Even as large portions of the world’s population are starving, people in wealthy industrialized nations are either eating to excess or furiously dieting to eliminate weight. Our insatiable appetites and our relationship with food and weight have risen to the level of unsustainable obsessions. Being “fat” (i.e. not unduly thin) in a “thin world” – a world that demands we are “fashionably underweight” to meet cultural standards of beauty -- oppresses men and women every day. Trying to restrict food intake while flooded by a mass market of fast foods deliberately manufactured to be addictive, and “failing” at dieting and losing weight, leads people to feel “betrayed” by their own bodies. When bodily responses fail to measure up to these impossible standards, eating disorders brew. And the diet industry is there to prey on those failures.
The U.S. weight loss industry was estimated to reach $60.5 billion in annual revenues for products and services such as diet soft drinks, artificial sweeteners, health clubs, commercial weight loss chains, OTC meal replacements and diet pills, diet websites and apps, medical programs for weight loss surgery, MDs, hospital/clinic programs, Rx diet drugs, low-calorie meals, diet books, and exercise DVDs (The U.S. Weight Loss Market: 2014 Status Report &Forecast).
Despite those staggering figures, there is little evidence that diets lead to long-term weight loss or health gains. Researchers from UCLA who conducted a rigorous review of studies on dieting found that up to two-thirds of all dieters who lose weight go on to regain it and even add more pounds. And yet, when the more than two-thirds of U.S. adults who are overweight or obese visit a doctor, the only solution they are given – despite evidence of effectiveness – is to diet. Many of those dieters go on to develop “pathological dieting” or disordered eating, and a quarter of them move into full-blown eating disorders. A large portion of eating disordered individuals receiving treatment report their eating disorder began as a diet gone awry.
The “collateral damage” of this cultural obsession with dieting and thinness has resulted in a normative food and body preoccupation that plagues a majority of men and women. Hatred of self and body, eating disorders, weight discrimination and poor health have become the norm. Living in a world where bodily hunger is in constant conflict with the ‘thin ideal,’ keeps a person in a physiologically-stressed state of constant hyper-vigilance that borders on traumatic stress. As external markers of identity -- such as weight or BMI, clothes size and appearance -- become the focus, people become increasingly disconnected from internal cues – a skill known as interoception. To regain interoception, it's time to stop the dieting madness and EAT!