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Fat Chance for Dieting

By Sarah McMahon

Why not diet?

Let’s not start with the obvious fact that diets actually make you put on weight- that 9 out of 10 people who diet will regain all the weight they lose- and more. You’ve heard that before. The honest truth about “why not diet?” is that we don’t actually need to diet to maintain our weight.

Unless we have a serious medical issue that indicates otherwise, our bodies are designed to manage our body weight. We already have the tools: our physiological cues such as hunger and satiety, which help us to regulate the variety, portion size and frequency of our meals; and our metabolism, which maintains internal equilibrium once food is ingested. The fundamental issue with dieting is that it promotes disconnection from these two vital mechanisms designed to manage our weight. Hence why, typically, dieting ultimately promotes weight gain.

You heard it: our bodies are designed to manage our body weight. Should that be a surprise to us? Lets just spend a few moments considering the magnificence of the body…

* Our heart. It beats tirelessly without us even thinking about it. It weighs about 300g yet it pumps about 10 000L of blood each day. It beats 2.5 billion times over the course of a lifetime: technology cannot replicate it’s durability.

* Our skeleton. It contains 206 bones that, gram by gram, are stronger than solid steel or reinforced concrete. Unlike other man made products, our bones actually become dense and stronger with use.

* Our bone. It’s marrow manufactures 2.5 million red blood cells every second to replenish a supply of 25 trillion red blood cells without us even knowing this is happening. Laid end to end they would reach 50 000km into the sky. We donate blood because nothing we create sufficiently replaces this life juice.

* Our lungs. Each day we continue breathing without even realising: we inhale nearly 10 000L of air which is equivalent to a small room! And its not just the fact we breathe. This air usually contains about 20 billion foreign particles. Our nose and airways just “deal” of them, without further ado.

* Our immunity. We fight disease unknowingly. Billions of white blood cells relentlessly manage invaders that have entered into the body. They can trigger a fever to defeat invaders and then shut down the fever when the battle is over. Except for the occasional small sweat, we often do not even realise when this has happened.

* Our brain. It makes even an ipad look dumb. It weighs less than 1.5kg and contains one hundred billion nerve cells. It makes decisions, solves problems, dreams, retrieves stored memories, recognises faces, and affords unlimited capacity for wisdom and personality.

So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that our body has the capacity to maintain internal equilibrium. Two other systems where this is done very well are body temperature & injury management: For example, when it is hot, more blood is directed to the skin to release heat and increase perspiration; when it is cold, blood is diverted from the skin to critical internal organs, and causes shivering which generates heat. If a person bleeds, water is pulled from tissue into the blood vessels and non-essential blood vessels constrict to keep blood pressure adequate. All this takes place in the background without any of our knowledge, let alone thought or intent.
The list about the sophistication of the body could go on. As could the list of human-made interventions- and their limitations by comparison. With this in mind, why wouldn’t our body have the capability of regulating our own body weight?  And more to the point, why would any human-made intervention be better than the tools our own bodies already possess?

Enter: The Diet Industry

There are lots of reasons why we don’t trust our bodies- and the diet industry is one of them. It profiteer’s off the message that our bodies need a bit of help managing our body weight. Let’s not think about the fact that this “help” has never actually been shown to work for the long term.  The diet industry’s “intervention” is a bit like, well, shaving our legs. The hair simply grows back- and thicker. Our bodies outsmart the diets by adjusting homeostasis and making us fatter. More about some of the processes our body embarks on to maintain internal equilibrium with regard to weight is here

Of course the dieting industry won’t tell you that your body has these mechanisms. What they will tell you is that you can look a particular way, if only you try hard enough. And you might just get there, for a little while, until your body’s internal system kicks in to make adjustments. And then of course you believe what they tell you- that you need to try harder or eat less for the diet to work. That dizziness and fatigue are a sign that it is working (not a sign of starvation). And if your body is triggered to binge then surely you are not trying hard enough (no, it’s not that your body is hard wired to resist starvation). So quite clearly you failed the diet. And don’t you dare entertain the possibility that it was the diet that failed you.

Let’s be clear: it’s not just the diet industry that is  peddling messages that we need to lose weight. We have advertisers, marketing and popular culture doing this already. However it’s the dieting industry profits the most directly from this message. The industry in Australia is huge: in 2010-11 its’ revenue was $790m. Jenny Craig alone was $93.5 million. This is big business! And this is just for “services” such as diet foods, meal supplements, diet cook books and surgery.  It does not include gyms, personal trainers and other exercise oriented companies who also tout a weight loss message.

Can you imagine another industry selling something that didn’t work and getting away with it? Especially if it damaged your health? We need to do something about this!

Call to action!


On International No Diet Day, 6 May 2012, people of Australia will be joining forces & marching up to Parliament house to ditch diet products into a communal bin. We would like to see dieting products that utilise false claims or that simply don’t work reported. We hope to start more discussion about the dangers of dieting. More than anything, we would like to ultimately see this industry regulated in Australia. Please join us!

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