Keeping it healthy

Is Dieting Good for Me? Part 2

Mental health aspects of Dieting

In my previous post we looked at some of the pitfalls of dieting regarding our physical health. This time I want to investigate a bit about the mental health aspects of dieting.

My Story

I know what it is like to always be worried about body size. It runs in the family! Now that I am a dietitian, it feels like a job requirement to be of a certain body size and to always make healthy food choices. To tell you the truth, I don’t always make healthy food choices. Sometimes I choose to eat unhealthy food because I like it! I actually love having this freedom to choose.

It hasn’t always been that way. For many years I tried a variety of diets. I remember one of them meant that I wasn’t eating bread, pasta, and rice. I remember serving these foods to the rest of the family, while restricting for myself. This led me to having “poor me” moments, and feeling like a martyr. Now that I don’t worry about a particular diet, my weight has been stable.

I also encouraged one of my daughters to eat in a certain way to help with some teenage hormonal acne. It didn’t help the acne, and it didn’t help her mental health. Unfortunately, she ended up with some eating disorder type behaviours, which I didn’t discover until she was no longer engaging in them.

So, I guess I tell you this to let you know that when we decide to diet, we are risking our own mental health and chances are high to be influencing our children’s mental health as well.

Diets and Eating Disorders

I love this quote from Associate Professor Warren Ward, Director, Eating Disorder Service, Royal Brisbane and Women’s Health Service, “the only people who recommended getting rid of entire food groups were those with no qualifications. We have had a lot of casualties from fad diets, including the paleo diet,” he said. “Any fad diet associated with cutting out a major food group or inadequate nutrition can trigger anorexia and other eating disorders.

“There is a significant risk of causing an eating disorder if people cut out major food groups such as carbs, or fats, or sugar or dairy or protein.”

"Restrictive eating could lead to bingeing and purging – the rates of which had doubled over the past 10 years." [1]

Interesting enough, when we do suddenly lose weight, there are mental health consequences to doing so. As Dr. Ward says,

“Sudden weight loss from any cause, including dieting, can trigger changes in the brain including rigid, obsessive thinking about food and weight, and strong urges to binge,” he said.

“This is how dieting causes eating disorders.” [1]

So, it sounds like ditching the diet may be the best idea for our mental health. It seems that having rules around food only increases our desire for that food and thus for some people the binge response.

Are Food Rules helpful?

One study found that “any kind of food rules, including limits on when, what and how much to eat, led research participants to be more preoccupied with food. Food rules prompted participants to have a much higher tendency to overindulge, especially when they broke one of their food rules. On the other hand, research participants who allowed themselves to eat when hungry and to choose foods and amounts they desired had a lower tendency to overindulge or engage in binge eating.” [2]

This rings true for me. Most people I have talked to about dieting mention when they break their food rule, they go all out and eat the forbidden food without restraint as they have slipped up already. It’s like when you say to a child, you can’t do something, like ride your bike today, and that is the number one thing they want to do. Or “don’t think about big red buses”. Now what are you thinking about? Yep, big red buses. It is the same with food. I’m not allowed to have potato chips. So that is exactly what is the first thing on my mind when I am hungry.

According to Gillespie "Weight loss dieting is the number one cause of eating disorders, binge eating, body dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. In contrast, weight-neutral self-care approaches – that is, focusing on maintaining one’s current weight – have been found to assist in eating disorder recovery.” [2]

What is the solution?

So what are we to do? Stop listening to society's view on acceptable weight. Love yourself at whatever size you are at! Decide to be healthy, not diet! It helps to know what it means to be healthy, without placing rules around food. Once you know what it means to be healthy, you can set guidelines for yourself, rather than enforcing rules and feeling bad if you break them.

Don't let society tell you where your worth should be. If you believe you are only worthy of being loved because of how you look, then a large amount of people are not worthy of love. Physical appearance is such a strange and precarious thing to place our worth on.

A great book to read if you need help in this area is called "The Perfect You", by Dr Caroline Leaf. This book assists you to look at who you are and learn to accept that the real you is great!

If you want some help with not-dieting but getting your health back on track, I would love to be of assistance.

Click here to make a booking now!


[1] Poulsen, J. (2018, June 2). Trendy diets ‘cause eating disorders’, says expert. Retrieved June 14, 2018, from

[2] Gillespie, C. (2018, June 2). Eating disorders are hard to overcome, but ditching diets is crucial. Retrieved June 14, 2018, from The Conversation:

More Articles to check out!

Muhlheim, L. (2018, January 4). Is Weight Suppression Driving Your Binge Eating?Retrieved June 14, 2018, from Very Well Mind:

Tylka, T. L., & Wilcox, J. A. (2006). Are intuitive eating and eating disorder symptomatology opposite poles of the same construct?Journal of Counseling Psychology, 53(4), 474-485.

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