dieting doesn't work

Something to do besides dieting to make you happy

During my days at the Institute for Integrative Nutrition, we talked about primary food. IIN's founder, Joshua Rosenthal, believes that secondary food is the actual food you eat. For him, primary food is your career, your relationships, your spirituality, and exercise.

The basic premise is that if you can heal these other parts of your life, then you can heal your relationship with food. Intuitive Eating posits the opposite. If you heal your relationship with food, you can heal the other parts of your life. 

Regardless of whether it's the chicken or the egg, diets don't work. So, what does? If you want to be happier, the answer might be in positive psychology. 

I skimmed through my old notes from a lecture at IIN about positive psychology. This lecture was based on the work of Martin Seligman

Here is the gist: 

1.  Focusing on what is already good makes you happier. 

We know for certain that hating your body doesn't help you love it. 

Seligman wanted people to think about what was good in their life, not just focus on the bad. 

One easy way to do this is what he calls the "3 blessings exercise." Every day you write down 3 good things that happened and why they happened. 

The more details, the better. 

 A study at USC showed participants who wrote more details of their gratitude did best. They were "more elated, excited, and alert than the other groups. [They were also] less tired, sad, and lethargic." 

 That's pretty compelling evidence. Focusing on what is already good in your life is at the very least energizing. 

Spending hundreds on juice cleanses might make you feel more energetic. But journaling what you're grateful for is FREE!

2. Figuring out what your current strengths are makes you stronger. 

When I was first coming around to accepting my body, I tried a new strategy in the mirror.  I would just look in the mirror and see one thing that I liked. Sometimes, it was my eyelash. Sometimes, if I was really feeling myself, it would be my thighs. Eventually, I was able to look in the mirror and say, "Damn, Girl!"

Seligman would call this the "Engaged Life" or the "Good Life." He encourages people to find out their signature strength. Instead of squeezing at parts of your body that you dislike, he suggests you find your flow. This is like finding the eyelash that you like IRL.

In not such a weird analogy, this means finding what you're good at. If you're good at knitting, knit for work. If you're good at coding, become a computer engineer. If you're good at solving mysteries, become Sherlock Holmes. Fill your days with something that you find joy and ease in. I know. It's easier said than done. But didn't people used to say that about diets?

Here's a tool you can use to do it. 

3. Apply your Strengths to Others.

Remember how last week I was raving about volunteering? Well, there's some science to that. Seligman points to research on this. He says that meaning in our lives amplifies the good things and the pleasant things in our lives. 

Something powerful happens when you combine your strengths with altruism. It's an alchemy of positivity. 

He writes that doing something good for someone else made people happier for longer. In his Tedtalk in 2004, he even suggests that having "meaning" in our lives has led to better health. 

As much as we want to believe that getting our dream body will make us happier, it's not a straight shot. 

Take a moment to enjoy your life. Find out what you're good at instead of making yucky smoothies. Do what you're good at for others.  It'll all work better than dieting to make you happy. 

Ted Talk: Why Dieting Doesn't Usually Work

A lot of people don't really believe me when I say that dieting doesn't work. 

Which is why I mention set point theory like erryday 

If you're one of the Debbie Doubters, here's a cool video from Sandra Aamodt. Aamodt is a neuroscientist and science writer. 

She does a kick-ass job of explaining set point theory and why diets don't work. 

Check it out!

Will shame make you thinner?

The short answer to this question is no. 

It feels like shame will make you thinner. It feels like hating our bodies will somehow magically make it look better. 

But, here are 5 reasons that being ashamed of your body doesn't actually work to make you thinner even if that's what you think you should be. 

1. Shame doesn't work to discipline the body. 

To quote Brene Brown, "Shame corrodes the very part of us that believes we are capable of change." 

When we grab at pieces of our body and tell our reflection in the mirror that we are ugly and lazy, we zap the part of ourselves that makes us want to change. 

Shame takes us from thinking we are capable to thinking we are stuck. Worse than that, it makes us believe we are somehow inherently incapable. We ARE bad. It's not just our actions that are bad but our whole being is bad. 

So, if you're so bad, how are you supposed to change? 

2. Shame can't change biology, baby.

You can call yourself mean names all day but shame can't change your set point. 

If you've read my blog, you know that I've mentioned set point theory a gazillion times. And for the gazillionth time, set point theory means that your body has a range mostly determined by genetics and stays within that range regardless of what you want your weight to be. It explains why our weight loss plateaus and slowly creeps back up even if we're doing everything the same. 

So, even if you feel super BAD about how you ate, slept, or exercised today, it's not going to change your set point. 

It turns out you can't hate your way to weight loss. 

3. Shame can affect digestion.

There are neurotransmitters in your gut which means that how you feel can affect how you digest. Your guilt or shame around food can actually activate your "fight or flight" response. According to this article by Marc David of the Institute for the Psychology of Eating: 

"If you're feeling guilty about eating the ice cream or judging yourself for eating it, the hypothalamus will take this negative input and send signals down the sympathetic fibers of the autonomic nervous system. This initiates inhibitory responses in the digestive organs which means you'll be eating your ice cream but not fully metabolizing it."

If you've ever had a lot of guilt after a meal, you might feel like you have an upset stomach. You might feel bloated. You might hold on to that ice cream longer and you might store it. That doesn't sound like an effective strategy for weight loss. 

Notice how your guilt and shame affect the way you feel after eating. 

4. If you feel guilt and shame, it might lead you to eat emotionally. 

To quote the infamous Austin Powers character, Fat Bastard, "I eat because I'm unhappy and I'm unhappy because I eat." 

One wouldn't think such wisdom would come from a Mike Myers film but a lot of times, feeling guilty around foods just leads to more eating of the food that makes us feel guilty.

Listen, I don't even think emotional eating is that bad. Hating yourself, however, will NOT help you stop eating the ice cream that you eat as a coping mechanism.

5. Shame prevents us from listening to our body. 

Shame's worst crime is taking us away from our body's needs. If you are constantly pissed at your body for eating or eating too much or eating carbs when you're supposed to be Paleo, you start to develop a really terrible relationship with your body. You don't trust it. 

And not trusting your body means you don't listen to what it needs. You don't eat when you're hungry. You don't stop when you're full. You don't go for walks when you need them. You don't stop running when you have bad knees. You don't take care of your body because you're mad at her. 

That sucks. 

Your body is this super awesome machine that's completing like I dunno a billion chemical reactions a day. It's what takes you through life. It's what creates life. It's the body that's helped you build your career and your life. If you're able-bodied, it allows you to talk, walk, run, cook, clean, play music, explore, travel, or have sex.

Since you're stuck hanging out in this body, why not love it? Why not appreciate it? Why not take care of it instead of yelling at it like a mean nun at a Catholic school in the 50s? 

Being mean to your body is not actually making you thinner. So, please just stop. 






Please don't resolve to start another diet

Happy New Year's Eve!

If you're anything like me, you're waking up from the past few days feeling a little groggy, a little bloated, and with a little anxiety about the holidays being over. Maybe you're feeling a little guilty for eating too much, drinking too much, or spending too much. If not, you're prepared to have your last hurrah tonight. ; )

The way many of us rationalize our way out of the holiday guilt is anticipating the penance of January 1. This means that everybody and their brother will likely resolve to lose 30 pounds, stop eating wheat, or hit the gym hard 6 days a week.

This year I am calling for an end to this paradigm. 


1. Diets don't work.

Studies have shown that 95% diets don't work. That means even if you lose 25 pounds, you're likely to gain more back. In fact, weight gain is "significantly related" to dieting. This means independent of genetics, dieting has been shown to actually CAUSE weight gain. Here's a great video with lots more juicy info on this topic. 


2. We have more important things to do! 

Like watch this video!

This AWESOME video from Melissa A. Fabello, writer for Everyday Feminism, is one of my inspirations for this particular call to action.

In this video, Fabello notes that women spend 21 minutes a day body shaming and thinking about dieting. That's two hours a week! 

I encourage you to invest your time and money this year in causes and goals that really matter, like existentially matter. 

3. Participating in the diet industrial complex solidifies structural inequality. 

Fabello talks about this in her video, too. Obsessing about food and spending money on our bodies is one way in which females experience inequality. Make-up is expensive and so are diet pills. Women spend a lot of time and money on their "body projects" as Fabello calls them. That's time and money that could be spent closing the pay gap. 

Also, what lies behind our desire to be thinner? Who are the beautiful people? Many times beautiful people are white and upper middle class. In learning to love all bodies, we can learn to love a more pluralistic society. 

So, unless you'd like to gain weight,waste your time, and contribute to the patriarchy, please don't resolve to lose weight.      


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