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”

What’s the Price of People-pleasing?

A friend phones to ask you for a favour.

You’re already swamped and you don’t have the time or energy to help them out. Plus, this particular friend never seems to return any of the favours you do for them.

They wait expectantly for your answer.

A voice in your head is advising: “don’t agree to this. You have too much on already. Say no”.

Into the phone, you say with a smile:

“Yes, of course, I’ll do it – no problem”.

Why?

Continue reading “What’s the Price of People-pleasing?”

What’s in the Way?

Be kind to yourself.

Love yourself.

Be yourself.

How often do we see stuff like this on social media? Perhaps we’ve heard words like these from a well-meaning friend when we’re struggling. Maybe we’ve said them ourselves to try to encourage people we care about.

I know I have.

Yes, we should all be kind to ourselves, love ourselves and be ourselves.

It’s good advice.

It’s great advice.

But for many it’s just not that simple.

Continue reading “What’s in the Way?”

Summer Rewind: Why Do We Need To Let Other People Own Their Feelings?

This post from 2018 explores why we often take responsibility for other people’s feelings, and the subsequent impact on us and our eating behaviour.

***

You’re about to send an email and you’re re-reading it for the tenth time to make absolutely sure there’s nothing in it that could be misconstrued and cause offence.   Then you check it another ten times after you’ve sent it – just in case…

You bump into a friend in the street.  As you walk away, you replay the conversation over and over in your head trying to work out if you said anything “wrong”.  You’re still rerunning the conversation in your head as you lie in bed that night…

A work colleague seems a bit off with you.  You instantly rack your brain to recall your most recent interactions with them.  You spend the day desperately trying to work out what you did to upset them so you can apologise and make things right…

Sound familiar?

Continue reading “Summer Rewind: Why Do We Need To Let Other People Own Their Feelings?”

Summer Rewind: What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?

 

Here’s another post from the archives, this time exploring how it’s possible to find the same autonomy with movement, as it is with food. Hard to believe, I know, but true.

***

“I’m just one of those people who hates exercise”. That’s what I used to say. And I believed it. Man, did I hate exercise. I felt angry (and guilty and ashamed) at the mention of the word and, I have to confess, I’m worried some of you may stop reading this post for the very same reason, but I hope not.

In the past, if a slim person said to me “I’m just going to the gym” I’d think “why the hell are you doing that? You’re already thin! You don’t need to go to the gym”. It was my assumption you only exercised to lose weight. It didn’t occur to me that people might exercise because they enjoyed it.

After all, what was enjoyable about exercise? Nothing. All that pain and sweating and discomfort. It felt like punishment.

Continue reading “Summer Rewind: What’s The Big Deal About Exercise?”