I'm always going on a diet but can't keep the weight off. What's the best way to lose weight?
What's wrong with dieting?
Can I be addicted to food?
I feel fat and unhappy. What can I do?
Can men and boys develop eating disorders?
Does the media cause eating disorders?
I am a student doing a school project on eating disorders. Do you have any suggestions?
For questions and answers dealing with help for people with eating disorders, check out Give & Get Help.
A. Diets always work, for a little while. If we eat less and stop eating certain foods we will lose weight. But the weight we lose is mainly water or lean tissue, not just fat. Research consistently shows that only about five percent of us will keep off the lost weight.
Our weight and our body shape and size depend on our genes, our body's metabolism, and the way we live. If we live a generally healthy lifestyle, our body stays within a stable weight range. This is called our "set point", and it is the weight range at which we are healthiest.
Our set point can be changed if we constantly lose and gain weight. If this happens, our bodies could raise their normal set point weights and slow our metabolism to keep it there. This is because our body is trying to protect itself. It doesn't know the difference between a famine and a diet.
Diets set us up to fail. This "failure" makes us feel guilty and adds to bad feelings we may already have, like low self-esteem, or dislike of our bodies. We are surrounded by messages that anyone can lose weight as long as we have the right attitude and will power.
This makes it hard to remember just how unhelpful diets really are. Diets are difficult to follow. They restrict what we need or enjoy. So, we start to crave or obsess about the foods we're trying to avoid.
At this point we tend to 'break' our diet. And then we feel we have failed rather than recognizing that it is the diet that has failed.
We diet for many different reasons. We may think that being thinner will make us happier. Diets or some other strict routine can also make us feel like we're accomplishing something. By sticking to the rules we are rewarded, at first, by losing weight and by people complimenting us. But, this won't last and nothing else really changes.
So ask, "Why do I want to lose weight?" Are your hopes for a smaller body realistic? How would your life change?
- There are realistic ways to get to a healthy weight:
- Learn about healthy eating and establish a pattern of normal eating.
- Try not to label some foods as "good" and some foods "bad". All foods have a place in your life.
- Learn about appropriate portion sizes.
Be active in ways that you find pleasurable. This will make it more likely that you exercise regularly.
If you do these things you are likely to find that, after a while, your body will settle at its natural "set weight". Feelings of frustration, tiredness, mood swings and binge eating that you might have experienced while on a diet will lessen, and may go away completely.
Websites on nutrition and healthy eating:
A. A diet means we eat less to lose weight. It can make both our body and mind hungry. When we go on a diet we often:
- Think about food constantly.
- Over-eat, or "binge", on certain foods.
- Over-use condiments, chewing-gum, cigarettes and drinks with caffeine.
- Feel irritable.
- Feel depressed and tired.
- Don't want to be around people.
Find it hard to concentrate.
The first problem is that when we think about food and weight all the time, we don't deal with the bigger issues we face, like feeling bad about ourselves, or feeling unhappy, or tackling some problem that we have.
A second problem is that a diet can be the first step in developing an eating disorder. By dieting we support the myth that we are only good, attractive and valuable if we look a certain way. We ignore the research, which shows that healthy, happy and successful people come in all shapes and sizes.
- We might think that we can change our body with a diet. But research shows that:
- 95% to 98% of diets fail.
- Almost all dieters gain back all the weight they lost within five years.
- Many dieters gain back more weight than they lost.
Children and youth who diet are more likely to be fatter adults.
Diets don't work because our size and shape are largely decided by our genes. Yet, when our diet doesn't work we think it is our fault and that we have failed. This makes us feel even worse about ourselves.
Our body wants to stay at its natural, healthy weight. If we try to go below our natural weight by dieting, our body then starts to burn calories more slowly. We could, therefore, stop losing weight or gain more when we diet. When we stop a diet our body may put on fat to make up for the weight we lost. If we stop and start a diet several times, our body may gain more weight than we lost. This happens because our body doesn't know whether we are dieting or in the middle of a famine, so it tries to protect us.
Websites on nutrition and healthy eating:
A. "Bingeing" is a word used to describe eating food uncontrollably. Some people believe they binge because they are addicted to food. Others believe they binge because they are "emotional" eaters. In other words, they eat because the ritual of eating is comforting or they want the numbness that comes with being too full.
Typically, however, it is starvation or deprivation that causes people to binge. If we are already nutritionally deprived, or eat to comfort ourselves, something as simple as a bad mood or stress can trigger a binge.
In other words, food isn't addictive.
However, disordered eating can become a habit. When we begin to relate to food and eating in particular ways, these habits can be hard to change. So, it is the process (behaviour), not the substance (food) that becomes "addictive". Our behaviours meet a need. We may lose control of our eating because we are physically or emotionally deprived, not because we are addicted to food. Once we begin eating in a normal, healthy way again, we won't have the same desire to eat as much high-calorie, high-carbohydrate food, or foods we think are "bad".
A. A lot of people feel this way, especially women. It doesn't matter if we are at a healthy weight or not, we still feel this way. In Western culture, we are taught that fat is bad and that being fat is a sign of poor character. We are expected to feel shame and unhappiness about being fat. As a result, many people who are unhappy about other things - but who don't deal with them - begin to feel bad about themselves more generally, and then they "feel fat".
So, what can you do?
Try to separate what you believe about being fat and other things happening in your life.
Think of it. When do you "feel fat"? Does this feeling come and go or is it always there? Do you feel bad about yourself when certain things happen or when you are around certain people?
Other people, television and the media more generally tell us what the "perfect" body looks like. They tell us we really need to look that way in order to be happy and successful. Yet the only way in which they are able to portray the ideal body without a blemish is by computer-modifying images or air-brushing out all "imperfections"!
The truth is that there is no one perfect body for everyone. We come in all shapes and sizes. Our weight, shape and size - like our height - are determined by a mix of genetics, metabolism and lifestyle. People are naturally thin, average or fat, and everything in between.
Because we are healthiest at our natural weight, we will also tend to be at our most vibrant, energetic and attractive.
"Feeling fat" is really saying, "I don't like myself." After all, "fat" is not a feeling. If you are able to let go of these ideas about your body, you will be able treat yourself better and value your strengths. Learn to love and treasure your body. because it is your body.
A. Yes. Men and boys can have unhealthy eating patterns and eating disorders. An eating disorder is the same illness whether it shows up in a man or woman, although many more women than men have eating disorders. It is estimated that there is one man for every 20 women with anorexia. The estimate is that there is one man for every 10 women with bulimia.
Research has shown that men who endure social pressure in relation to their personal identity or bodies, such as athletes, men in the entertainment and vanity industries, and gay or trans-gendered men, are more vulnerable to the development of disordered eating. Boys and men who over-exercise or diet are also at increased risk for an eating disorder.
- Boys and men have many of the same problems as girls and women:
- Not feeling 'good enough.'
- Not feeling in control of their lives.
- Feeling depressed, angry, anxious or alienated.
- A history of troubled family or social relationships.
- Having difficulties in expressing their feelings.
- A history of abuse.
Feeling confused about their sexuality.
A lot of people think that only women and girls have eating disorders, so boys and men could be misdiagnosed or might not want come forward for help. In addition, most support groups and treatment programs are targeted at women and are accessed almost exclusively by women. Males may be uncomfortable being included in such groups. However, treatment providers are increasingly finding ways to ensure that men and boys feel welcome in mixed groups, and also provide programs just for men.
The lower number of men with eating disorders is a good reason to examine what helps them avoid developing eating disorders. Understanding what helps males avoid eating disorders can help keep their numbers low as well as help to prevent eating disorders in women.
A. The media doesn't cause eating disorders but they send out the clear message that you should be thin. They keep showing or telling us certain lies about women, such as:
- Everyone can be thin.
- Only thin women's bodies are beautiful and sexually desirable.
- If you're thin you will be confident, successful, healthy and happy.
- You can't and shouldn't be happy with yourself unless your body looks exactly like the thin ideal.
The "beauty" and diet industries make more than $45 billion every year. They encourage us not to like our bodies or ourselves. Their profit depends on it.
When we believe that there is a real link between being thin, over-controlled about food and weight and being happy and successful, we are more likely to develop disordered eating.
As consumers, we need to look critically at the media and act. Just blaming the media is not the answer.
Websites on media literacy:
A. If you already know what you want to write about, then browse through NEDIC's website. You can use any of the information on this website for free.
If you are not sure about your project focus, here are some ideas for a project more creative than one that simply looks at statistics and the common signs of an eating disorder:
- Look at cultural beliefs about identity and sex-roles, and the impact of these on food and weight preoccupation.
- Explore the way media images and myths created by the diet and fitness industry create and maintain the dissatisfaction so many of us have with our bodies. Discuss how these contribute to the high incidence of eating disorders in our society. Research the availability (and lack of availability) of treatment options in your area, and explain what more is needed to deal with the eating disorders and body image problems you notice.
Explain why so many teen girls engage in dieting and develop eating disorders, despite widespread education about the negative consequences of dieting and eating disorders. In your project consider these questions:
- What "rewards" do people get for looking or behaving a certain way?
- What "punishments" do they get for not looking or behaving that way?
Discuss how and why people with an eating disorder use their behaviours to create a (false) sense of control, or as a way to express forbidden or difficult feelings.
NEDIC also has printed materials available for a nominal fee. You will find a complete list of our resources, and information on how to order them here.
Good luck in your work and remember to acknowledge your sources!