Studies show that after five years on any diet, that includes medically prescribed ones, 95% of us end up weighted-down with the burden of failure, and back at our starting weight. So, here’s a few facts for you to digest… (excuse the pun). Even our scientific body here in Australia, the NHMRC (2013), state that studies show disordered eating patterns, body dissatisfaction, rigid eating focus, and emotional eating tend to come as a package with the regained weight for dieters.
BODY WEIGHT ISN'T ALWAYS A GREAT PREDICTOR OF HEALTH
Why do we diet? Is it because we've been told for decades that being big means you're at risk of ill-health? I don't know about you, but even anecdotally I can think of many people who are 'bigger' but fit and healthy, and some are elite athletes. So many have taken this punishing view, given billions of dollars to industries to tell us 'big is ugly', or that they can make us as slim as a model, and then we'll be beautiful and happy.
Consider, Flegal et al. (2013) in their meta-analysis of 97 studies (2.88 million individuals and more than 270,000 deaths, not something to be sniffed at) of all-cause mortality among overweight and obese individuals, based on BMI, found, wait for it…that while grades 2 and 3 obesity (relative to normal-weight individuals) did have a significantly higher all–cause mortality rate, grade 1 (BMI of 30 to less than 35) and ‘overweight’ individuals had a lower all–cause mortality rate. Hello… what???? Controversial to say the least. The study raised questions about our carte blanche use of BMI as well as our assumptions around body weight and health. In fact, the authors suggest that the lowest mortality risk is in overweight individuals, who had a lower risk than even normal weight individuals.
There are other studies supporting these findings; enter the ‘obesity paradox’, something that is of much interest in health science given such outcomes 'fly in the face' of our current beliefs around body weight and health. Check it out on Medline or Google Scholar, it’s all there!
WHAT IS THE IDEAL BODY WEIGHT, I HEAR YOU ASK, AS YOU'RE SHAKING YOUR HEAD IN DISBELIEF?
We don’t really know, but one thing we are edging towards is a more holistic approach to health markers. The simple ‘big is bad’ equation just doesn't help anyone anymore. What's more, perhaps we have inadvertently shifted perceptions of body into a dysfunctional clinical view?
One thing we know for sure is that we suffer from distorted perceptions of what in fact constitutes a ‘weight problem’, and we're long-suffering from ‘weight bias’ issues. The Food & Drug Agency (FDA) in the United States defines weight bias as:
“the inclination to form unreasonable judgments based on a person’s weight… is caused by a general belief that stigma [the social signs of weight bias] and shame will motivate people to lose weight or the belief that people fail to lose weight as a result of inadequate self-discipline or insufficient willpower. Our culture may not punish people who practice weight bias because our culture values thinness. Society frequently blames the victim rather than addressing environmental conditions that contribute to obesity.” (CDC, 2016)
REJECTION OF WEIGHT BIAS; THE NON-DIET APPROACH (NDA)
Our message? Consider if you can, substituting restriction, restraint, living by numbers, deprivation, fear, guilt, hunger, body shame, punishment, mindless eating, eating on schedule, and shaming, all part of a dieting paradigm that fails us. The NDA instead gives us:
TURNING THINGS AROUND
As little'es we are actually very good at self-monitoring food intake, but over the years of 'feeding', being fed, dieting and so on we lose touch with what hunger actually feels like, and even more so, what being comfortably fully is. Many of us eat from emotional hunger; it comes on fast, often it's precipitated by a sight or smell, or emotion, we can eat right through past fullness, and, you guessed it, we feel bad afterwards. Physiological hunger, the one our body 'hears' as kids, comes on slow, is accompanied by signs of hunger such as a grumbling tummy, and is slow to dissipate (which is why eating slowly and waiting for cues to occur before going in for a second serving is ideal). Learn to ‘hear’ your body cues of just what hunger is, and of when you are actually full. Accept and embrace foods, and enjoy them for social and nourishment reasons, not for body shape. Love the body you live in, and learn how to make it work for you. Find joyful movement, hang out and eat with people you love, and be kind to yourself.
WHAT FACTORS REALLY COUNT TOWARDS HEALTH?
Increasingly, studies are showing a theme around a small handful of factors that reduce mortality more so than body size: dietary diversity, plant-base foods consumption, movement (not 'exercise' as such), eating socially (being connected), non-smoking, and moderate alcohol intake. One study found that undertaking just one of these healthful habits reduced mortality rate significantly.
Stay tuned folks, Cadence Institute of Nutrition & Health Coaching will be releasing a subject in The Non-Diet Approach for Health Coaches later in the year.
Live life, laugh hard and be kind
Registered Nutritionist and Director
Cadence Institute of Nutrition & Health Coaching
Well College Global
We all have a role to play in community health, the only question is how do we play this role? Through intelligent, evidence-based inquiry we can understand how to health coach to support others in taking on positive behaviour change.