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Lose the Diet: Celebrate International No Diet Day on May 6

By HERWriter
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Mental Health related image Photo: Getty Images

If you’ve been starving yourself on one of those crazy diets where you can only eat one grapefruit a day, or you’ve just been thinking about starting a diet so you can slim down, it’s time to start loving your body and participate in International No Diet Day on May 6.

An eating disorders treatment center for women and girls in Arizona called Remuda Ranch is specifically celebrating this day. The ranch has been around for 21 years and has treated more than 10,000 patients since its opening. The ranch also has treatment programs for binge-eating disorder and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Dena Cabrera, the director of educational outreach at the ranch and a licensed psychologist, said International No Diet Day started in 1992 with the help of a British woman, and the ranch has been celebrating this day since 1994.

“The main goal and purpose is to … bring awareness to people about the … ramifications and the impact of dieting,” Cabrera said. “Given … the fact that we have a $50 billion diet industry is indicative of the fact that diets don’t work and they lead to significant psychological and possibly medical complications.”

She said diets could trigger eating disorders in some people. Although someone might start a diet just to lose 5 or 10 pounds, the person could be genetically predispositioned to an eating disorder and she could lose control.

Unfortunately society has an extreme focus on beauty, youth, health and thinness.

“I think health is equated with thinness,” Cabrera said, and society glamorizes it.

She said during this day, people can celebrate this day by bringing awareness to the issues of dieting.

“Basically just take a step back and evaluate how dieting hinders the relationship with food, people and self,” Cabrera said. “People feel really bad about themselves [when] they go on a diet and then they cheat or they fall off the wagon … they feel bad so it causes psychological issues with low self-esteem. It could even cause depression [and] anxiety.”

Diets can both promote negative body image, and negative body image can promote dieting.

“Ninety-nine percent of diets I think are to be thin or to look better,” Cabrera said. “But we don’t make those lifestyle changes, we go on these drastic diets, yeah we’ll see the results, but then because our bodies aren’t made to sustain those results, people gain the weight back and then that just creates more focus on the body, more low self-worth and low self-esteem issues and depression. So it’s a cycle.”

Women can cope with conflicting messages of loving their bodies, but being healthy (which is sometimes defined by thinness), by looking at their own healthy size.

“I think that we have to define what health is for our bodies, not how health is portrayed in the magazines by the supermodels or the athletic models,” Cabrera said. “That boils down to basically balance, variety and moderation [in] everything that we do. Success is about improving our lifestyle habits, making gradual change toward active living … finding a joy of movement, not necessarily having to have a prescribed workout routine each and every day, but really finding activities that people love … and learning how to deal with stress is really critical.”

Although dieting and eating disorders aren’t only women’s problems, they are still major issues women suffer from. According to National Eating Disorders Association statistics, “as many as 10 million females … in the U.S. battle anorexia or bulimia” and “millions practice disordered eating due to an obsession with dieting.”

Lynn Grefe, the CEO and president of National Eating Disorders Association, said that most people probably don’t know about or understand International No Diet Day.

“I wish it could be taken really seriously on an international basis, but I’m not sure that people understand why we oppose the diet,” Grefe said. “I think it’s terrific to bring attention to [International No Diet Day]. I just encourage the media to really explain why we don’t want people to be on a diet this day or any day.”

The word diet wasn’t always associated with negativity, but now it generally is.

“For us now, it’s a dirty word … when the word diet actually is supposed to mean what it is you eat, what makes up your daily fuel,” Grefe said. “So the fact that diet is now … a verb, and one that can be really dangerous in the world of eating disorders, I’m just not sure we’re at the point where people get it yet, that they understand.”

She reiterated that dieting is not the answer – healthy lifestyle changes are what matter.

“Dieting is not solving society’s problems and certainly not solving the obesity epidemic, [and] certainly dangerous to our eating disorder population, so I guess that’s why we get up every day and try to educate the public on the focus should be on health, not weight,” Grefe said. “It shouldn’t be on a size.”

Diets are only really necessarily for people who are obese, and should only be started with the supervision of a physician. These diets are more short-term, but there still needs to be lifestyle changes.

“The yo-yo dieting that people are doing is just so dangerous,” Grefe said. “It’s not healthy. Everybody’s talking about sizes and size 0 and calories and carbs, and they’re not talking about healthy living and healthy eating, and we believe that the focus should be on health and not on weight.”

Just like Cabrera discussed, dieting can trigger eating disorders in some people. Some people have characteristics or traits they were born with, since eating disorders are biologically-based, and these traits can include anxiety, OCD and depression.

“By virtue of going on a diet, you don’t know who has those traits,” Grefe said. “An eating disorder, whichever one it is, it starts with different behaviors around food, some sort of diet.”

For example, a woman with anorexia could count calories and restrict her diet; bulimia could involve purging, using laxatives or over-exercising; binge-eaters could starve themselves in the day and then binge-eat at night.

“Everywhere we turn, we’re told that we should lose 20 pounds in 30 days or something, and it says that we should be a size so-and-so,” Grefe said. “Every place we turn we’re being told that we’re not good enough, that we need to be slim. That’s what the messaging is from all corners. And that’s really dangerous. We’re telling … some people to be unachievable or unattainable or unhealthy sizes, sizes that they’re not even supposed to be. The promotion of diets I think is bad for self-esteem among many people, and poor body image. Because it’s telling people they’re not right in the size they are. Maybe they are the healthy weight and size they should be.”

In contradiction to society’s message, size shouldn’t matter. People should focus on taking care of themselves.

“Taking care of themselves means they need to keep all of their working parts working,” Grefe said with a laugh. “If the doctor tells them they’re fine, then don’t worry about it. Strive to be the best that you can be, not the best that the picture’s telling you you should be … I say we should be measuring the size of our heart, not the size of our hips. We come in different shapes and sizes.”

For people who have eating disorders or are engaging in disordered eating or just have general concerns, they can call the NEDA helpline at 1-800-931-2237 and visit the website at www.nationaleatingdisorders.org.

Dr. Sarah Johnson, an addiction psychiatry fellow at the University of Louisville Department of Psychiatry in Kentucky, is also a blogger for the American Psychiatric Association’s “Healthy Minds. Healthy Lives” blog. She said in an email that there is a definite link between diets and eating disorders, and that dieting can be unhealthy.

“As a physician, I do not think that bodies are meant to function while being deprived of some of the essential building blocks of life for extended periods of time,” Johnson said. “Without a balanced diet including protein, carbohydrate and fats, our bodies and minds cannot function.”

There are many harmful side-effects from eating disorders.

“Individuals who suffer from eating disorders can have physical consequences such as electrolyte imbalances, damage to teeth, hormone imbalances, decreased bone density and even death in some cases,” Johnson said. “When a diet causes negative consequences to a person’s health or consumes so much time that it interferes with their other activities, it can meet criteria for a disorder.”

While eating disorders are no one’s fault, people need to be conscious of what messages they are sending.

“When friends and family members compliment loved ones who lose weight, it can create a sense of ‘never being thin enough,’” Johnson said.

She suggests people celebrate International No Diet Day in many ways:

1) “Women (and men) can celebrate International No Diet Day by learning to prepare a new, healthy dish or hosting a “No Diet Day” dinner party and encouraging guests to bring a variety of healthy treats.”

2) “It is also a good excuse to try out a new gym or sign up for the lunch-hour yoga class that you have been walking past everyday on the way to work.”

3) “People can … use this day as a motivation to set goals to implement overall healthy lifestyle changes (as opposed to dieting), such as taking a walk after dinner or getting enough sleep at night.”

4) “Personally, I think that I am going to try to find one of those ‘Strong is the new beautiful’ shirts as a reminder to stay healthy.” She also saw a shirt saying ‘Strong is the new skinny” at the gym one week.

What are you doing to celebrate International No Diet Day?


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