Body Image and Dieting: Why Diets Don’t Work

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Note:  This article is for people who need to lose weight for health reasons – not those who want to “get skinny” so they will have perfect lives.  We will address that later. 

Face it.  You are more likely to get run over by a truck full of PMSing women going on a Dairy Queen binge than losing weight – and keeping it off – on a diet.  Statistics show that when you go on a diet, you will most likely gain all the weight back – plus more. It may take months or a few years, but that is what almost always happens.
The reason for this is that food issues are about our hearts and stories. So whenever you go on a diet, you are treating the symptoms only. This is somewhat like having an injury and treating only the pain without finding out what is causing it.

A few years ago I ran into a former client at a grocery store.  I did a double-take because I didn’t recognize her.  She told me she had lost eighty pounds, and I asked how she did it (nobody was around, or else I would not have done so).  She said it was mostly from the counseling we did.  “I’m no longer self-medicating with food because you really helped me work through my issues.  And now whenever something is bothering me, I let myself feel it and then work through it instead of running to the fridge.”  We had worked on some difficult events in her life, and I had asked her when she first started to gain weight.  The last time she walked out the door of my office, she had a whole bag of tricks to help her deal with the difficulties in life.  Plus, she had worked through many of the important events that had caused her to use food to feel better.  (Of course, this side of heaven, we will all have issues to some extent.  But I imagine you’ve already figured that one out.  And if you think you have no issues, then we really need to talk!)

“When did you first start to gain weight?” is the million-dollar question that most people never address.  Usually something of significance happened at that time, such as a parent’s divorce, moving, the loss of a relationship, sexual abuse (defined as anything a child experiences which is inappropriate, even if no touching or penetration is involved), a death, the rejection of a good friend, etc.  In other words, just about anything that made you sad or changed your world.   If you can’t figure out what that is, look harder and get professional help.

After we worked through this particular issue, we continued to work on her other issues of the heart.  Essentially, many of the other bumps in the road of her life, from early childhood on throughout her life.  I had noticed that it looked as though she was losing weight at the time, but did not focus on it.  Then she finished her therapy, and I hadn’t seen her in a few years.

If you continue to go on and off diets, you will continue to treat the symptom and not the actual problem.  If you truly have a problem, you are facing an addiction.  Yes – a food addiction.  You are self-medicating with food, just as many people self-medicate with alcohol, drugs, pornography, shopping, reading (if you use reading to escape and to avoid your problems), computer addiction, exercise addiction, etc.

And the cherry on top is that the more diets you go on, the more weight you will gain in the long run unless you are one of the tiny percentage of people who actually lose weight and keep it off.  Hmmmm…I wonder how many of those people actually dealt with the issues that brought them through the door of food addiction?  I’ll bet you a hot fudge sundae that most of them did.

© Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere and Fannies:  Reclaiming the Plunder of the Body Image Bandit, 2007 – 2047. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Cherrie Herrin-Michehl, MA, LMHC and Fannies:  Reflections on Cookie Dough, Life, and Your Derriere with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.