficacy of dietary treatment of obesity: a systematic review of studies published between 1931 and 1999. Obes Rev. 2000 Oct;1(2):113-9. doi: 10.1046/j.1467-789x.2000.00019.x. PMID: 12119984.
11. Clifford D, Ozier A, Bundros J, Moore J, Kreiser A, Morris MN. Impact of non-diet approaches on attitudes, behaviors, and health outcomes: a systematic review. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2015 Mar-Apr;47(2):143-55.e1. doi: 10.1016/j.jneb.2014.12.002. PMID: 25754299.
12. Carroll S, Borkoles E, Polman R. Short-term effects of a non-dieting lifestyle intervention program on weight management, fitness, metabolic risk, and psychological well-being in obese premenopausal females with the metabolic syndrome. Appl Physiol Nutr Metab. 2007 Feb;32(1):125-42. doi: 10.1139/h06-093. PMID: 17332789.
13. Greene GW, White AA, Hoerr SL, Lohse B, Schembre SM, Riebe D, Patterson J, Kattelmann KK, Shoff S, Horacek T, Blissmer B, Phillips BW. Impact of an online healthful eating and physical activity program for college students. Am J Health Promot. 2012 Nov-Dec;27(2):e47-58. doi: 10.4278/ajhp.110606-QUAN-239. PMID: 23113786.
14. Ciliska D. Evaluation of two non-dieting interventions for obese women. West J Nurs Res. 1998 Feb;20(1):119-35. doi: 10.1177/019394599802000108. PMID: 9473971.
Since you are reading this, you may probably be aware of why diets don’t work. but how do we approach and respond to diet talk at home, in the office or out with friends?Continue reading
Why Embody Health London dietitians practice from a non-diet approach
When people find out that we are dietitians who don’t recommend diets, the response we get is usually confusion – but it’s true! At Embody Health London, our dietitians practice from a non-diet approach. This means that we don’t recommend dietary rules or restriction for weight loss, and instead focus on cultivating a positive relationship with food with our clients. By the end of this article, we think you’ll understand why!
What is a diet?
Firstly, let’s define what this article is about! When we talk about diets, we’re not just talking about “lose weight quick!” schemes. Instead, we’re referring to any effort to restrict, control or monitor what you eat, especially with the intention of changing your body. Of course, this excludes avoiding foods based on things like allergies, medical issues or ethical reasons.
Keep reading to hear our top three reasons for why you shouldn’t go on a diet.
ONE: Dieting is unsustainable
You might have noticed in the past that when you’ve been on a diet, it’s incredibly hard to maintain. You end up having “cheat days” or giving up on it all together. But did you know that it’s because your body is biologically programmed that way?
The restrict-binge cycle is a phenomenon you’re probably familiar with, even if you have never put a name to it. When you wait until you’re famished before you eat, and then find yourself shovelling down anything you can get your hands on as quickly as you can, that’s the restrict-binge cycle in action.
Research has consistently found that binge eating episodes are often triggered by restriction, especially when that restriction takes the form of missed meals.1
This is because the body is much cleverer than we give it credit for! When it recognises that it’s in a state of deprivation (whether intentional or not), it switches into survival mode. It triggers extreme hunger and obsessive thoughts about food and eating in an attempt to force you to eat. You may end up eating more than you normally would have, as your body attempts to make up for the calories missed. This is why most people who lose weight regain it all (and sometimes more) within four years.2
Over time, dieting can lead to starvation syndrome. This is a state triggered by restricted calorie intake, purging and excessive exercise, and can occur at any body weight.
The most well-known study of starvation syndrome took place in the 1940s, and is now known as the Minnesota Starvation Study.3 Thirty-six physically and psychologically healthy men were selected for the study, and for three months, they ate normally and their behaviours were studied in detail. Next, their food was restricted to around half of their former intake for a period of six months. Interestingly, this “starvation diet” was higher in calories than many of the weight loss diets we see promoted on social media!
The results of the study were eye-opening, with the previously healthy men quickly experiencing the drastic effects of starvation.
Physically, the men experienced increased hunger, reduced strength, tiredness, dizziness, decreased heart rate and respiration, and their metabolisms reduced by up to 40%. Psychologically, they had increased depression and anxiety, mood swings, emotional distress and were highly irritable.
They also had drastic changes in their eating attitudes and behaviours. The participants reported feeling obsessed with food, talking, reading and daydreaming about food constantly. They began binge eating and smuggling or hoarding food, and experienced significantly worsened body image.
In the period following the starvation period, these symptoms gradually reversed. It took around eight months of refeeding for most participants to return to normal eating habits.
The body doesn’t know the difference between a diet and starvation – it responds in the same way whether the restriction is intentional or not!
Starvation syndrome often goes unchecked because its symptoms are considered “normal” in our diet-driven world. We are taught that we need to diet because we are out of control around food – however, it is the dieting itself causing this phenomenon! When you stop restricting and begin to allow yourself freedom around food, the symptoms of dieting (aka starvation) will begin to ease.
TWO: Dieting is not necessary to improve health
Following weight loss, the next most common reasoning we hear for going on a diet is in the name of health.
We can totally respect this! It’s a beautiful thing to want to take better care of yourself. But here’s the catch – dieting is not the way to do that. In fact, it’s more likely to worsen your health than improve it.
While we have all been taught that “obesity” increases our risk of poor health, evidence is emerging that this is actually caused by weight cycling – the recurrent losing and gaining of weight as a result of dieting, which we now know is unsustainable.
For example, a study that took place across 16 years found that weight cycling was associated with a significantly higher risk of death.4 A different study of more than 10,500 men found that the greater their weight variability, the greater their risk for cardiovascular disease.5 Yet another study of almost 34,000 women found weight cycling was associated with a significantly increased risk of heart attack and stroke.6
In other words, maintaining your weight, even if it’s higher than your ideal, is safer and healthier than dieting.
THREE: Dieting increases the risk of developing an eating disorder
While dieting cannot be said to cause eating disorders (they’re a much more complex condition than that), it is often a precursor. In fact, research has found that between 20% to 25% of dieters develop an eating disorder.7
This appears to be especially risky in children and adolescents, with one study finding teenagers who diet at a moderate level are five times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t.8
Despite dieting being considered a “normal” part of life in our society, it’s not necessary and it’s certainly not safe!
So if not dieting, then what?
If you’re wanting to take better care of your body and your health, there are an abundance of more effective strategies than dieting.
Instead, try focussing on things like:
- Adding more fruits and vegetables into your diet
- Finding a type of movement you love
- Cutting back on alcohol and cigarettes
- Improving your sleep quality
- Optimising your hydration levels
- Prioritising your mental health
- Connecting with friends and family
If you wish to live a life free from dieting but aren’t sure where to start, book a free enquiry call with one of our expert dietitians to learn about how we can support you on this journey.
Karli Battaglia MDiet, APD
EHL Team x
- Elran-Barak R, Sztainer M, Goldschmidt A, Crow S, Peterson C, Hill L et al. Dietary Restriction Behaviors and Binge Eating in Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa and Binge Eating Disorder: Trans-diagnostic Examination of the Restraint Model. Eating Behaviors. 2015;18:192-196.
- Nordmo M, Danielsen Y, Nordmo M. The challenge of keeping it off, a descriptive systematic review of high‐quality, follow‐up studies of obesity treatments. Obesity Reviews. 2019;21(1).
- Keys A, Brozek J, Henschel A, Mickelsen O, Taylor H. The Biology of Human Starvation. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press; 1950.
- Oh T, Moon J, Choi S, Lim S, Park K, Cho N et al. Body-Weight Fluctuation and Incident Diabetes Mellitus, Cardiovascular Disease, and Mortality: A 16-Year Prospective Cohort Study. The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. 2018;104(3):639-646.
- Strohacker K, Carpenter K, McFarlin B. Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk?. Int J Exerc Sci. 2009;2(3):191-201.
- French S, Folsom A, Jeffery R, Zheng W, Mink P, Baxter J. Weight variability and incident disease in older women: the Iowa Women’s Health Study. International Journal of Obesity. 1997;21(3):217-223.
- Shisslak C, Crago M, Estes L. The spectrum of eating disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders. 1995;18(3):209-219.
- Spear B. Does Dieting Increase the Risk for Obesity and Eating Disorders?. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2006;106(4):523-525.
Why you need to stop calorie counting and get your life back
Nutritional information, including calorific quantities, are indicated on almost all of the packaged food we buy in a supermarket or store. Because of this, many of us have experienced calorie counting and tracking at some point in our lives.
Research shows that two-thirds of women in the UK know how many calories they eat in a single day, and so it may play a significant factor in food behaviours. (1) We know that dietary restrictions and rules can contribute to binge eating (2) with studies showing a strong link between perfectionist behaviours and eating disorder pathology. (3)
With the current debate around whether restaurants should introduce calorific content on their menus or not, we thought we would provide our thoughts on why using calories as a measure of diet quality may not be the best idea on a journey towards intuitive eating and body empowerment.
ONE: You do not need to “earn” food
Calorie counting can contribute to creating rewarding and restricting behaviours around food and exercise. This can lead to a more challenging relationship with food as we may label certain foods as good and bad or healthy and unhealthy according to their calorie content. (4)
Have you ever ordered a portion of “dirty fries” and felt guilty afterwards? The language we use around food plays a significant impact in how we perceive foods. (4) Remind yourself that food is a fundamental human right, and a number should not dictate otherwise.
See foods from a neutral perspective and incorporate the foods you enjoy into your diet. Think of the energy they give your body, allowing you to move, speak, learn, and interact with the world around you.
TWO: Our calorie intakes and needs may vary from day to day.
Have you attended a wedding, birthday, or even Christmas and felt like you wanted to try everything? Similarly, have you felt poorly, weak and not up for eating? Or prepared for an important exam and noticed your appetite going through the roof?
Our bodies are constantly experiencing different stimuli, which continuously impact our hunger and fullness cues. It is entirely normal to have a higher or lower appetite, like how we may have a busier and quieter or good or bad day.
Food has a substantial emotional value, and in periods of grief and difficulty, it is perfectly normal to want to use food as a crutch to help us through difficult times. Calorie counting may put unnecessary stress and blame on ourselves during this time, which can exacerbate an already challenging situation.
Instead, allow yourself to enjoy foods that feel good in your unique self and appreciate the comfort and satisfaction they may bring.
THREE: Food provides nutritional AND emotional nourishment
Maybe you were about to add a side of protein or fat to your dish, but after looking at the calorific content, decided not to? A carbohydrate focused meal can be delicious and nourishing, but may not be as satiating as a meal with a balance of protein and fats included, too.
Remember that all foods contain some nutrition, and putting them on pedestals by calorie or nutrition content can create more guilt and anxiety around eating. Some foods are more nutrient-dense than others, but this doesn’t mean it serves no purpose in our diet.
For example – kale may be seen as a nutrient-dense, low-calorie, leafy green – packed with iron, folate and vitamin K. When we compare it to a cookie – initially, we may think a cookie has zero nutritional value.
However, cookies provide energy and flour fortified with B vitamins, folate, calcium, and iron. Furthermore, looking at calories only undermines the tremendous role food plays in emotional nourishment. (4)
Ensuring that a range of food groups are included on your plate(s) can make meals and snacks more satisfying as well as nutritious, keeping you fuller for longer.Remember – focus on the nutrients, not numbers!
FOUR: Actual calorie amounts and requirements vary anyway
Did you know that the calories in your food vary by a huge number of factors, including (and not limited to):
- Location grown
- Soil quality
- Agricultural methods
- Species/variety of the food
- Visual differences
- The way we eat the food
- Our gut microbiome
All of the above means that it can be nearly impossible to calculate the specific calorie content of foods and how much energy we individually obtain from them. (5) Standard calorific estimates are based on complex calculations taken many years ago, which are still used today, and may have some variation given the environmental and societal changes since.
Furthermore, many countries use general guidelines for our calorie needs – often one number for adult women, men, and children. This puts a population of millions into a limited number of categories when in fact, we are all unique. In addition, our individual needs, genetics, socioeconomics and habits probably create a disparity that is often overlooked.
FIVE: It’s not sustainable.
Many of us know what it’s like to log into MyFitnessPal or similar apps after a meal and log everything we’ve eaten. It can be time-consuming and increase time spent thinking about food.
Research on MyFitnessPal shows that it tends to underestimate ingestion in nutrients due to database discrepancies for certain nutrients. (6,7) There is also a high correlation between usage of the app and high levels of eating disorder pathology and symptomatology. (8) In one study, 73% of app users believed the app to contribute to their eating disorder. (9) You can read more about the research on fitness trackers here.
Tracking our calories at the end of every meal or day can also be tiring when meals should be satisfying and stress-free. Tracking your calories adds another step to this process, affecting your enjoyment of the meal, and you deserve to be free from this added pressure.
SIX: You are so much more than a number.
You are doing incredible work on yourself every day, and none of that should be overridden by a few numbers. Remember, you are not what you eat, and this should not and does not define you. Stay fierce and fabulous!Priya Chotai, BSc ANutr
EHL Team x