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Diet for spiritual growth can be orthorexia in disguise

Diet for spiritual growth can be orthorexia in disguise

On social media and in places of worship and yoga studios, a diet may be prescribed for spiritual growth, but it’s often orthorexia in disguise.

Spiritual leaders, teachers, bloggers, and influencers may say things like “a pure diet is a sign of spiritual goodness and enlightenment.” This sort of positioning of spirituality can be harmful since it links how and what a person eats to whether they are spiritual or not.

This sort of connection between spirituality and eating has been around for a long time. And there are many religious traditions that have promoted fasting and not eating certain foods for hundreds, even thousands of years.

Religious diets

Many religious traditions restrict some foods, at least some of the time. For example:

  • Buddhism: many Buddhists follow a vegetarian or vegan diet.
  • Catholicism: the religion has several holy days and periods of fasting. Restrictions include no meat on Fridays during lent and fasting on Good Friday and Ash Wednesday.
  • Hinduism: the religion follows a lacto-vegetarian diet and features several fasting periods.
  • Islam: Halal includes strict dietary restrictions and fasting periods.
  • Judaism: kosher dietary rules require that foods are prepared under strict guidelines. Pork and shellfish are not allowed, and there are fasting periods.
  • Mormonism: followers are advised to eat respectfully, use portion control, not waste, and avoid overindulgence.

I’m not here to judge or criticize any religion or spiritual practice. But if you follow a religion or spiritual practice that restricts food, be aware of the risks for eating disorders. This is particularly true for orthorexia.

Spiritual diets

The rise of social media has powered a dangerous era in which non-experts and people with questionable motives actively and religiously promote disordered eating behaviors as a path to enlightenment. Some dangerous trends include:

  • “Spiritual signaling” with food, especially veganism
  • Detox juices and teas
  • Fasting diets
  • Religous adherence to working out
  • Strong visual correlation of a “spiritual body” being lean
  • “Clean” and “pure” diets being promoted as the path to enlightenment and health
  • Suggestion that weight will “melt off” when you follow the right path

Influencers and diet companies alike use the power of social media to spread their brands of pseudo-spirituality. They co-opt the language of spirituality and self-love to peddle programs, supplements, and clothing. It feels like spirituality and self-care, but when you break it down, it’s really just marketing and sales.

What is orthorexia?

Orthorexia falls under the category of Other Specified Feeding or Eating Disorders (OSFED). And it’s strongly correlated with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD). It was first recognized in 1998 and translates to an obsession with “healthy” or “clean” eating. According to professionals who specialize in treating eating disorders, it is the fastest-growing type of eating disorder right now.

Someone who has orthorexia restricts certain foods that they believe are not healthy or clean. They may also incorporate cleanses and fasts to pursue purity.

Symptoms of orthorexia include:

  • Cutting out or eliminating foods (e.g. meat, dairy, carbs, sugar, etc.)
  • Fasting and detox practices
  • Deep fear of accidentally consuming the food that’s been cut out
  • Obsesively checking nutrition labels and calling restaurants for detailed ingredient lists
  • Firm definition of foods that are “healthy,” “clean,” “good,” or “pure”
  • Noticeable interest in and discussion of what other people eat
  • Following influencers on social media in categories like clean eating, vegan, paleo, etc.

Like all eating disorders, orthorexia has significant underlying causes. These may include anxiety, depression, and poor emotional regulation skills. Orthorexia can begin small and then quickly snowball. Many parents are proud of their children in the early stages of orthorexia. It can seem both spiritually pure and healthy.

But like all eating disorders, orthorexia can become a major impediment and risk to life. As a mental illness, it requires intensive treatment.

The link between orthorexia and spirituality

Many people who are pursuing a spiritual path can find themselves accidentally falling into orthorexia. Part of this is because of the ease with which religious texts can become deeply rooted in a person’s brain. Spirituality is easily matched with diet culture. Diets promote clear rules and rigid expectations with a clear payoff. This approach fits well with many spiritual practices. And the influence of social media means a religious approach to food and eating can become obsessions.

We are in an unfortunate time of diet history right now. Many for-profit diets are wrapped in a cloak of “consciousness” and “spirituality.” This cloak makes it easy for a person to fall into disordered behaviors.

Here’s a perfect example of a diet dressed in spiritual clothing. This is a sponsored post from @DailyOm on Facebook. We added some notes to help identify the positive messages from the questionable and purely diet-oriented ones.

Identifying a diet

This example shows the model most modern diet marketers use. They promise spirituality and health, then add the goal of weight loss. Almost everyone in our culture wants to lose weight. So this message is actually critical to the success and sales of this company. But it’s cloaked well enough that a person can imagine they are pursuing spiritual growth, not a diet. When diet is linked to spiritual growth, it can easily trigger orthorexia.

A note about weight loss

It’s important to remember that all diets have a 95% rate of weight regain. They also have a 65% rate of gaining additional weight. They also dramatically increase the risk of eating disorders, up to 15x. Every diet promises to reduce weight painlessly and permanently. But there is simply no evidence that they can meet those claims for all but 5% of the population. And diets are not harmless. They permanently decrease metabolic rate, increase cortisol (stress) hormones, and increase the risk of eating disorders. Read more

The risk of diets for spiritual growth

Following religious dietary restrictions is everyone’s individual choice. But parents need to be aware that spiritual messages about eating and food can be very dangerous. Following a diet for spiritual growth can lead to orthorexia.

Rates of eating disorders are drastically increasing. There are multiple factors, including diet industry marketing, weight stigma, social media, and COVID-19 restrictions, that appear to be creating a perfect storm for eating disorder development.

The best thing parents can do is counteract restrictive messages about food and eating with positive messages like:

  • All food is good food
  • We don’t typically eat that as part of our religious practice, but we also honor every person’s individual choice
  • Our religion includes limited periods of fasting, but in general we eat regularly to fuel our bodies every day
  • We respect every person’s right to choose what they do and do not eat
  • This is a diet-free home, and we don’t support dietary restriction unless clearly specified for religious reasons (and even then it’s still optional)
  • You can be spiritual without following the dietary restrictions outlined in ancient texts and modern sermons
  • We don’t follow clean eating “prophets” who promote disordered eating behavior
  • Social media should be consumed with caution, especially when it comes to spiritual messages strongly aligned with eating and exercise behaviors

If you have a child who has an eating disorder, please carefully reconsider religious restrictions. Religious and spiritual traditions may accidentally contribute to eating disorders. Consider ways in which you can support your child’s recovery. Your child’s spiritual growth can continue even if they don’t follow a religion’s dietary restrictions. Most religious leaders recognize the need to adjust dietary restrictions in special circumstances.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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5 reasons not to buy Gwyneth Paltrow’s latest diet, Intuitive Fasting (book)

This week, Gwyneth Paltrow is promoting “Intuitive Fasting,” the first book under her new publishing umbrella. The fact that this happens to be National Eating Disorders Awareness Week is not lost on those of us in the recovery community. To launch a diet book that actively promotes eating disorder behaviors while using a similar name to one of the books often used in recovery (“Intuitive Eating”) feels really wrong, yet sadly not surprising.

There are a lot of problems with the book. But here are five that immediately stuck out for me:

1. Fasting is not intuitive

Sure, most of us “intuitively” fast when we go to sleep and when we’re not hungry. But any other form of fasting is not intuitive. The definition of intuitive is “using or based on what one feels to be true even without conscious reasoning; instinctive.” A fast is intentional. It is not instinctive. We all know that fasting, even for religious or other meaningful and necessary reasons, requires massive amounts of self-control. There is nothing instinctive or intuitive about it. When you fast, you deny your intuition, which is always to keep your body alive – i.e. eat!

2. Most definitely a diet

Look, I’ve read a lot of diet books. I was a hard-core consumer of diet books for three decades. I recognize a diet book when I see one, and this is definitely one. No matter how they try to package this, the four-week program is most definitely a diet. I define a diet as something that will make me hungry and encourage me to ignore my hunger cues for a future benefit.

Most of the time the goal of a diet is to lose weight. But we’ve learned it’s not cool to say that, so now diets package themselves as “health promoting.” But face it. This book is sold on the wish of weight loss.

Then there’s the diet behavior. Basically this book provides a method for limiting how much food you eat in a day. Here’s a recap of the four-week diet plan included in this book:

  1. 12 hours of uninterrupted fasting every day
  2. 14-18 hours of uninterrupted fasting every day
  3. 20-22 hours of uninterrupted fasting every day
  4. 12 hours of uninterrupted fasting every day

But it doesn’t stop with limiting meals. This diet also says it’s ‘Ketotarian,’ designed to put the body into a state of ketosis to burn fat and not sugar. Um, hello diet culture!

Gwyneth described her first four weeks as “pretty much a bone-broth diet.” The “Keto” diet is not new, and it’s not intuitive. It’s a way to try and hack the body, and (speaking from experience) it’s very, very hard on the body and considered by many Registered Dietitians to be unsustainable and unhealthy unless medically advised for specific reasons and under supervision.

3. Promotes eating disorder behavior

One of the main behaviors of an eating disorder is trying to extend the windows between eating food. This is common in most eating disorders, not just anorexia. Most people who have eating disorders restrict food (e.g. fast) for as many hours as possible, trying to extend the time between meals and limit how much they eat through the day.

The more we restrict, the less our stomach can comfortably hold and the more we obsess about food. Fasting behavior sets us up for a snowball effect of restrictive eating and, for many, binge eating. This can easily turn into disordered eating and, for some, an eating disorder. People who develop eating disorders convince their starving stomachs that fasting is healthy and good. All sorts of mind tricks support us in this belief. The result of fasting restriction may be a loss of all desire to eat, binge eating, and/or purging.

4. This is a money-making enterprise

Everybody is entitled to make a buck where they can, but when the bucks come from promoting eating disorders, I take issue. This book is part of the $72 billion diet industry.

The “Intuitive Fasting” book represents the launch of the Goop Press as part of the brand’s new publishing partnership with Rodale Books, a division of Penguin Random House. In other words, this book is a product. It’s not a health program or meant to help us. It’s meant to make money.

In her blog post to promote the book on Goop, Gwyneth Paltrow also promotes 18 other products for sale. Goop looks like a health platform, but it is an advertising platform designed to generate revenue for the company. The content and products are not altruistic, and they are not concerned for our health. A businesses’ purpose is to make as much profit as possible.

5. Ripping off the Intuitive Eating title is not cool

Intuitive Eating” is a book that was first published in 1995 by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch. It’s a bestseller that appears on almost every eating disorder professional’s bookshelf. It lays out an evidence-based self-care eating framework and has been cited in over 140 peer-review scientific studies to date. Intuitive eating has been gaining popularity and visibility as the culture slowly begins to re-evaluate our relationship with dieting and food. Many people who are in eating disorder recovery utilize the principles from “Intuitive Eating.” (Our article about the connection is here)

Naming this book “Intuitive Fasting” is awfully close to “Intuitive Eating” and “Intermittent Fasting.” Yeah, I’m sure it passes copyright laws, but it’s shady.

No need to buy the book “Intuitive Fasting”

Everyone gets to make their own choices in life. If this book appeals to you, that’s completely your decision. But here’s the secret: this book is just a different spin on the same old thing. Every diet book promises health through restriction. Short-term discomfort for long-term gain. That’s the promise. Every time. You don’t need to buy this book to hear another version of it.

Intentional weight loss (diets) result in weight regain (95% of cases), more weight gained (65% of cases), and eating disorders. A person who diets is up to 15x more likely to develop an eating disorder.

This book is unlikely to bring better health, and it may bring on an eating disorder. Try Intuitive Eating instead. It may feel like a total stretch, completely out of your comfort zone. But that’s the point! And it’s been shown to actually improve health.

Sources for the statements in this article can be found in our Scientific Research Library.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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The diet industry and eating disorders

Eating disorders are driven by the diet industry and media

Eating disorders are complex mental health issues, but it’s impossible to view them without the diet industry. Almost all eating disorders are fueled by a basic distrust of the body and fear of weight gain. This distrust and fear is developed and nurtured by the $72 billion diet industry.

Almost every diet program relies on eating disorder behavior to intentionally change body size and shape. Some rely on direct caloric restriction, but most of today’s diets push indirect restriction via food elimination and/or exercise. There are many choices, and the diets often contradict each other. Low-fat contradicts low-carb, while vegetarian contradicts paleo. But people keep reaching for the next diet that “really works” because they want to feel good about themselves.

The diet industry tells us to “fight” our hunger to “transform” ourselves once and for all into the ideal thin, happy person. Those of us who strive for this ideal often struggle with eating disorders.

The fact is that diet companies and the media promote eating disorder behaviors with diets every single day. Meanwhile, eating disorders are on the rise. It’s important to take a good, hard look at the industry that trains our kids to develop eating disorders.

The diet industry

Our obsession with weight is not an accident. It has been carefully crafted by marketers working for the fast-growing diet industry. The diet industry has very cleverly made us believe that dieting is necessary and effective.

The foundational elements of the diet industry marketing plan are:

  • Convince people that weight gain is both unsightly and unhealthy
  • Make people believe they are personally responsible for their weight
  • Tell people they can control their weight with an easy-to-use program/product
  • When weight is regained, tell people it’s their own fault, and sell them another program/product

The Weight Watchers’ business plan states “Our members have historically demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrollment over a number of years. On average … our members have enrolled in four separate program cycles.” This is a good thing from a business perspective. Repeat users are very profitable. Businesses love repeat users!

But repeat dieters are stuck in what’s called “weight cycling,” which is associated with many health complications. Weight cycling is a known result of intentional weight loss. In fact, dieters would be healthier if they stopped all weight loss efforts rather than continuing to weight cycle.

Weight Watchers as a predator

Weight Watchers, and companies like it, convince us that they are helpful friends on our path to health and happiness. They cleverly make us forget that they are profit-driven businesses. Diet businesses have all marketed hard to collectively drive the diet industry. In 1985 it was $10 billion in annual revenue, but today it is at least $72 billion. The diet industry grows like all businesses, by 1) convincing consumers they have a problem; 2) providing the solution to the problem; 3) making sure the solution isn’t permanent so they get repeat customers.

Even if there were a “cure” for weight gain, the diet industry would not sell it. Why? Because then they lose their money-making machine.

Skeptical? Consider this: if dieting were actually an effective treatment, then where is the scientific evidence? The major diet companies, including Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, should be clamoring to provide us with data and statistics. They should be sharing the medically-proven long-term success of their programs.

Imagine if they fought vicious public relations battles to demonstrate their 5- and 10-year success rates. They don’t. In fact, no diet companies provide us with long-term data about their programs. Not a single scientific study has proven that long-term (2+ years) weight loss is 1) possible; 2) safe.

Instead, diet companies provide us with individual results and testimonials. There is not a single peer-reviewed diet study proving the effectiveness of intentional weight loss.

Diets don’t work – and that’s good for business

Most people can lose weight on a diet for 6 months. That’s not a question. The question is whether it’s possible to keep the weight off. It’s not. Ninety-five percent of people who intentionally lose weight have regained all lost weight after 5 years.

When scientists try to prove the efficacy of dieting, they come up empty-handed. The National Institutes of Health was given $15 million to study diets for 15 years. But research was canceled two years ahead of schedule. The official reason for canceling the study was “futility.”

They could not find any evidence of benefit for the diet intervention they were studying. It was impossible for the statisticians to find any way to make the data show that dieting was helpful. The data could not show dieting could help prevent strokes, heart attacks or deaths from cardiovascular disease. So they cancelled it.

The media and the diet industry

The media also presents itself as a benevolent friend of humanity. It promotes its purpose as spreading truth and knowledge to us. It sells us the promise of delivering balanced information and promoting the idea that it is trustworthy. But the media is also an industry driven by profits.

Information media is under threat, as people seek news and information from increasingly niche markets. The newspaper publishing industry has fallen from $33.59 billion in 2011 to $30.47 billion in 2016. It’s expected to continue falling in the coming years. Entire magazines have stopped printing physical copies, and the job loss for trained journalists is staggering.

The media business is driven by advertising sales. The “trustworthy” information that they provide us is delivered only because of advertising. They exist only when their true customers succeed. And their true customers are their advertisers.

There’s no such thing as an anti-diet industry


Let’s think about this for a minute. There is no such thing as an anti-diet industry. Thus there is no revenue to be gained from writing about the fact that diets don’t work. But there is a $72 billion diet industry that is willing to pay for ads to attract diet customers.

In some vertical markets, the diet industry is responsible for keeping entire magazines afloat. It is diet ad dollars that allow women’s magazines to continue publishing weight loss tips, recipes, and closet organizing strategies.

Publishing is in trouble. And the only dollars keeping some publications afloat are from the diet industry. So how interested are they in spreading the word that diets are not effective? Not at all.

The media has consistently amplified the diet industry’s messaging about weight and diets. Here are the myths and facts:

Diet industry myths (perpetuated by the media)

  • Weight gain is disgusting and unhealthy
  • People are individually responsible for weight gain
  • Anyone can eliminate their weight problem with easy-to-use programs and products
  • People who fail at weight loss need to try again, with another program/product

The truth about weight (that the media doesn’t tell us)

  • Weight gain is normal and natural
  • Weight is largely genetic and environmental
  • Individuals have very little control over their body weight, regardless of the program or product
  • Repeated dieting leads to more problems than living in a larger body

The media sells the message that we’re never good enough. But they say we can achieve goodness if we follow their programs and purchase the products advertised. We cannot ignore the clear relationship between what the media writes about and where they generate their revenue.

The diet industry and eating disorders are best friends

Diet behaviors are eating disorder behaviors. That’s why it’s so important for parents to fight diet culture at home. Diets literally provide a manual for getting started with an eating disorder.

Not all diets turn into full-blown eating disorders, but a teen who diets is up to 15x more likely to develop an eating disorder. Kids are more likely to develop eating disorders from the diet industry than become healthy from a diet.

We want our kids to be healthy, and lots of us were taught that health is based on weight. But our pursuit of diets has not improved our health. Adults who have dieted are not healthier than adults who haven’t. And all diets put us in a dangerous eating disorder mindset.

Parents revolt

As parents, we must recognize that corporate power lies behind weight and diet messages. Our children are listening. And they are developing eating disorders in part because diet behaviors are indistinguishable from eating disorder behaviors. Parents have to reject diet culture. And we have to talk to our kids about the dangerous media messages that carry the diet industry’s messages.

Additionally, we need to look out for diet industry products and eliminate them from our homes. That may mean ending diet food purchases. It may mean quitting your favorite diet tracking app. And it may even mean ending a magazine subscription due to the fact that it’s supported by diet industry money.

The diet industry and eating disorders are best friends, but that doesn’t mean we have to invite them into our homes.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Data in support of the non-diet approach to health

Data in support of the non-diet approach to health

Despite what every magazine, influencer, newspaper and even your doctor says, the data we have available is in support of a non-diet approach to health. This is surprising and even shocking to many people, but it’s important that we turn the tide on diet propaganda and look at the facts.

NOTE: every statement in this article is linked to scientific research. Simply click on the link within the paragraph you’re reading to see the source.

Dieting is a national obsession – why?

In November 2020 the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced that more Americans are on diets now compared to a decade ago. A 2009 study estimated that 24% of American men and 38% of women were actively attempting to lose weight. Meanwhile, 70% of American women 50 or older report that they are trying to lose weight.

And alongside the increases in diet efforts, the weight loss industry grew. In 1984 the U.S. the weight loss industry generated about $10 billion in revenue. That number jumped to $72 billion in 2019.

While it markets itself as a health initiative, weight loss is a money-making industry that has experienced tremendous and highly profitable growth. And while it’s been very successful as an industry, it’s been a failure in terms of health and weight. There has been no increase in population health and the rise of the diet industry parallels an increase in U.S. body weight of about 10 lbs.

This is good for the diet industry, because it points to the weight gain as the problem it’s here to solve. But the data in support of a non-diet approach to health shows that:

  • Dieting leads to weight regain
  • Most dieters regain the weight lost plus more
  • Dieting is bad for your health
  • Dieting leads to eating disorders
  • Reported risks of fat itself are surprisingly incorrect

These proven facts are rarely spoken of outside of non-diet circles. Why? Because they don’t support fatphobia, or weight stigma, which is pervasive and was intentionally built by the massive and highly-profitable weight loss industry to sell products.

Dieting leads to weight regain

Since the 1950s, health and mental health professionals have criticized the conventional wisdom that permanent weight loss is possible. Clinical trials on weight loss have high dropout rates. Additionally, they rarely have participants move from one weight category to another. Finally, the overwhelming majority of people who lose even 5–10% of body weight have regained it 1 year later.

It is well established that weight loss can usually be achieved by restricting food intake. But the majority of dieters regain weight over the long-term. But why? Is it because people are bad at dieting? Or do they just slip back into bad habits?

The answer may surprise you. Because it’s actually completely out of the dieter’s control. It’s a biological fact that our bodies want to maintain our weight. When a body loses weight, every system works to get it back to where it was. That’s why no current treatment for weight reliably sustains weight loss.

Within 9 years of weight loss, 95% of women and 93% of men were unable to maintain the reduced body weight. This figure is regardless of the weight loss method, amount of weight lost, or starting BMI. In other words, diets have a 5% success rate. Five percent would be considered a complete failure for any other medical recommendation. No educated medical professional would recommend a treatment with this level of failure. Yet they do recommend intentional weight loss. It boggles the mind!

Dieting leads to additional weight gain

You may be thinking that while regain is possible, at least you tried! But regaining weight lost isn’t the only problem with intentional weight loss. The majority of people who diet end up heavier than they were when they started. Again, this is biologically based. It’s not due to bad diets, bad dieters, or any other modifiable personal behavior.

Studies show that about two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets. And these studies likely underestimate the reality.

Over time, after controlling for age and body mass index (BMI), mild dieters gained about 6.7 lbs. And severe dieters gained about 10.3 lbs compared to non-dieters. You read that right: dieting causes weight gain.

Intentional weight loss is a predictor of accelerated weight gain. The odds of becoming “overweight” by 25 years were significantly greater in people who dieted compared to those who didn’t. Dieting is linked to increased susceptibility to weight gain, independent of genetic factors.

Dieting is bad for your health

There is no evidence that dieting results in health improvements, regardless of weight change or weight status. But, even worse, dieting has serious side effects. In fact, dieting itself is correlated with many of the problems often attributed to higher body weight.

Dieting is associated with a higher risk of all-cause mortality and cardiovascular disease mortality. This is even after adjustment for pre-existing disease, initial BMI, and the exclusion of those in poor health. This means that dieting is associated with earlier death. In other words, dieting in an attempt to extend life expectancy is actually associated with a shorter life expectancy.

The primary issue with dieting is that restricting calories, which is how most people lose weight, increases the body’s cortisol levels. Cortisol is the body’s primary stress hormone. It controls blood sugar levels, regulates sleep, manages our use of fuel, reduces inflammation, and controls blood pressure. Increased cortisol has been shown to lead to:

  • High blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Fatigue
  • Impaired brain function
  • Increased infections
  • Muscle weakness
  • Osteoporosis

Every one of those side effects of dieting is associated with being at a higher weight. But the act of trying to lower your weight actually increases your risk for these physical ailments.

Dieting leads to eating disorders

Dieting is the most important predictor of new eating disorders. Teenage girls who dieted were 5-18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. The rate depended on how severely they dieted. The more intense the diet, the more likely they were to develop an eating disorder.

Adolescents using weight-control behaviors were at increased risk for binge eating. They also had more behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and use of diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics. While not everyone who diets develops an eating disorder, the chances increase dramatically with every weight loss attempt.

Eating disorders are serious mental health conditions that impact people of all ages, genders, races, sexual identity, and socio-economic status. Global eating disorder prevalence more than doubled from 2000 to 2018. It increased from 3.4% to 7.8% of the population. This is particularly alarming considering there are few proven treatments. Eating disorders are considered extremely difficult and are very expensive to treat.

Reported risks of fat itself are surprisingly incorrect

You may have heard that fat is “deadly.” Perhaps you believe that people who fail to lose weight are “killing themselves.” But it’s simply not true. This very useful analysis of weight research provides an excellent review of the truth about fat:

1. Obesity is not an epidemic

An ‘epidemic’ of overweight and obesity implies an exponential pattern of growth typical of epidemics. The available data do not support this claim. Instead, in the US there is a relatively modest rightward skewing of average weight on the distribution curve. The majority of people weigh ∼3–5 kg more than they did a generation ago.

2. Overweight and obesity are not major contributors to mortality

Except at true statistical extremes, high body mass is a very weak predictor of mortality. It may even be protective in older populations. 

3. Higher weight does not cause disease 

Causal links between body fat and disease remain hypothetical. It is more likely that higher body fat is a symptom of underlying metabolic processes. It’s unlikely that fat is a direct cause of disease.

4. Long-term weight loss is neither beneficial nor probable

 There is no evidence that people who are obese and overweight can achieve a lower weight. Nor that doing so will improve their health.

The anti-diet approach

The anti-diet approach is based on a core belief that diets are more harmful to health than weight. The data clearly support the concept of a non-diet approach. Diets create health complications and solve none. People who follow an anti-diet approach are often accused of not caring about their health. But the opposite is true: anti-diet is pro-health. And being anti-diet does not mean you don’t eat well and pursue other health-promoting behaviors. It’s just that you pursue them without the goal of weight loss or weight control.

There are proven behaviors that support health and longevity, but none of them rely on weight loss as a result. For example, exercise is good for your health. So are adequate sleep and healthy, fulfilling relationships with other people. Being anti-diet means you may choose to pursue these activities for your health. But the impact of these behaviors on the scale is irrelevant.

Other factors impact health more than weight

Additionally, the non-diet approach recognizes that there are factors that impact our health more than weight. These factors are out of our control. Genetics is the primary driver of weight. Additional factors include racism, discrimination, sexism, sexual harassment, poverty, food insecurity, and environmental toxins. These factors are directly linked to lower mortality and increased disease. People facing these factors may indeed have higher body weight. But it is not the weight itself that is causing their health problems. Instead, it is societal and environmental issues over which they have no control.

Finally, the non-diet approach recognizes that weight stigma is actually a risk factor all on its own. Weight stigma is the belief that fat is unhealthy and deadly. The health impact of weight stigma is likely the same as those often blamed on weight. Most likely, the problem is not the weight itself, but the way society treats people who are at higher weight. Heavier people are actively discriminated against in almost every professional, medical, and social setting.

In summary, it’s better for your health to weigh more and never diet. There is no benefit to dieting, and it is associated with significant health complications. Living at a higher weight than you want to be can be hard in our society. But that’s a societal problem, not a problem with your body. The data definitely support a non-diet approach to health, and I hope you’ll find out more and make the shift!

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Parents: get off the diet cycle and raise healthier kids

An interview with Judith Matz, LCSW

Parents really, really want to raise healthy kids. Unfortunately, we’re told that the biggest obstacle facing our kids’ health is their body weight. But this approach is harming, not helping our kids grow up healthy.

Parents who are worried about their kids’ weight are more likely to have kids who diet, and the No. 1 outcome of dieting is weight cycling, which can lead to higher lifetime weight, greater risk of eating disorders, and/or lower self-esteem.

We spoke with Judith Matz, LCSW, co-author of Diet Survivor’s Handbook and the brand new Body Positivity Card Deck, and author the children’s book Amanda’s Big Dream – a story that helps kids follow their dreams at any size. She provided us with great ideas about how parents can get off the diet cycle and raise healthier kids.

Q: How can parents help kids develop a healthy body image?

We have to keep in mind that the backdrop is diet culture, and we’ve all been immersed in diet culture. One of the most helpful things parents can do is look at their own attitudes toward dieting, food and weight.

There are a lot of messages that promote weight stigma. This is the belief that thinness is what’s valued, and that you can’t be happy, healthy and successful unless you’re a certain body size. Weight stigma presumes everyone can be thinner if they do the right things and leads to shaming people who are at a higher weight.

Parents typically have the best of intentions. They want to protect their kids from weight stigma. But they don’t realize that they are transmitting negative body image and body shame to their children. This shame becomes internalized, leading to lifelong struggles with food and weight.

It’s important to teach kids that bodies naturally come in all shapes and sizes.

The greatest difficulty facing many of my clients is healing the pain that they weren’t “good enough” because of their body size. These feelings often began in childhood with comments from parents (and other important people in their lives) about weight. Parents who see diet culture for what it is (harmful) can help their kids develop a more positive body image. They can teach kids to take care of their bodies at any size. They can let their children know that they are loved for who they are, not what they weigh.

Q: What should parents know about kids’ health and weight?

What’s helpful for parents to understand first is that weight is a characteristic, not a behavior. Genetics plays a big role in a child’s weight, just like it does in their height. On the other hand, parents can model positive behaviors in their own relationship with food and physical activity.

Socializing with friends, a good night’s sleep and honoring hunger and fullness cues are examples of behaviors that are terrific for kids of all sizes. If you have a child who is active and eats a wide variety of food (given what’s accessible to your family), there’s a good chance they’re at the weight they are supposed to be.

At the same time, if you have a child who is binge eating or hiding food, that should be of concern regardless of their weight. If you have a child who is always sedentary, that may be a concern no matter what the size of your child. It’s also important to keep in mind that’s what healthy for thinner kids is healthy for higher weight kids and vice a versa. Sometimes parents give thinner kids a pass when it comes to unhealthy behaviors that would concern them in larger kids. Using weight to determine health has the potential to hurt kids of all sizes.

Q: Should parents restrict their kids’ food?

For most people who restrict, the response is then to eventually overeat the very food they’ve been avoiding. If a food is considered “bad”, a person is likely to eat more than their body needs when they break through the restriction. It’s a natural response to deprivation. While diets almost always work in the short run, the vast majority will gain back the weight, and one to two thirds end up higher than their pre-diet weight. 

Instead, for both parents and kids, it’s more helpful to honor hunger and fullness than to weigh, measure, and restrict food. We want to raise kids who can recognize that when they eat something that satisfies them—as they’re offered a wide variety of foods—they feel good.

Attuned/Intuitive Eating

This way of eating is known as attuned or intuitive eating. Rather than following external rules and plans, both parents and kids learn trust their bodies to guide them about when what and how much to eat. In March 2020 yet another study came out showing that intuitive eating in the teenage years is linked to a lifelong relationship with food that is nourishing, satisfying and peaceful.

Many parents live with internalized weight stigma and may be dieting to lose weight or even avoiding certain food groups in the name of wellness. In this way it’s easy for parent who wouldn’t intentionally restrict their kid’s food to still model what’s valued when it comes to eating and body size. If a parent says they can’t eat that cookie because “sugar is addictive” or “it’s too fattening,” then they are teaching kids that cookies are bad, and that they should worry about their weight.

When a parent says this meal tastes delicious and feels good in my body, that is a completely different message.

It’s important to know that there’s room for all types of foods in our diets. In fact, it’s more important to raise kids who have a healthy relationship with food as opposed to only eating healthy food. I encourage parents who have dieted to think carefully about their relationship with food. They should watch for ways in which their own restriction slips into making their children feel restricted.

Q: What should parents do to raise healthy kids?

A great place for parents to start is to work on their own relationship with food and their own body acceptance. Some people who can’t do this for themselves find they are able to do it through the lens of the values they want to pass to their kids.

For example, what are your family values? How about valuing staying connected with and honoring the body? How about valuing diversity and knowing that all people are equally valuable in all different sizes, shapes, abilities, and colors?

If these are your family values, then it’s easier to see that there’s room for all types of food. It’s easier to trust that your child’s body is growing as it’s meant to. These values help kids stay in tune with their bodies and are protective against shame, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

don't talk about my child's weight cards

Q: How can I protect my child from fat shaming?

No matter what parents do at home, it’s tough out there. Kids are still going to get fat-shaming, thin-valuing messages from peers, teachers, commercials, cartoons, and our entire culture. In this environment, parents should know that it’s not unusual for a child to come home and say, “Am I too fat?.”

Don’t jump to reassurance. Regardless of your child’s body right now, you don’t want to suggest that a body is OK only as long as it is “not fat.” Ask them: what did they hear, and where is it coming from?

Find out how they feel about being fat – what does it mean to them?

Gently teach them that just like we don’t choose how tall or short we are, or what color eyes we have, we don’t choose the size of our bodies. Their job is to take good care of their body, and it will settle where it’s meant to be.

A parent can’t protect their child from fat-shaming. But parents who teach children these messages early on raise kids who are more resilient. They are less likely to fall prey to diet culture, disordered eating, and eating disorders.

Q: Shouldn’t I worry about “bad” food?

No matter what happens at home, kids are going to be exposed to all kinds of food in the world. Rather than restrict food or label it as “good” and “bad,” it’s better to teach them how to eat it in a way that serves and nurtures their body.

Food is a basic human need. It feeds us physically and emotionally, and we should never forget that. It’s better not to teach kids that they can’t eat certain foods. This approach tends to set them up for overeating or binging on that food.

We all know the kids who aren’t allowed to eat candy. You recognize restricted kids because they eat a lot of candy when it’s available since they get it so rarely. This overeating then reinforces the idea that candy is a problem. But the reason they consume so much candy at one time is that they know it’s going to be taken away again. If, instead, they know they it’s going to be available again, there’s no incentive to eat it when their body doesn’t want it.

Q: But there are “bad” foods, right?

Not really. We find that when people eat intuitively and are attuned to their hunger and fullness cues, free from diet culture, they tend to eat a well-balanced diet for their bodies. Certainly some foods are more nutritious than other, but I’ve never met anyone who only want sweets when they listen to their body, just like I’ve never met anyone who only wants fruits and vegetables. The attuned body guides us to make the choices that honor our bodies needs, while diet culture prescribes rules that are destined to fail.

When you look at young kids, they’re concrete thinkers. When they hear healthy/unhealthy, good/bad, they become super-focused on eating the right way, and this is where we see eating disorders begin. Let’s help support kids in learning how to eat all types of food. This gives them the skills to eat without shame, hiding, or eating to the point of physical discomfort.

This is where we come back to the message that parents can work on this first with themselves. If your experience is that when you eat cookies you can’t stop, then it’s not easy to trust that your child will be able to stop. On the other hand, if you’re an attuned or intuitive eater, you know that when you want something sweet you can trust your body to guide you.

Binge eating is less likely to occur for a person who trusts their body and food supply. Learning that this is true for yourself can help you trust your kid’s body.

Q: But what if I’m still committed to dieting?

You can still work on passing down positive messages around eating and body size even as you’re struggling with your own. You don’t have to be perfect first.

But if you’re caught in the yoyo diet cycle, make a commitment not to talk about dieting, label foods as good or bad, or talk about your weight or other people’s weight in front of your kids.

When talking to your child, focus on what the body can do, not what it looks like or weighs. Focus on how food feels, not its nutritional content.

For example:

  • “It feels so good to be in a swimming pool on a hot day.”
  • “Walking to school really wakes us up so we’re ready to learn.”
  • “This food is satisfying.”
  • “I love that this food crunches!”

Offer your child all types of foods. Given what’s accessible to your family, serve them fruits, vegetables, protein, carbs and fat. 

Remember that all cultures in the world have dessert. It’s natural to want something sweet after a meal. Once you allow sweets regularly, it’s less likely to be a big deal. This is because your children learn that they can have it often, so there’s no incentive to overeat or hide these foods.

Q: What can I do to be a better parent in this area?

First, keep exposing yourself to social media, books, and podcasts that are non-diet, body-positive, and working to end weight stigma. Do everything you can to end body shaming.

Parents are surrounded by fear around weight and health. But most of the fear is based on myths. The healthiest thing for kids is to be feeling good in their bodies and connecting with other people. Those are things that are worth supporting in kids.

Look for a doctor and other healthcare providers who don’t focus on your child’s weight or discuss it in front of them. It’s fine to focus on a varied diet, being physically active, and social activity. All of those things contribute to good health regardless of body size. Focusing on weight can really interfere with positive behaviors.

People talk about young kids getting diabetes, but really what we’re seeing the big increase in is eating disorders. I think that’s what we really need to be focusing on.

Judith Matz, LCSW

Judith Matz is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) with over 25 years of experience as a therapist, speaker and author. She received her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Michigan and completed a post-graduate fellowship and Michael Reese Hospital in Chicago with a focus on eating disorders. Judith specializes in Binge Eating Disorder and other overeating struggles. She uses the Health At Every Size® framework to promote wellness beyond weight and address social justice issues that affect people of all sizes. Judith is the author of three books related to eating and weight issues: The Diet Survivors HandbookBeyond a Shadow of a Diet, and Amanda’s Big Dream. Her website is

Discount code! Enter POSITIVITY20 to get a 20% discount and free shipping through the end of 2020. 
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Don’t sign your child up for WW app Kurbo

ww app kurbo

On August 13, WW (formerly known as Weight Watchers), announced its new app Kurbo for children ages 8-17. This is problematic on many levels.

First, let’s take a look at why WW is desperate to offer something for kids. They say it’s to help kids be healthier. But it’s actually to help WW acquire more customers. WW launched a free gamified weight loss app wrapped in “healthy” clothing to snag new customers when they’re young.

Here’s the thing: WW is a corporation. It is driven by profits. Since it is publicly traded, WW needs to show continuous growth – year after year. This is becoming increasingly hard, since more people are catching on to the fact that diets don’t work.

WW needs to stay relevant and growing, and every company knows that the only way to do this is to expand its market and products. There is nothing altruistic about a corporation like WW, no matter how much it tries to act as if it’s in it for our “health.” It’s in it for the money.

Several studies have found that parental weight talk, whether it involves encouraging their children to diet or talking about their own dieting, is linked to higher weight and eating disorders. This, combined with many other factors, caused the American Academy of Pediatrics to advise against talking about and focusing on weight with children and teens.[1]

Here are four reasons you should not sign your kid up for the WW app Kurbo:

1. WW is a weight loss company and Kurbo is a weight loss app

The Kurbo app is provided free by WW, a weight loss company that is pretending it cares about health when really it just wants to increase profits. The company is not concerned about long-term health outcomes of our kids. It’s only concerned about showing that it can remain profitable in a society that is increasingly rejecting diet culture and the very tenets of its business model.

WW is trying to brand Kurbo as a children’s “health” app, but when you go to download the app, it clearly shows that it is dedicated to weight loss:

ww app kurbo weight loss
Screenshot taken from the WW Kurbo app

The quote at the end of the description says everything. Parents confuse how a child looks with how healthy they are. That is the dirty secret of weight loss companies: they tell us that they are getting us healthy, when all they are doing is making us look thinner, which is not the same thing as being healthy.

Remember that this app is targeted to kids starting at age 8! Weight loss is a medical symptom of an eating disorder. And dieting and restricting food for weight loss are behavioral symptoms of an eating disorder. Weight loss has not been shown to increase health, but diet companies keep telling us it does.

2. Apps don’t improve health

There are no studies showing that an app that tracks intake and activity can improve long-term health for kids – or anyone.[2] In fact, several studies have shown that Fitbit, which promised to transform our fitness by tracking every step, does not increase fitness.[3]

Parents should be involved in their kids’ nutrition. What we have learned about nutrition is not incorrect, it’s just that we can’t tie nutrition to thinness.

Saying that parents shouldn’t use WW’s Kurbo app doesn’t doesn’t mean that parents can’t help their children pursue actual health behaviors such as sleep, exercise, and nutrition, but parents need to explicitly separate health behaviors from body weight. The Kurbo app specifically ties health to BMI, which is just downright wrong.

WW app kurbo bad for children
Screenshot taken from the WW Kurbo app

Parents should help kids with nutrition – not give them a weight loss app

Parents should not outsource their kids’ nutrition to a technology app or for-profit weight loss company. Learning to feed our children is a critical skill that needs to be supported and nurtured.

Parents are so afraid of their kids gaining weight that they restrict food and damage kids’ relationship with food and their bodies. This can result in a lifetime of body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders. Making parents worry about their kids’ weight hasn’t reduced our national weight status. However, rates of eating disorders have more than doubled in recent years

Well-meaning parents may turn to an app like WW’s Kurbo because they want to help their kids be healthy. But the thing is that you can’t see health. Health is achieved through behavior, not weight loss.

Also, showing before and after photos of young kids should be banned! What a horrible legacy for the children who are shown in the app as before and after photos. There is no way that kids can give true informed consent about their images being used to market a weight loss product.

weight loss before and after ww kirbo app
Screenshot taken from the WW Kurbo app. Facemask added by

3. Weight loss efforts increase shame and risk of eating disorders

Kids who are in larger bodies already know they are different and feel they are less deserving of respect. Asking them to track their food and activity at such a young age is harmful and not supported by any research showing that it is either safe or effective.

And don’t fool yourself: kids know when their parents want them to lose weight. No matter how much parents (and WW) say that Kurbo is about health, kids know that the whole point is to lose weight.

Kids are so smart, and every child who has ever been put on a weight loss program knew exactly what they were expected to do: restrict food and lose weight. Teens and adults repeatedly tell me that they knew exactly what their parents were telling them when they said things like “let’s try to eat healthier,” “I need you to get more exercise,” “are you really still hungry?” and “you need to watch your weight.”

Kids notice when thin siblings get seconds while they are restricted to one serving. They notice that thin siblings get an extra treat in their lunchbox. Not a single child doesn’t know that being thin is vitally important in our society. And no child has any doubt that “getting healthy” is code for “getting thin.” 

Eating disorders often start with a diet

So many people in the eating disorder community began their eating disorder with a diet. Teens who intentionally lose weight have a 25% risk of developing an eating disorder.[4]

Many people who have/had eating disorders experienced parental concern about their weight. Even if parents didn’t explicitly tell them to diet, their kids still knew that restricting food was required to make their parents feel better. Many, many adults have told me that their parents took them to Weight Watchers meetings from an early age, and that Weight Watchers played a role in their eating disorder development.

Every single child knows from a very young age that “fat” is one of the worst things you can be in our culture. That’s why kids report body hate and diet behaviors as young as 5 years old! 

4. Diets don’t work

Let me rephrase that: diets do work, short-term. But the long-term impacts are pretty bad. Almost anyone can lose weight in the short term. That’s not the problem. The problem is that keeping weight off is virtually impossible.

Studies have consistently shown that 90-95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it back (often plus more) after 2-5 years.

That’s WW’s whole business model. They benefit because their program creates a constant need to sign up for yet another round of weight loss. The intentional weight loss (diet) industry has a 95% failure rate, but the customers blame themselves, not the program. Imagine if a drug came out that had a 95% failure rate. Would we buy it? No! Yet we keep buying into weight loss programs.

The weight loss research

The most rigorous diet studies show that about half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted. [5] This is not a secret by any means, as evidenced by the following quotes from researchers:

  • Ample clinical data confirm that most dieters rapidly regain any achieved weight loss or even more. [6]
  • Dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain. [7]
  • It is well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term. [6]
  • Over one-third of lost weight tends to return within the first year, and the majority is gained back within 3 to 5 years. [8, 9]
  • In women, prior weight loss was the strongest predictor of subsequent large weight gain. [10]
  • The risk of becoming overweight in initially non-overweight participants was proportional to intentional weight loss frequency. [6]
  • Researchers are still digging for the answer, but one clue is the finding that people who intentionally lose weight immediately increase the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in their bodies and decrease their metabolisms long-term [11]

The bottom line is that parents should not get the WW app Kurbo for their kids. The app could be harmful and support the development of eating disorder behaviors. There is no evidence to show that it will improve health, and evidence to demonstrate it may reduce health.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


All statements can be verified in our scientific research library. Specific references in this article include:

[1] Preventing Obesity and Eating Disorders in Adolescents, Golden et al, Pediatrics, 2016

[2] Lang et al, Effectiveness of a smartphone application for weight loss compared to usual care in overweight primary care patients: a randomized controlled trial, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2014

[3] Effectiveness of activity trackers with and without incentives to increase physical activity (TRIPPA): a randomised controlled trial, Finkelstein et al, The Lancet, 2016

[4] GC Patton et al, Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years, BMJ, 1999

[5] Mann, Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again

[6] Pietilainen, Saarni, et al, Does dieting make you fat? A twin study, International Journal of Obesity, 2011

[7] Field AE, Austin SB, Taylor CB, et al. Relationship between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics 2003

[8] Anderson JW, Konz EC, et al, Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001

[9] Weiss EC, Galuska DA, et al, Weight regain in U.S. adults who experienced substantial weight loss, 1999-2002. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007

[10] A Kroke, AD Liese, Recent weight changes and weight cycling as predictors of subsequent two year weight change in a middle-aged cohort , International Journal of Obesity, 2002

[11] Fothergill, et al., Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition, Obesity, Aug 2016

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Are eating disorders linked to diets?

eating disorders linked to diets

Eating disorders and diets are closely linked. In fact, it is safe to say that if you never diet, you are unlikely to ever develop an eating disorder. Dieting is the primary behavioral symptom of most eating disorders, including binge eating disorder, bulimia, and anorexia.

The purpose of all diets is to lose weight. Intentional weight loss is based on creating a deficit of calories in to calories out, either by eating less, exercising more, or both. In other words, a diet includes eating less than your body requires to maintain its current weight.

Dieting is obvious with anorexia. Most people think of anorexia as a “diet gone too far.” But the vast majority of eating disorders cannot be recognized based on body weight.

Weight and eating disorders

In fact, weight is a very poor measurement of eating disorder status. Eating disorders can be active in any body type. The best measurement of an eating disorder is whether the person restricts food regularly, and every diet is based on helping people restrict their food. This means that diets contain the foundational tools for developing an eating disorder.

Anorexia is obviously linked to dietary restriction, but binge eating disorder and bulimia also involve periods of restriction and starvation. The person restricts for a period of time, and then binge eats. In the case of bulimia, the binge is followed by purges to compensate for the binge. In this way, diet behavior actually underlies almost all eating disorders.

Most people should not go on restrictive diets – based on the scientific evaluation: does it work? Is it safe? Does it have side effects? The answer for diets is no, not necessarily, yes.

Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again

Eating disorders and diets

In one study, teens who dieted moderately were 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder. And those who practiced extreme restriction were 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet. [1]

Dieting leads to heightened obsessions about weight and food. Dieting intensifies feelings of guilt and shame around food. This may ultimately contribute to a cycle of restricting, purging, bingeing or excessive exercise. [2]

The connection between eating disorders and diets:

  • Dieting is the most common precipitating factor in the development of an eating disorder. [1]
  • 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting and that 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. [3]
  • Girls who diet frequently are 12 times as likely to binge as girls who don’t diet. [4]
  • Dieters are 8x more likely to develop bulimia or anorexia. [5]

This information would be scary enough if dieting weren’t rampant in our culture. The diet industry has convinced us that 1) we need to diet, and 2) diets make us healthier. Neither of these facts is true. And yet diet culture is pervasive, seeping into even the earliest years of our children’s lives.

Most mothers focus on “losing the baby weight” even as their children are just weeks out of their bodies. An obsession with thinness begins at home but is continued in the classroom, on athletic fields, in doctors’ offices. It’s also on buses, billboards, social media feeds, magazine covers, television, and every media imaginable.

Our cultural obsession with weight means that:

  • 62.3% of teenage girls and 28.8% of teenage boys report trying to lose weight. [4]
  • 58.6% of girls and 28.2% of boys are actively dieting. 68.4% of girls and 51% of boys exercise with the goal of losing weight or to avoid gaining weight. [4]
  • 35-57% of adolescent girls engage in crash dieting, fasting, self-induced vomiting, diet pills, or laxatives. [4]

Diets lead to a preoccupation with food thoughts, often becoming an obsession with food. [4] This mental impact is the source of eating disorders. With time and repetition, dieting can become an eating disorder. A person increasingly bases their self-worth on their ability to restrict food.

“It is unethical to continue to prescribe weight loss to patients and communities as a pathway to health, knowing the associated outcomes – weight regain and weight cycling – are connected to further stigmatization, poor health, and well-being. The data suggest that a different approach is needed to foster physical health and well-being of our patients and communities.”

Journal of Obesity, 2014

The link between eating disorders and diets is the reason we are anti-diet. We hope that, after reading this, you will stop dieting and discourage your children from dieting. Here are three things you should know about diets:

1. Diets don’t work

No matter what anyone has told you, the data simply cannot support any claims that diets result in successful, lasting weight loss.

  • Meta-analysis of hundreds of diet studies has shown that dieters lose an average of 5-15 lbs over the first 4-6 months of a diet. [6]
  • Only 15 percent of dieters manage to maintain a weight of at least 22 pounds below their starting point for three or more years. [7]
  • Despite the data, consumers never blame the diet for failure, we always blame ourselves. But the problem is that diets fail us. [5]

2. Diets lead to weight gain

Diets actually cause weight gain. This shocking fact is not debatable, and numerous studies back it up:

  • Approximately 95-98% of all dieters who lose weight will regain lost pounds and often end up weighing more than they did pre-diet. [5]
  • The most rigorous diet studies show that about half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted. [8]
  • A single episode of deliberate weight loss increases the odds of becoming overweight by 2x in men and 3x in women. [9]

3. Diets don’t make us healthy

Most of us are told by everyone that we will be healthier if we diet. However, this is just not proven by the science.

  • Numerous studies have measured blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels, and they did not find that participants’ measurements improved with weight loss. [8]
  • In the single largest diet study so far, The National Institutes of Health was given $15 million to create a diet that would prevent strokes, heart attacks, and death from cardiovascular disease. They reported that the study was “futile.” They could not find any proof that diet improved health outcomes. [10]
  • Dieters are more susceptible to infections, bone density decreases, blood pressure increases, and damaged blood vessels. [11]

Just for fun, check out this parody weight loss commercial:

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

We have a research library containing the research included in this article and more!

[1] Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population based cohort study over 3 years, Patton, et al, BMJ, 1999


[3] Pathological dieting, precursor to eating disorder, Philadelphia Eating Disorder Examiner, July 18, 2011

[4] Dieting in adolescence, Paediatric Child Health, 2004

[5] The Diet Survivor’s Handbook, Matz, Frankel

[6] Gal and Liu, “Grapes of wrath: the angry effects of self-control”

[7] Ayyat and Anderson, Obesity Reviews, 2000

[8] Secrets from the Eating Lab, Mann

[9] Pietilainen, International Journal of Obesity, 2012

[10] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

[11] Why zebras don’t get ulcers, Robert Sapolsky

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The science to support non-diet, weight-neutral parenting

non-diet weight-neutral parenting

So much of what we think we know about food, diet, and weight is just plain wrong. It’s not our fault. After all, journalists, healthcare providers, educators, bloggers, and influencers all promote dieting. Of course, they may call it weight control, a healthy lifestyle, or something else.

But it turns out that dieting and weight control are not nearly as good as we’ve been told they are. In fact, they can be very harmful. And when it comes to parenting, we want to be weight-neutral and take a non-diet approach. There’s a lot of pressure on parents to watch their kids’ weight. Some parents believe they must help kids be “healthy” with intentional weight loss. However, there is actually no evidence that intentional weight loss is healthy. Furthermore, there is substantial evidence that intentional weight loss is unhealthy. In fact, it leads to higher weights and increased rates of eating disorders.

Read on for the five most important articles you need to read about intentional weight loss. Let’s look at dieting, fat, “obesity” and weight epidemics that aren’t actually epidemic at all. It takes a lot of guts to go against the current cultural norms. But rest assured that science firmly supports a non-diet, weight-neutral approach to parenting.

1. “Obesity” isn’t an epidemic, it’s not deadly, it doesn’t cause disease, and weight loss doesn’t work

The epidemiology of overweight and obesity: public health crisis or moral panic? International Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 35, Issue 1, 1 February 2006, Pages 55–60

Highlights from the Article

  • Public health agencies across the world are searching for policies or incentives to mitigate the alleged ‘disease’ of obesity.
  • In our view, the available scientific data neither support alarmist claims about obesity nor justify diverting scarce resources away from far more pressing public health issues. 
  • Given the limited scientific evidence, the authors suggest that the current rhetoric about an obesity-driven health crisis is being driven more by cultural and political factors than by any threat increasing body weight may pose to public health.
    • The authors debunk four false claims:

False claim #1: obesity is an epidemic.

An ‘epidemic’ of overweight and obesity implies an exponential pattern of growth typical of epidemics. The available data do not support this claim. Instead, what we have seen, in the US, is a relatively modest rightward skewing of average weight on the distribution curve, with people of lower weights gaining little or no weight, and the majority of people weighing ∼3–5 kg more than they did a generation ago.

False claim #2: overweight and obesity are major contributors to mortality.

This claim, central to arguments that higher than average body mass amount to a major public health problem, is at best weakly supported by the epidemiological literature. Except at true statistical extremes, high body mass is a very weak predictor of mortality, and may even be protective in older populations. 

False claim #3: higher weight is pathological and a primary direct cause of disease.

With the exception of osteoarthritis, where increased body mass contributes to wear on joints, and a few cancers where estrogen originating in adipose tissue may contribute, causal links between body fat and disease remain hypothetical. It is quite possible, and even likely, that higher than average body fat is merely an expression of underlying metabolic processes that themselves may be the sources of the pathologies in question. 

False claim #4: significant long-term weight loss is both medically beneficial and a practical goal.

This claim is almost completely unsupported by the epidemiological literature. The central premise of the current war on fat—that turning obese and overweight people into so-called ‘normal weight’ individuals will improve their health—remains an untested hypothesis.

2. No evidence that diets lead to health benefits

Medicare’s Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets Are Not the Answer, American Psychologist, Vol 62(3), Apr 2007, Pages 220-233.

Highlights from the Article

  • There is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits. 
  • The authors review studies of the long-term outcomes of calorie-restricting diets to assess whether dieting is an effective treatment for obesity.
  • These studies show that one-third to two-thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost on their diets, and these studies likely underestimate the extent to which dieting is counterproductive because of several methodological problems, all of which bias the studies toward showing successful weight loss maintenance.
  • In addition, the studies do not provide consistent evidence that dieting results in significant health improvements, regardless of weight change.

3. Non-diet approach has better health outcomes than intentional weight loss

Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift, Nutrition Journal, 10:9, 2011.

Highlights from the Article

  • Randomized controlled clinical trials indicate that a non-diet Health at Every SizeⓇ (HAESⓇ) approach is associated with statistically and clinically relevant improvements in:
    • Physiological measures (e.g., blood pressure, blood lipids)
    • Health behaviors (e.g., eating and activity habits, dietary quality)
    • Psychosocial outcomes (such as self-esteem and body image),
  • HAES achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the contraindications associated with a weight focus.
  • While intentional weight loss efforts induce short term weight loss, the majority of individuals are unable to maintain weight loss over the long term and do not achieve the putative benefits of improved morbidity and mortality.
  • Weight focus is ineffective at producing thinner, healthier bodies, and may also have unintended consequences, including:
    • Food and body preoccupation
    • Repeated cycles of weight loss and regain
    • Distraction from other personal health goals and wider health determinants
    • Reduced self-esteem
    • Eating disorders

4. Dieting leads to eating disorders and weight gain

Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: how do dieters fare 5 years later? Journal of the American Dietetic Association, April 2006, Pages 559-68.

Highlights from the Article

  • Dieting and unhealthful weight-control behaviors predict outcomes related to obesity and eating disorders 5 years later.
  • A shift away from dieting and drastic weight-control measures toward the long-term implementation of healthful eating and physical activity behaviors is needed to prevent obesity and eating disorders in adolescents.
  • Adolescents using weight-control behaviors increased their body mass index compared to adolescents not using any weight-control behaviors and were at approximately three times greater risk for being overweight.
  • Adolescents using weight-control behaviors were at increased risk for binge eating with loss of control and for extreme weight-control behaviors such as self-induced vomiting and use of diet pills, laxatives, and diuretics 5 years later, compared with adolescents not using any weight-control behaviors.

5. Parents don’t need to worry about the health risks of “obesity”

The Health Risks of Obesity Have Been Exaggerated, Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, January 2019, 51(1), Pages 218-221

Article not currently available – read an interview with the author here.

Highlights from the author

  • The health risks of obesity, as well as the purported health benefits of weight loss, have been greatly exaggerated.
  • Yo-yo dieting, which is pretty much the norm in America, is associated with the exact same risks as obesity itself.
  • Obesity-related health markers improve little, if at all, with weight loss, but cardiovascular fitness virtually eliminates many of the health risks associated with obesity. Fitness can be improved relatively quickly in people of all shapes and sizes, and the health benefits of improved fitness outweigh the health benefits of weight loss.
  • Our weight, body fat and lean tissue mass are the result of a complex interaction of genes, behavior and environment. We actually have very little control over them.

Hungry for more? Check out our library of research to support the non-diet, weight-neutral parenting approach.

The science firmly supports a non-diet, weight-neutral approach to parenting

There are many noisy voices out there telling parents they need to worry about kids’ weight. But the evidence shows that most of our fears abut weight are because of weight stigma. Fear of fat is not scientific, it’s simply a bias we’ve developed in our culture. The evidence shows that parenting from a non-diet and weight-neutral perspective is safe and healthy.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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Why Tom Brady’s diet book is dangerous for boys and young men

tom brady's book dangerous

Tom Brady, gifted quarterback for the New England Patriots and winner of seven Super Bowls, is a famous athlete. Unfortunately, like many famous people, he is choosing to spread unfounded and dangerous diet claims that can harm our children.

Brady released a book called “The TB12 Method: How to Achieve a Lifetime of Sustained Peak Performance” that is filled with pseudoscience and claims that are not validated science. Tom Brady’s book is dangerous because it puts health in rigid terms. What he does with his body is completely up to him. But publishing this book is irresponsible.

His claims about his diet may not look like disordered eating at first glance since they do not directly promote weight loss or caloric restriction. However, they are definitely part of the wellness movement in which people promote restrictive and obsessive diets that are neither scientifically valid or emotionally and socially healthy.

Brady’s food recommendations may appear to be ridiculous but harmless. However, the food obsession and foodphobia underlying his recommendations are part of a disordered eating culture. This rigid approach to health puts children at increased risk for eating disorders.

The TB12 Method is a recipe for eating disorders

Tom Brady’s TB12 Method book is dangerous because it’s filled with foodphobia. This is the fear and demonization of certain types of food. In his case, he promotes a diet of “alkanizing” and “anti-inflammatory” foods. He says this lowers his body’s pH level. He says that lowering his pH level increases his energy levels and prevents colds, flu, muscle fatigue, joint pain, bone spurs, poor concentration, mood swings, and bone fractures.

That sounds great! But he is completely wrong. It is scientifically impossible to change the body’s pH level, which is balanced by the lungs and kidneys. And it is virtually impossible to change your pH level with food.

Brady promotes alkaline foods as a path to being a stronger, healthier person (who can become an amazing athlete and win Super Bowls), but what he’s really exposing is a deep and unfounded obsession with and fear of food. The vilification of non-alkaline foods and the halo he puts on alkaline foods follows in the footsteps of so many other famous but non-scientific athletes, actors, and celebrities who believe that their natural genetic predisposition and talent are something that nutrition alone can create.

Yes, Brady is an amazing athlete. He was genetically gifted at birth and has worked hard to develop his skills on the football field. Congratulations, Tom Brady. Now, please stop promoting dangerous and disordered eating advice.

What Tom Brady does not eat

Eating disorders typically involve the following key behaviors:

  • Avoiding foods based on the fear that they are fattening, unhealthy, dangerous, and otherwise “bad.”
  • Maintaining a very limited diet of foods considered to be “good,” “healthy,” and “safe.”
  • Being obsessed with food, as evidenced by constantly talking about food, what will be eaten, what will not be eaten, etc.
  • Believing that food is directly linked to body appearance and performance and status as a human being.
  • Believing that body appearance and performance is directly linked to status as a human being.

Brady avoids a lot of foods. Here is a partial list of what he does not eat:

  • Red meat
  • Dairy
  • Corn
  • Fungus
  • Nightshade vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, etc.)
  • Soy
  • White potatoes
  • White sugar
  • White flour
  • MSG
  • Iodized salt
  • Caffeine
  • Gluten-containing bread and pasta
  • Breakfast cereal
  • Foods that contain GMOs
  • High fructose corn syrup
  • Trans fats
  • Artificial sweeteners
  • Fruit juice
  • Grain-based foods
  • Jams and jellies
  • Most cooking oils
  • Condiments like ketchup and soy sauce

Here is a partial list of what Brady does eat:

  • Fish
  • Vegetables
  • Fruit
  • Protein bars (which he sells/profits from)
  • Protein shakes (which he sells/profits from)
  • Soup broth

Brady can eat whatever he wants. Personal diet plans are personal, and he can do whatever he wants with his plate. But Tom Brady’s book promoting his personal diet as a prescription for achieving “a lifetime of sustained peak performance” is dangerous. The diet program he prescribes is incredibly restrictive, and cannot be considered healthy or reasonable for the vast majority of people.

Boys and men get eating disorders

Most people believe that eating disorders afflict primarily young, white, wealthy women who follow calorically-restrictive diets and become very, very thin. This stigma is not accurate, and it can make it challenging for women who do not fit that profile to get treatment for their eating disorders.

This eating disorder stigma also completely ignores the symptoms of eating disorders in boys and men. Because eating disorder behaviors reflect societal pressures to behave and look a certain way, and because we live in a society in which the expectations we have for women are different from those for men, eating disorders look very different when expressed in males.

For example, most males who have eating disorders are seeking a lean, muscular physique. They will restrict their diet with the goal of gaining muscle and reducing fat and will exercise in pursuit of increasing muscle appearance in certain areas of the body. Male eating disorders often involve compulsive exercise and dietary supplements, especially protein supplements.

With this in mind, Tom Brady’s book is a dangerous guidebook for male eating disorders in the same way that all diet books guide people into eating disorder behaviors (AKA dieting). Brady’s book joins a long line of pseudoscience (e.g. ketogenic, intermittent fasting, zero grain, Whole 30, etc.) that encourages the disordered idea that our eating directly results in a particular body type and performance. All of these programs have built a plethora of money-making businesses based on the food programs they prescribe.

No need to biohack

A deeply troubling trend in our society is the pervasive idea that we should eat and behave in certain ways to make us better than we were naturally.

It has been soundly proven that there is no need to try and “hack” our bodies and, in fact, it is impossible to alter core functions such as body detoxification and alkalinity. The term “biohack” came out of Silicon Valley based on the concept that, just like software, the body can be programmed to look and behave a certain way with diet adjustments. But the body is not a software program, and it simply refuses to be hacked.

It is true that eating a diet that has a variety of fruits, vegetables, and grains, is good for the body. But what biohackers, gurus and eating disorders do is take the concept to the extreme. Just because eating fruits, vegetables, and grains is good for us that doesn’t mean we should NEVER EAT ANYTHING ELSE. That is eating disorder thinking, and while it is wildly popular and heavily promoted by companies that make money off our beliefs (e.g. Brady’s line of protein supplements), it is not healthy.

If you have a son …

If you have a son, please watch carefully for diet changes that reflect popular culture such as Brady’s TB12 method. Avoid supplements, including protein shakes and protein bars.

Even if your son’s coaches and friends are pushing protein on him, remember that protein supplementation is unnecessary pseudoscience. If you need justification: the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, released in January 2016, cautioned that people, especially teenage boys and adult men are getting too much protein.

Nightshade vegetables are not unhealthy, iodized salt is fine, and your child can eat sugar, dairy, grains, hamburgers, pizza, cookies, cheese, and other foods they enjoy without committing a health crime.

Eating disorders look very different in our sons and are typically best recognized by paying attention to our boys’ feelings about food and exercise more than how their bodies change in relation to their eating disorder. If your son cuts out entire food groups, uses supplements to “hack” his body, or follows any other current food trends, pay attention.

If you believe your son is obsessed with food and body issues, please don’t hesitate to seek help. It’s true that most parents don’t think about their sons getting eating disorders, but unfortunately, we must do so given that we live in a disordered eating culture.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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What parents and educators need to know about diet culture, by Dana Suchow

What parents and educators need to know about diet culture, by Dana Suchow

Diet culture is a system that demonizes and hates fat. It tells us that even though 95% of diets fail, we should still maintain an endless pursuit of weight loss. Diet culture tells us that we’ll only be healthy if we’re thin, even though we know that thin doesn’t equal health.

The culture overrides our logic and scientific intelligence, and it makes perfect sense since diet companies make more than $66 billion per year by creating body insecurities where none existed before. They do this because an insecure person is an exploitable person. You’re just not going to spend money to fix your body if you don’t think your body was broken to begin with. They spend billions of dollars on advertising to create a problem that doesn’t exist so that they can sell products to solve it.

“A culture fixated on female thinness is not an obsession about female beauty, but an obsession about female obedience. Dieting is the most potent political sedative in women’s history; a quietly mad population. isa tractable one.

Naomi Wolf, The Beauty Myth

What is diet culture?

Diet culture is literally a system that says that thinness and weight loss is more important than any quality a person can have. It says that thinness is more important than being kind. More important than being loving, empathetic, smart, or caring.

Diet culture says that being thin is more important than mental health your emotional health your physical health. It says that being thin is more important than education. It’s a system that demonizes and hates fat.

Diet culture is a system that marginalizes fat people. 95% of diets fail yet we are on an endless path towards weight loss. We do this because diet culture says that you’ll be healthy if you’re thin. And this is even though we know thin doesn’t equal health. Diet culture says that if you lose weight you’ll be healthy no matter how you lost that weight.

The risks of diet culture

Diet culture is directly linked to:

  • Eating disorders
  • Depression
  • Body dysmorphia
  • Unhealthy eating habits
  • Bullying
  • Drug abuse
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Binge partying
  • Suicide

If we didn’t have diet culture, I know that I wouldn’t have developed my own eating disorder, and that’s why I work to help parents, educators, and caregivers learn about diet culture so that we can reduce its terrible impact on kids, teens, and adults.

80% of teen girls are unhappy with their bodies

Dove Research, Girls on Beauty

Diet culture hurts all of us

Diet culture is hurting you and your children. It is having a direct impact on how our kids feel about themselves, and it is hurting their ability to live a life fully present life. Instead, they spend their time and energy protecting themselves against the fear of being judged by diet culture.

It is becoming normal for kids to diet and to worry constantly about their appearance. We have 5-year-olds who say they would rather lose a parent than get fat.

Eating disorder behaviors like dieting, restricting, and over-exercising have become so common – so normal – that it’s actually becoming difficult for researchers to say how many people actually have eating disorders. One recent study put the number as high as 65% of all girls and women.

65% of girls and women have an eating disorder

Dove Research, Girls on Beauty

All bodies deserve to be seen

Over and over again, diet culture tells children, teens, and adults that their exterior appearance is more important than anything else. We are a society that is so focused on the exterior that we have forgotten our interiors. And the problem is, that when we are focused on our exteriors and not our interiors, we’re not present for our life. When we are thinking about our external and not our internal, we are holding ourselves back.

All bodies deserve to be seen. All bodies deserve representation. And your kids’ bodies deserve to exist in the world exactly as they are, without dieting, restricting, and over-exercising. Without appetite-suppressing lollipops, laxative teas and juice cleanses. Your kids deserve to live a life free of diet culture.

There’s hope. We just have to work together. You have the power to fight diet culture. We have the power to create change. You have the power to help your children.

Dana presented on this topic in a TED-style talk – you can watch it here:

dana suchow

Dana Suchow is an award-winning speaker, educator, and coach. Since overcoming Bulimia, Binge Eating Disorder and exercise compulsion that resulted in permanent injuries, Dana Suchow has become an expert in the field of body image and eating disorder prevention. Offering a nonclinical and holistic approach, Dana offers tools, talks, 1:1 training, and other resources to help parents, educators, and caregivers. You can find Dana on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

More about diet culture

Diet culture is a major concern because it’s directly linked to eating disorder development. The truth is that we live in a culture that promotes and admires dieting and food restriction. Yet this culture makes us sick. And worse, it makes our kids sick. Eating disorders continue to rise, and they are showing up in younger kids than ever. Learning about diet culture is essential to protecting your children from eating disorders and/or helping them recover from eating disorders.

Living in a society that is cruel and dominating towards bodies is hard. And it’s difficult to raise a body-confident child in this culture. But it is possible. You can raise a child who is free from body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders if you protect her from the worst impacts of diet culture. Here are some more articles about this:

How to protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia

How to protect your daughter from diet culture and fatphobia

If you have a daughter, then you can and should protect her from fatphobia and diet culture. While this isn’t one of the things most of us think about when we have a child, it has become critically important as body hate, disordered eating, and eating disorders are on the rise.  Women in our society […]

What parents need to know about diet culture and eating disorder recovery

What parents need to know about diet culture and eating disorder recovery

Diet culture promotes the idea that weight loss is a meaningful, good and healthy pursuit in life. This belief can be deeply dangerous for anyone at risk of an eating disorder. Diet culture promotes eating disorder behaviors and increase a person’s chance of developing an eating disorder. To avoid and heal from eating disorders, we […]

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What parents need to know about diet culture and eating disorder recovery

What parents need to know about diet culture and eating disorder recovery

Diet culture promotes the idea that weight loss is a meaningful, good and healthy pursuit in life. This belief can be deeply dangerous for anyone at risk of an eating disorder. Diet culture promotes eating disorder behaviors and increase a person’s chance of developing an eating disorder.

To avoid and heal from eating disorders, we must reject diet culture. This is hard because diet culture is absolutely everywhere.

It’s impossible to separate eating disorder behavior from diet culture. Diet culture reinforces our sense of worthlessness. It tells us we can be a better person if we restrict food and follow food rules. Recovering from an eating disorder requires waking up to diet culture. We must see it for the evil liar that it is.

Dieting all the time

At any given time, about one-third of Americans are on a diet. [1] Despite its promises, diet culture has absolutely not lowered our body weights. In fact, it likely contributes to weight gain. Diet culture is linked to eating disorder development. It is also a serious barrier to eating disorder recovery.

Diet culture begins with recommendations such as “eat less and move more.” But these simplistic directions do not result in weight loss for most people. The promise is that the problem is never the diet, but the person who is failing to follow the rules correctly.

Diet culture absolutely surrounds us. It is impossible to live in our society and not be immersed in diet culture. It is perpetrated on billboards, television, and social media. We are not free of diet culture anywhere. It’s in doctor’s offices, classrooms, places of worship, playing fields, workplaces, and, worst of all, in people’s homes. Surveys of higher-weight adults find that their worst experiences of discrimination come from their own families. [3]

Here are is a definition of diet culture:

1. Diet culture tells us that there is an ideal body type and that everyone can achieve that body type if they try hard enough.

Diet culture blatantly ignores the fact that bodies are naturally diverse. Two people can eat the exact same foods and weigh drastically different amounts.

It is simply unscientific to suggest that all bodies can follow a particular diet and weigh the same amount.

When everyone believes they can and should have the same body size, regardless of their genetic blueprint and starting weight, we create a fertile breeding ground for eating disorders.

2. Diet culture tells us that people who are fat are fat because they don’t control what they eat.

Most people assume that larger bodies are created with a simple problem of eating too much and eating the wrong things.

But in fact the most likely cause of weight gain is repeated dieting.

Since 1959, numerous studies have shown that 95% to 98% of all intentional weight loss efforts result in weight gain, plus extra. This is due to our biology, as just a 3% loss of body weight results in a 17% reduction in the body’s metabolic rate.

Many people who are in larger bodies are actually very accomplished dieters. They have lost significant amounts of weight numerous times in their lifetime. It’s just a side effect that every time they lose weight, they become fatter.

No, they did not fail the diet. Their bodies responded to dieting as expected: by gaining weight.

3. Diet culture tells us that people who are thin are smarter and morally superior to those who are not.

Diet culture relies on the idea that anyone can avoid being fat relatively easily. It says that if they simply apply individual discipline and moral conduct. they will lose weight.

Virtually every diet book, blog, and influencer screams some variation of “I did it, and you can do it too!”

The suggestion is that people who are fat just aren’t trying hard enough. The promise is if they just had the willpower and moral fortitude, they could be thin. This is a very harmful lie.

Morality and inner strength have nothing to do with weight. The belief that they do is a core driver of many eating disorders.

4. Diet culture equates being thin with being healthy.

In diet culture we assume that a person who is thin is healthier than a person who is fat. However, this is not supported by research.

It turns out that the largest indicators of health are health behaviors – and body weight is not a behavior. Healthy people can be fat or thin, and unhealthy people can be fat or thin.

The difference lies largely in what they do, and exercise, healthful eating, avoiding alcohol, and reducing stress are all much stronger predictors of health than weight.

The continued assumption by diet culture that thin = healthy causes incredible damage. People living in larger bodies experience weight stigma that decreases their chances of being healthy. They seek medical advice less frequently, receive biased medical advice for non-weight-based medical conditions, feel ashamed when they exercise, and seek comfort in food more frequently.

It’s very likely that the true risk of having a larger body is weight stigma, not the weight itself.

What diet culture means for eating disorder recovery

Many people who have eating disorders are believers of diet culture.

It’s all too easy to believe diet culture’s lies because they are everywhere. Eating disorders are complex and go beyond food and weight. But they often begin with diet culture lies.

To recover from an eating disorder, we must reject diet culture. To free ourselves, we must repeatedly assure ourselves that diet culture is a liar based on completely faulty evidence.

We must remind ourselves that our bodies can pursue health at any size. Slowly, we can establish a truce with our bodies. We may never achieve full love for our bodies, but we can definitely achieve acceptance. This will be much easier for us if our parents and families join us in rejecting diet culture.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

[1] International Food Information Council Foundation, 2018

[2] National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, 2017

[3] Everything You Know About Obesity is Wrong, Michael Hobbes, Huffington Post, Sept 19, 2018

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What to do instead of putting your child on a diet

What to do instead of putting your child on a diet

Are you thinking that your child is getting chubby and needs to go on a diet? Or maybe your child has always been on the high end of the weight chart. Maybe you’ve been desperately telling them to “eat less/move more” for years.

Is your child begging you to support them in following a strict Paleo, Whole30, Weight Watchers, or other “lifestyle program?” Whatever your reason for considering intentional weight loss for your child, please STOP.

Prescribing weight loss has been called unethical in the Journal of Obesity. Dieting leads to weight regain and weight cycling, both of which are strongly connected to poor health and well-being. [1]

Here are three facts you need to know before you even consider putting your child on a diet:

1. 95% of people who intentionally lose weight gain it back

Approximately 95-98% of all dieters who lose weight will regain lost pounds. They often end up weighing more than they did pre-diet. [2] This is not a secret. Intentional weight loss fails 95% of the time. It fails in children, in teens, in young adults, in adults, and in the elderly. Intentional weight loss fails whether it’s called a diet, a lifestyle change, a wellness program, or a weight management program.

Imagine your doctor prescribed a drug that had terrible side effects and a 5% success rate. You would laugh in their face. Imagine you bought a car that only worked 5% of the time. Would you blame the person driving? No, you would blame the car.

Intentional weight loss doesn’t work. Period. Stop criticizing people (including yourself) because you think they should lose weight. Stop criticizing people who regain weight because they “don’t have the willpower” to “stick with it.” You’re talking about 95% of the population. This is not a problem with people – it’s a problem with the pursuit weight loss.

2. Diets result in weight gain

About half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted. [3] A single episode of intentional weight loss increases the odds of weighing more by 2x in men and 3x in women. [4]

Allowing or encouraging your child to go on a diet is a terrible choice. This includes food restriction and the addition of exercise with the goal of weight loss. It disrupts your child’s psychological and physical development for LIFE.

People who have intentionally lost weight immediately increase the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in their bodies and decrease their metabolisms long-term [5]. This means they need to eat less food for the rest of their lives. Every time they intentionally lose weight, these side effects increase. Ultimately, intentional weight loss places a greater burden on their health than their original weight trajectory ever would have.

3. Diets lead to eating disorders

A child on a diet is susceptible to developing an eating disorder. Almost every eating disorder began as a diet.

Since it has been normalized in our society, parents believe that dieting behavior is healthy, but it is decidedly not. Dieting is supported by the $70 billion diet industry. Even our trusted healthcare providers have been infected by the belief that intentional weight loss is possible and healthy. But it’s not (see above).

51% of girls 9 and 10 years old say they feel better about themselves when they are dieting. [6] In no society in the world should that be considered normal, healthy, or natural, because it’s not. More than 35% of people who go on a diet progress to pathological dieting. And 20-25% of those individuals develop eating disorders. [7]

Due to our societal obsession with weight loss, most people who have dangerous and health-damaging eating disorders do not “look” like they have an eating disorder. Clinical anorexia, in which a person becomes medically underweight, is actually the rarest form of eating disorder.

What to do instead of putting your child on a diet

Putting your child on a diet will negatively impact their health for life. Consider the four following parenting steps that will positively impact your child’s health.

1. Focus on sleep

Lack of sleep is associated with many health conditions. The scientific evidence linking sleep to health is far stronger than that linking weight to health. While many parents obsess about their kids’ sugar intake and weight, few obsess about their kids’ sleep cycles. Lack of sleep puts kids (and adults) at higher risk of depression, suicidal ideation, substance abuse, psychosis, stroke, obesity, and more. [8, 9]

A 2017 study found that about 40% of teenagers in 2015 received less than 7 hours of sleep per night. [10] This indicates a worrying trend that has been on the rise for decades. Individual electronics and the Internet are taking a huge toll on sleep. And even when teens do fall asleep, many wake several times through the night to respond to incoming text messages. Lack of sleep and disrupted sleep during the teen years when the brain is undergoing a massive transformation is serious.

Parents who institute an early bedtime, turn off the wireless, and remove devices during sleeping hours are considered monsters by their teens. But that is often the only way to balance the teenager’s lack of impulse control and the temptations of technology with the very real need for sleep.

2. Provide a positive food environment

Unfortunately, our current food culture takes an all or nothing stance on “healthy” and “junk” food. This is decidedly not healthy. Parents should neither serve donuts and chips all day nor kale and broiled chicken all day. Instead, serve a balance of foods that are both nutritious and tasty. And most important: trust that your child will eat food in a quantity that is correct for their own body.

We don’t need to put our child on a diet or control or restrict food, even “tempting” foods like M&Ms and potato chips. When people aren’t restricted, they naturally eat a variety of foods rather than binge eating sweets and treats when they get the opportunity. This is called Intuitive Eating, and it’s been scientifically proven to be more healthy than dieting.

With Intuitive Eating, you can focus more on how your kids eat than what and how much they eat. This requires you to actually sit down and eat with your children. Take time every day, for as many meals as possible, to eat with your child. Foster a pleasant atmosphere and nourish your child’s soul as you nourish their body. Spending time over food is an ancient and healthy human tradition. It builds connection and emotional well-being. It will improve your child’s long-term health.

3. Move together

Many studies have shown that movement and physical fitness are more important than body weight. People can be healthy at high weights, and this is especially true if they are physically active. In fact, it is better to live at a high weight and be physically active than it is to be at a low weight and be sedentary. Several studies have found that higher-weight people who are fit/active are just as healthy, in many cases healthier, than lower-weight individuals who are unfit/inactive.” [11]

The important mind shift is to stop thinking of exercise as a weight loss activity, because it’s not. [12] Instead see it as an element of basic health and hygiene. You ask your child to bathe and brush their teeth every day. You can also support intentional movement every day.

Exercise does not lead to weight loss any more than brushing teeth leads to weight loss. But both make a significant impact on health. This doesn’t need to be intense, unpleasant exercise or a gym workout. Walking at a moderate pace every day is a great health-promoter.

Bonus points if you can find ways to move together as a family. Go for walks together on weekdays, and plan weekend excursions that involve movement. Make the focus of this time family bonding, not weight loss, and the health benefits will be tremendous.

4. Teach emotional hygiene

Emotional hygiene requires that we learn to process our emotions in healthy, adaptive ways. Many mental disorders are treated by teaching emotional hygiene. With practice, a person can learn to process emotions fluidly rather than suppressing or numbing them. A lack of emotional hygiene been linked to high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and a suppressed immune system. [13]

The first step in teaching kids emotional hygiene is to learn it ourselves. If possible, get some help from a professional who can help you learn to accept and process feelings as they arise. Practice this with a partner or friend – be honest about how you are feeling and describe your emotions using feeling words.

Introduce the concept to your kids, and practice together. Build your emotional vocabulary with new words to define emotional states. Learning to process feelings with the people you love is a messy, difficult process, but it will bring you closer and impart huge health benefits for everyone.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.


[1] Tylka, et. al, The weight-inclusive versus weight-normative approach to health: evaluating the evidence for prioritizing well-being over weight loss, Journal of Obesity, July 2014

[2] Matz, Frankel, The Diet Survivor’s Handbook

[3] Mann, Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again

[4] Pietilainen, Does dieting make you fat? A twin study, International Journal of Obesity, 2012

[5] Fothergill, et al., Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition, Obesity, Aug 2016

[6] LM, Irwin CE & Scully S, Disordered eating characteristics in girls: A survey of middle class children, Journal of the American Dietetic Association, 1992

[7] Pathological dieting, precursor to eating disorder, Philadelphia Eating Disorder Examiner, July 18, 2011

[8] Taheri, S. et al., Short sleep duration is associated with reduced leptin, elevated ghrelin, and increased body mass index, PLoS Medicine,Dec 2004

[9] Mary A. Carskadon, Sleep in adolescents: the perfect storm, Pediatric Clinics of North America, June 2011

[10] Twenge, et al., Decreases in self-reported sleep duration among U.S. adolescents 2009-2015 and links to new media screen time, Sleep Medicine, Nov 2017

[11] Paul D. Loprinzi: Application of the “Fat-but-Fit” paradigm in predicting 10-yr risk for an atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) event using the pooled cohort risk equations among US adults, International Journal of Cardiology, Jan 1, 2016

[12] Why you shouldn’t exercise to lose weight, explained with 60+ studies, Vox, Oct 2017

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Foodphobia: fear of food and restricting entire food groups

Foodphobia, the fear of food that leads to restricting entire food groups and categories, is on the rise. Foodphobia is often an early symptom of an eating disorder. It can be hard to recognize because avoiding certain foods has been marketed as “wellness.”

The food industry has continued to deliver tastier, cheaper, and more easily available food. Meanwhile, the $70 billion diet industry has grown. Its success is partly based on the belief that some foods are “bad” while others are “healthy.” This belief leads us to feel deeply ashamed when we desire delicious food.

Diet trends have come and gone, but never have there been so many Foodphobic elimination-based diets as there are now. These diet programs, include Whole30, Paleo, Keto, etc. They institute food rules and promote Foodphobia in the pursuit of weight loss. They each prescribe a different food elimination plan and list of “bad” and “good” foods.

Diets in disguise

Make no doubt about it: Paleo, Whole30, Clean Eating, and other “lifestyles” that promote eliminating certain foods are diets. And if you look closer at the increasing popularity of vegetarianism and veganism, you will see diet culture there, too.

Foodphobia, the fear of food, is a weight-loss tactic that promises that restricting entire food groups will result in weight loss.

Foodphobic diets

Here are some examples of Foodphobic diets. These all promise weight loss by saying that particular foods make us fat and unhealthy. The goal of eliminating those foods is to become thin and enlightened:

  • The Paleo diet promises a “cleaner” body by eliminating grains, beans, soy, dairy, and certain vegetable oils.
  • The Whole30 diet promises to reset and heal your relationship with food by eliminating dairy and legumes.
  • Detox diets promise to cleanse the body toxins by eliminating almost all foods except juices and raw vegetables. (It is important to note that as long as we have a functioning liver, our body naturally removes toxins.)
  • Vegetarian/Vegan diets suggest that weight gain is caused by hormones injected in livestock. They promote eliminating all meat products and all animal products, respectively.
  • Clean Eating diets promise weight loss by eliminating any food that has been processed beyond harvest.
  • Grain-free diets promote the idea that a multitude of human health problems can be linked to eating grains. They promote eliminating grains entirely from our diets.
  • Fasting diets promote health by eliminating all food from our bodies for various periods of time.

Not healthy and not a path to wellness

Each of these diets claims that the secret to full health and wellness lies in the food we eat. They all claim science and data to back up their claims, but their most powerful tool is marketing. Billions of dollars are spent on slick marketing campaigns and even full-length “documentaries” to sell us on these diets.

This is dangerous for those of us who are susceptible to eating disorders. We often use eating behaviors subconsciously to pursue worthiness and goodness. By following one of these programs, we can hide our eating disorders in plain sight.

We are congratulated when we lose weight on these diets. We happily share what we don’t eat, even though we’re sharing our disordered eating. It’s hard to recognize an eating disorder when it’s been marketed to us as a “health” program.

FYI: the science sucks

All of these popular diet trends fail in the same way: they do not hold up to scientific scrutiny. The human body is incredibly complex, but these programs reduce us to machine-like components. Science does not fully understand how eliminating elements, from calories to individual nutrients, impacts our long-term health. Anyone who tells you otherwise is uninformed.

Even the programs claiming significant science fail when held to basic scientific standards. Check out this article about the problems with health claims made in the What the Health documentary. This can be applied to all Foodphobic diets: Debunking What the Health, the buzzy new documentary that wants you to be vegan, Vox.

Foodphobia, the fear of food, and foodphobic diets restrict entire food groups in the pursuit of weight loss.

Foodphobic books hide their true purpose


A huge part of the diet industry is hundreds of thousands of books, blogs and websites. These are typically written by thin individuals who promise that there is way to have their body type. The greatest danger in diet books lies in their denial that they are selling diets at all.

Until the a few years ago, diet media was open. Suzanne Somers proudly announced that you can “Get Skinny” by following her program. Nothing qualifies Suzanne Somers to provide eating advice except the fact that she is thin, white, and famous.

Diets are not effective. They do not result in lasting weight loss. No matter what book you read, not a single form of weight loss has been scientifically proven.

See our scientific library for the data behind these statements

But that doesn’t deter diet books, magazines, blogs, celebrities, and influencers from promoting weight loss promises. Moralistic claims now shroud weight loss claims. We’re told that we will be better, smarter people if we eat the way they prescribe and lose weight.

The trouble with “wellness programs”

Today, there are no books saying they will help you “get skinny!” But weight loss is always an expected result of Foodphobic diet programs that eliminate calories, nutrients and entire food groups.

Today’s moralistic diet claims are one of the most dangerous elements of modern diet industry marketing. They create a wide-open pipeline from diet to eating disorder. At least Suzanne Somers’ book was open about its weight loss goals. It didn’t pretend to be anything but a diet. Today, we pretend that we’re seeking “wellness” when in fact we still want what Suzanne promised.

Those of us who are susceptible to eating disorders can find hundreds of ways to justify Foodphobic, highly controlled eating patterns at our local bookstore.

Diet books written by “lifestyle gurus” promise not just weight loss, but also a total life makeover. They can also masquerade as cookbooks (vs. diet programs). These diet cookbooks promise to make us better people based on the food we eat, how we prepare it, and from where it is sourced.

No matter how they position themselves, they are still sold in the diet category and essentially promote the restriction of food intake. This means they still follow the universal rule of dieting: 95% of all people who lose weight on a diet will regain it all, plus more, within two years.

Foodphobia and eating disorders

Foodphobic diets are just the latest of many marketing efforts designed to sell books, products, coaching programs, and more. Dieting is the single greatest predictor of eating disorder. These Foodphobic diets, which sell themselves as lifestyles and NOT DIETS are particularly dangerous. Many people don’t realize they or their loved ones are struggling until an eating disorder has taken hold.

Foodphobic diets are the perfect foil for those of us who hide our eating disorders in plain sight. Many of us openly engage in our eating disorders by jumping from program to program. We alternate between the different foodphobic programs or continuously reduce our list of “safe” foods. This is classic eating disorder behavior.

All diets – whether they include counting calories, adding complicated food rules, removing items from our diet or restricting oneself to juices for periods of time – exert significant stress on the body, raising cortisol levels and leading to long-term negative health impacts. The current list of popular diets are being sold as “healthy lifestyles.” But make no mistake: they they are selling weight loss under the shroud of goodness. They can be a very slippery slope for anyone susceptible to an eating disorder.

Ginny Jones is on a mission to empower parents to raise kids who are free from eating issues, body shame and eating disorders.

She’s the founder of and a Parent Coach who helps parents navigate disordered eating, eating disorder recovery, and other challenging emotional and behavioral issues.

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The truth about diets that parents need to know to prevent eating disorders

diets and weight loss and their relationship to eating disorders

There is significant science proving that 1) diets typically result in weight gain, 2) diets are bad for our health, and 3) diets lead to eating disorders. However, the $70 billion diet industry spends a tremendous amount of money convincing us otherwise. Dieting is a cultural obsession and is something that doctors regularly prescribe without evidence  that it is safe, effective, or improves health outcomes.

It is important for parents to become educated about diet culture and to actively work to stop the practice of dieting in the family home. When parents stop dieting and discourage their children from dieting, they are more likely to prevent eating disorders. But this is not easy. Diet culture is powerful and pervasive. We have compiled a list of 5 reasons you should not diet and should try to prevent your children from dieting.

The definition of a diet

A diet is any program that instructs a person to rely on external cues, including what to eat, when to eat, where to eat, how to eat, etc., rather than internal cues of hunger and fullness. Diets include:

  • Diet programs including Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, and Nutrisystem
  • “Healthy lifestyles” including Paleo, South Beach, and Atkins
  • Rigid “health-based” diets including like vegetarian, vegan, pescatarian, whole foods only, and sugar-free
  • Supplements including meal-replacement shakes meal-replacement bars, slimming teas, Medifast, and Slimfast
  • Pharmaceutical drugs to cause weight loss
  • Pharmaceutical drugs to reduce hunger
  • Weight loss surgery

1. Diets don’t work

The first thing parents should know about diets is that they don’t work. No matter what anyone has told you, the data simply cannot support any claims that diets result in successful, lasting weight loss. Here are some important facts:

The diet industry has very loose terms for saying that a diet “works.” Their criteria are that a diet “works” if it results in 5% weight loss during the first few months of dieting. That ignores any follow-up regain, which we’ll address later.  But even if the diet “works,” it’s just 10 lbs for a person who weighs 200 lbs. Have you ever met someone who weighs 200 lbs who would be satisfied, after undergoing the suffering of dieting, with a 10-lb weight loss? [1]

Meta-analysis of hundreds of diet studies has shown that dieters lose an average of 5-15 lbs over the first 4-6 months of a diet. [2] It does not matter which diet they are on, these data remain consistent across all methods of dieting, including low-fat, low-carb, fasting, cabbage soup diets, paleo diets,vegan diets, clean diets … all of them.

Only 15 percent of dieters manage to maintain a weight at least 22 pounds below their starting point for three or more years. [14] However, this optimistic number fails to account for the significant number of dieters in diet studies who never show up for follow-up weigh-ins. It is commonly known that many people who do not maintain weight loss do not show up for follow-up weigh-ins because they feel ashamed of their inability to maintain weight loss.

Diet companies keep telling us that their diets “work,” but they never release the data to prove the longevity of their results. When they share data, it is usually for an individual dieter (the infamous “I did it, so can you” approach). Or they will share data for a 6-month period. This is strange, since if their diets really “worked,” and they have the data to prove it, sharing it with us would undoubtedly increase their market share.

Diets are designed around personal accountability. This means that when a diet doesn’t work, the dieter blames their individual lack of willpower or ability to stick to the diet. In almost no other consumer area are we so thoroughly battered by self-recrimination. We never blame the diet for failure, we always blame the individual. But the tables should be turned. The problem is that diets fail the person. [9]

2. Diets lead to weight gain

Perhaps the most galling fact of diets is that they actually cause weight gain. This shocking fact is not debatable, and numerous studies have proven it:

  • Approximately 95-98% of all dieters who lose weight will regain lost pounds and often end up weighing more than they did pre-diet. The diet industry has a failure rate unthinkable in any other consumer area. [9]
  • The most rigorous diet studies show that about half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted. [1]
  • Deliberate attempts to become thinner strongly predict weight gain over the long term. [16]
  • Fifteen long-term studies that followed dieters for 1-15 years, all found that dieters are more likely than non-dieters to become obese. [20]
  • A single episode of deliberate weight loss increases the odds of becoming overweight by 2x in men and 3x in women. [22]

But it’s not just that we gain weight after we diet – we actually gain the worst sort of weight. When dieters regain their lost weight, they gain fat faster than they gain muscle, which leads them to replace muscle with fat or to recover their strength at the cost of putting on extra weight. [21] Diets cause the body to become more insulin-resistant and fat gets stored in the abdomen as a result. [1]

Women with two or more episodes of dieting were five times as likely to become overweight by age twenty-five. [22] This is likely based on the concept of a body’s “set point.” Diets have been shown to push the body’s natural set point up. Diets slow the rate at which your body burns calories, increase your body’s calorie-efficiency, cause cravings and food obsession, reduce energy levels, lower body temperature, reduce hunger signals, reduce muscle tissue, and increase fat-storage enzymes. [12] These processes cause the body to become excellent at conserving energy, which means that someone who has dieted is likely more efficient at gaining and storing energy than someone who has never dieted.

3. Diets don’t make us healthy

Most people diet because we are told by everyone (our friends, families, trainers, doctors, and other healthcare workers) that we will be healthier if we diet. However, this is just not proven by the science. Numerous studies have measured blood pressure, cholesterol, triglyceride, and blood glucose levels, and they did not find that participants’ measurements improved with weight loss. [1]

In the single largest diet study so far, The National Institutes of Health was given $15 million to test a diet designed to prevent strokes, heart attacks, and death from cardiovascular disease. They had 15 years to conduct the study and fine-tune the diet. But despite the researchers’ best efforts, they actually canceled their study two years ahead of schedule. They reported that the study was “futile.” They could not find any evidence that dieting improved health outcomes. [8]

Dieting causes a stress response, releasing the hormone cortisol (stress hormone) into the bloodstream. [3] It is believed that it is this stress hormone is the reason why dieters are more susceptible to infections, bone density decreases, blood pressure increases, and damaged blood vessels. [6] Ironically, stress also leads to weight gain, and particularly increases in abdominal fat, which is most strongly associated with medical problems. [23]

Everyone can relate to the fact that dieting doesn’t do much for our concentration or cognition. Dieting actually causes cognitive impairment, including reducing the ability to focus on a task, react to stimuli, plan, make decisions and solve problems. [5] This impact on our ability to think can lead to accidental injury and even death even as we pursue what we mistakenly believe is a healthier lifestyle.

4. Diets don’t happen by accident

Despite all the evidence that diets make us fatter and unhealthy, we keep dieting. 55% of the American population reported dieting to lose weight in 2000. Most people will tell you that they are losing weight “to feel good about themselves” or “to be healthy.” It’s also commonly reported that dieters have been encouraged to diet by their doctor, parents, spouse, kids, or other well-respected, well-meaning person.

To endure the suffering of a diet, our brains have to be “primed” to suffer the diet. And that’s where the diet industry comes in. The diet industry has ballooned from $10 billion in 1985 to $70 billion in 2012.

Not surprisingly, the increase in diet-industry revenue is correlated with an increase in the number of people going on diets. In the 1950s, 14% of women and 7% of men in the United States were trying to lose weight. By the mid-2000s, 57% of women and 40% of men had been on a diet in the past year, even though many of them are within healthy weight ranges. [15]

This is not an accident. Companies only grow when they “create a market.” Ask any marketer how to create a market, and they will tell you that first, you find the “pain,” next, you tell consumers how your product is the only one that can solve the pain. This is a well-known model. Diet companies have developed powerful negative stigma around people who are living in larger bodies, creating terrible psychic pain and serious life consequences, and they exploit it for their gain.

It might be different if their increased revenues correlated with lower weights, but now that you know all about how diets cause weight gain, it should be no surprise to you that as the diet industry has grown, rates obesity as measured by BMI has tripled. The diet industry has gotten rich off our pain. Richard Samber of Weight Watchers said that dieting is like gambling. People are driven to return because they believe they may have better luck next time. [1]

The Weight Watchers’ business plan states “Our members have historically demonstrated a consistent pattern of repeat enrollment over a number of years. On average … our members have enrolled in four separate program cycles.” [1] Yeah. No surprise there. It’s because each time they enroll, their weight goes up, and they mistakenly blame themselves instead of Weight Watchers for the failure.

5. Diets are lazy medicine

One of the most astounding facts about diets is how often the people we trust most with our health, doctors, are prescribing them to patients as if they are evidence-based. Doctors frequently prescribe weight loss to people who are overweight and obese based on BMI measurements. For a comparison, imagine you had cancer and your doctor prescribed a medication that had a 2% chance of curing you, caused terrible side-effects, and actually made your cancer worse in a significant number of people. No doctor would do that. And yet the weight-loss prescription persists. [9]

Then there is the level beyond just lazy recommendations to “lose weight.” Doctors have the ability to prescribe hunger-reduction pharmaceuticals. These drugs are proven to cause: dry mouth, constipation, difficulty sleeping, dizziness, feeling nervous, feeling restless, headache, raised blood pressure, raised pulse. Given that diets result in weight gain and do not improve health outcomes, it’s hard to justify those side effects.

Doctors can also prescribe pharmaceuticals that reduce body fat, reduce the absorption of nutrients by your body, and increase feelings of fullness. These drugs can cause: diarrhea, gas, leakage of oily stools, stomach pain, constipation, cough, dizziness, dry mouth, feeling tired, headaches, nausea, dizziness, dry mouth, taste changes, tingling of hands and feet, insomnia, headache, vomiting, and abdominal pain. These drugs also lead to complications including uncontrolled high blood pressure, increased heart rate, liver damage, raised pulse, seizures, birth defects, pancreatitis, thyroid tumors, and suicidal actions. There is no doubt that these drugs do far more harm than good. [10]

Stop dieting forever

If you are a dieter, or if you have a child who is dieting, please consider these facts carefully, and please stop dieting in your household. The pain and suffering we are enduring is horrible and diets offer statistically zero improvement in either weight or health. Remember, also, that dieting is directly correlated with eating disorders. Teenagers who moderately diet are 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder, and teens who aggressively diet are 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder. [30] It’s just not worth the risk.

Video: Dieting Sucks


[1] Mann, Secrets from the Eating Lab

[2] Gal and Liu, “Grapes of wrath: the angry effects of self-control”

[3] A. Janet Tomiyama et al. ” Low-calorie dieting increases cortisol”

[4] Michael W. Green and Peter J. Rogers, “Impaired cognitive functioning during spontaneous dieting”

[5] Green and Rogers. “Impaired cognitive functioning during spontaneous dieting”

[6] Robert Sapolsky, Why zebras don’t get ulcers

[7] Keys et al. The biology of human starvation

[8] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

[9] Matz, Frankel, The Diet Survivor’s Handbook

[10] National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases

[11] Howard et al. “Low-fat dietary pattern and weight change over 7 years: the women’s health initiative dietary modification trial”

[12] Bacon, Health at Every Size

[13] Dansinger, et al, Annals of Internal Medicine, 2007

[14] Ayyat and Anderson, Obesity Reviews, 2000

[15] Yaemsiri, et al, International Journal of Obesity, 2011

[16] Dulloo, et al, Obesity Reviews, 2015

[17] Blair, British Journal of Sports Medicine, 2009

[18] Lantz, et al, Social Science & Medicine, 2010

[19] Hold-Lunstad, et al, PLoS Medicine, 2010

[20] Dulloo, et al, Obesity Reviews, 2015

[21] Aamodt, Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss, 2016

[22] Pietilainen, International Journal of Obesity, 2012

[23] Tomiyama, Psychosomatic Medicine, 2010

[24] Kemps, et al, Appetite, 2005

[25] Kemps and Tiggemann, British Journal of Clinical Psychology, 2005

[26] Pathological dieting, precursor to eating disorder, Philadelphia Eating Disorder Examiner, July 18, 2011


[28] Stice, et al, Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 2000

[29] National Eating Disorders Association

[30] Patton, et al, American Family Physician, 1999

[31] Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2017

[32] Childhood Obesity, US Department of Health and Human Services, July 18, 2011

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Weight Loss Initiatives for Teens: They’re Hurting, Not Helping by Katherine Zavodni, MPH, RDN

Weight loss companies are targeting teens, and that's a bad thing

Our teenagers are under attack.

This culture already insists that our bodies only have value, are only acceptable, if they are small enough. Teenagers (all of us, really) are inundated by this message from every direction. Sometimes the message unapologetically equates smallness with physical attractiveness (which is enough to get the attention of adolescents trying to survive these difficult years). As reprehensible as that is, at least it’s an honest reflection of this gross cultural ideal.

But sometimes this body-shrinking imperative is masked as a concern for “health.” And adults positioned as caring providers and supportive advocates of these children send the message that their larger-than-culturally-ideal body is not only socially unacceptable, it’s dangerous. And if their body is allowed to continue existing as it is, they are actively choosing an increased risk of (insert your favorite alarmist scary health threat here).

Weight Watchers has launched a business initiative to offer free memberships this summer to teenagers as young as thirteen. They are leading with the narrative that they are teaching “good habits at a critical age.” They are also scrambling to distance themselves from the explicit goal of weight loss and claim a more “holistic,” “wellness” narrative, despite the fact that their name, the reduction of food to points values, and the weekly tracking and celebration of weight loss remain unchanged.

Let’s set aside, for a moment, the fact that this represents a major step toward Weight Watchers’ goal of reaching $2 billion in sales by the end of 2020—because parents must be paying members, and the “free” part of the teen membership lasts 6 weeks. (Pardon me while I take a few deep breaths.)

Let’s go so far as to pretend that Weight Watchers actually wishes to promote health in these teens. That this is a purely humanitarian initiative. Because many people, understandably, are celebrating this offering as a great way to promote health for young folks, building healthy habits that can last a lifetime. I say “understandably,” because our culture, including many presumably reputable and trustworthy voices of authority, insists that “healthy habits” are synonymous with eating less and attempting to shrink your body.

Promoting weight loss in teens (or anyone) accomplishes the opposite of making them healthier. The goal of moving the scale number down promotes behaviors that are believed to be most likely to achieve that goal, rather than behaviors that actually enhance health. Things like restricting food and overriding natural body signals, mistrusting and battling the body, choosing to exercise for maximum calorie burn rather than intuitive and joyful movement that will be sustainable, and prioritizing weight-suppressing efforts over other essential aspects of health, such as stress management and adequate rest.

And then, generally, one of two things happens. In some, these measures fail to result in the desired weight change, and health behaviors are abandoned as “ineffective.” As in, “what’s the point of eating well and moving my body if it doesn’t make me smaller?” Often, this is followed by a physiological and psychological rebound effect that causes weight to accelerate above the initial point.

In others, what will become a dangerous eating disorder takes root. This first diet is the exact point at which a lifelong battle with disordered eating begins for countless individuals. Story after story has arisen in the wake of this Weight Watchers announcement from adults who can trace their decades of struggle directly back to joining Weight Watchers, or some other restrictive diet, often as an adolescent.

These outcomes are documented in the literature as well. Research is clear that dietary restraint (of which Weight Watchers is the very definition, whatever they’re trying to claim) in adolescents is predictive of both increased weight gain and disordered eating behavior at 5- and 10-year follow-ups.*

And beyond these measured and documented outcomes, how can we tolerate the teaching of children that their bodies are not okay? How can we defend that?

If we care about kids’ health, we need to teach them that their bodies are wonderful, worthy, and wise. That their bodies will grow and change through these adolescent years, and that those changes are to be celebrated, not feared or resisted.

That their bodies are their vehicles for doing all the things they love in this life, and they can be empowered to intuitively and authentically care for their bodies through the growing years and beyond. That they can support their physical well-being best by embracing the body they have and letting it be. That joyful movement, intuitive nourishment, self-care and human connection are true health behaviors.

We need to teach them that their value has nothing, nothing to do with the size, shape, or appearance of their body.

Today’s teens need our help. We are being called to defend them against this onslaught of insidious and damaging attacks on their well-being and sense of worthiness. To be their shield.

Parents, aunts, uncles, teachers, caregivers, coaches, doctors, community members, friends, let’s use our voices and do what we can to defend the children and adolescents in our lives from these attacks. Let’s affirm their worthiness and support their wellbeing. Let’s be very clear in our rejection of the body shrinking agenda.

Let’s show up.

Katherine Zavodni, MPH RDN, CD

Katherine Zavodni, MPH RDN, CD, is a registered dietitian/nutritionist specializing in eating disorder treatment, intuitive eating, chronic dieting and weight concerns, and family and childhood feeding dynamics.  Her counseling approach is based on non-diet principles, consistent with the Intuitive Eating and Health at Every Size Models. She is based in Salt Lake City. Website


Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later? Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2006

Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study, Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 2011