Mental Health and Weight Loss Ads

I was recently asked to contribute to an article on the mental health impact of weight loss advertising for Metro.

You can read the article here, but I also wanted to share with you the questions I was asked and the answers I gave.

How do weight loss ads encourage us to change our diets/eating habits?  

Rather than encourage us, weight loss ads shame us. They usually feature a picture of the “perfect” body – or worse, a “before” and “after” photo. Anyone who’s the size of the “before” body or bigger is likely to feel shame. Diet companies then offer the “solution” to our shame by selling us an eating regime usually marketed as “simple” and “easy” with “guaranteed results”.

When the diet fails, as it inevitably will, we don’t blame the diet, we blame ourselves. After all, they told us it was simple and easy and other people succeed at it, so there must be something wrong with us, right? 

Do weight loss ads make us feel different about ourselves and our bodies?

Weight loss ads are often blatant in their fat shaming. The message is “fat bodies are disgusting, thin bodies are desirable”, and we’re only allowed to be happy if we have the perfect body. They perpetuate the idea that women in particular are supposed to be the same size and shape.

Genetically, we’re not all built the same – why would our bodies look the same? They remind us relentlessly how we fail to measure up to their ideal, and tell us we have to do something about it or we’re simply unacceptable.

Do weight loss ads contribute to negative thinking around food? 

Weight loss ads promote a language around food that’s psychologically unhealthy. It’s often about getting “control” and eating the “right” way. Food is labelled either “good” or “bad”, as are we depending on our choices.

When we eat something on the “bad” list (which we will because we’re human), we judge ourselves negatively and tell ourselves we’ve ruined the diet. This often triggers a binge of all the foods we’ve been denying ourselves. Then the whole thing starts over again as we go back on the diet. Before we know it, we’re stuck in a diet/binge/shame cycle and can’t find a way out.

Is fad dieting effective or sustainable? 

Not only is dieting ineffective and unsustainable with at least a 95% failure rate, it’s downright dangerous. In a major study of 14-15 year olds, those who dieted moderately were 5 times more likely to develop an eating disorder. For those who dieted severely, the risk increased to 18 times more likely. The research concluded that dieting is the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder.

We’re not supposed to eat according to someone else’s instructions, we’re supposed to eat according to our innate instincts and autonomy. Diets say we can’t trust our bodies. In reality, the best thing we can do if we want a peaceful relationship with food is to reject Diet Culture, dismantle our diet mentality and learn to trust our bodies again.

Dieting is Never the Answer

This is the time of year when most New Year diets have failed.

Yes, The Eating Silly Season is coming to a close. To be fair, Eating Silly Season is now all year long, but in January it’s especially silly as Diet Culture stages its annual Grand Parade of Bullshit and Misinformation.

Look – there’s that “celebrity doctor” shamelessly promoting disordered eating on social media in the name of “science”. There’s that “diet guru” on TV forcing people who are Not Thin to lose weight rapidly with zero regard for their psychological wellbeing.

Then there’s you.

How are you doing with all of this?

Continue reading “Dieting is Never the Answer”

Gentle Reminder: Stay on Your Path

The path to a peaceful relationship with food can be long and twisting.

And many things can try to pull you away from it.

Maybe someone at work raves about losing weight on the latest diet and you consider joining them for yet another “quick fix” attempt.

Maybe you go clothes shopping and nothing fits well or looks right, and you decide your body is to blame.

Maybe someone snaps a photo of you and your Inner Bully has a field day pointing out all your “defects”.

There’s one thing, though, that’s perhaps more disheartening than anything else.

Continue reading “Gentle Reminder: Stay on Your Path”

Expert Insight: Dieting and the Fear of Famine

“Our ancestors did not have a constant supply of food. When a large animal – a whale, a bison, a woolly mammoth or an elephant – was killed, everyone feasted, gorged… it might be weeks or months before another big kill, so large amounts had to be eaten quickly and then stored in the body for the times of scarcity that were sure to come.  

This is an ancient or atavistic memory that calls us to eat all we can now, even if we are not hungry, just in case there won’t be any food tomorrow… there is something deep in our primitive brain that still fears starvation, scarcity, famine.”

Jan Chozen Bays, “Mindful Eating”

Remember the panic-buying we witnessed when the Covid-19 crisis first hit?

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Dieting and the Fear of Famine”

Season’s Bleatings: Dodging Diet Talk

At a Christmas party, two guests are standing by the buffet. One has their plate piled high with food. The other has cleverly taken a Buffet Tour and has selected only the food they really wanted. The first guest is eating very quickly, the other is taking their time and savouring their selection.

Continue reading “Season’s Bleatings: Dodging Diet Talk”