DISCLAIMER: This post is my personal opinion, and not any professional advice. If you are attempting weight loss, and are currently on a dieting plan associated with a diet business, and it is working for you, I am happy for your success! However, if you are experiencing difficulties associated with this, or have critical thoughts about the dieting industry too, then please carry on reading…
As someone who has been lucky enough to have access to healthy foods, and the education to know what is and isn’t good for me, it has been relatively easy to manage my weight and my health. I have had struggles growing up as a chubbier kid, which I now realise was linked to my unhealthy emotional eating habits. Though I still slip into my old ways sometimes, I know that I have the skills, knowledge, and capability to get back to eating and living healthier.
For many however, they are stuck in a position that they do not want to be in. A poor education system, living pay cheque to pay cheque, with no time or energy to dedicate to making themselves healthier. And who is it that many of these people turn to…? The dieting industry. Weight Watchers, Slimming World etc.. What are my issues with these companies? What needs to be changed to actually improve people’s health and wellbeing?
Firstly, the overemphasis on calories. Of course, I would be foolish to think that calories do not matter. It is very simple to understand that the more calories ingested, and the less expended in physical activity, the more fat stores are going to develop on the body. However, when calories become the focus over basic nutrition, that is where I have the problem. Selling products based on the fact they are low in calories, fools people into thinking they are healthy, when in fact they contain high amounts of additives, lacking basic nutrition to help sustain that individual. Energy balancing is a key element to managing weight, but this should not come at a sacrifice of nutrition. Losing weight should involve consuming less calories, but this should be in conjunction with gaining nutritious alternatives to the unhealthy foods, and not low-calorie imitations of those unhealthy foods.
This point made even more so when you realise that those who diet are just as likely to eat unhealthy foods, but feel worse about it. In a study by de Witt Huberts, Evers, & de Ridder (2012), comparing those who restrained their eating and those who did not, food consumption was very similar. However, there were higher levels of guilt reported by those who were dieting. So for many, going on a restrictive diet means still being tempted and perhaps eating the same things, but feeling greater pressure and shame because of it. In my eyes that is not a healthy way to live, and is likely to have a damaging effect on your mental health, and your overall relationship with food.
I also have a problem with some of the language used by these companies. In particular, the ‘sins’ associated with unhealthy foods labeled by Slimming World. It gives the implication that to eat those things makes you a bad person, a sinner. How does that help someone manage their weight and health? For me, I would feel that positive reinforcement over negative language is the key to making long term healthy changes. Shaming someone because of a slip up that we are all capable of, doesn’t help anyone.
But that might be the issue here. These companies aren’t in the business of helping someone make long-term, positive health behaviour change. These companies are in the business of making a profit. Sure their model is around losing weight, but a lack of aftercare, and training people to become dependent on the products they sell means that once someone is off the programme, they are very likely to put the weight back on. Then they return. They do the programme again. They leave. They put the weight back on again. And so on, and so on. This is the reason many struggle with yo-yo dieting, and a lack of sustained weight management.
So what is the alternative? Obviously I do not write this blaming those individuals who are taken in by these weight loss groups. They promise something that they want, and there is no shame in attempting something to better yourself. However, I would argue that engaging with local community services, or health clinics, are going to be the better route into improving your health. Unlike these businesses, they do not have an agenda to profit from your health (unless of course you use a private health clinic). They are there to simply help you, and as someone who wishes to work for an organisation like this, I know my agenda is only to help where I can.
So have a look around and see what options are out there for you. Help is out there, if only you seek it out.
For the Psychologists…