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.

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.

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“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?”

Why the UK Government is Getting it Wrong on Obesity

The Guardian recently reported the UK Government is planning to launch an “emergency drive” to reduce obesity rates in anticipation of a second Covid-19 wave later this year.

There’s concern Coronavirus disproportionately affects overweight and obese people. According to the article, the Government programme will be “based on encouraging people to reduce their calorific intake and lose weight rapidly”.

If accurate, the UK Government is acting on a dangerously incorrect assumption – that obesity is purely a physiological, rather than a psychological, issue.

It’s a mistake that’s made often.

Continue reading “Why the UK Government is Getting it Wrong on Obesity”

A World Without Dieting

If dieting never existed, what would your relationship with food be like?

Just think about it for a minute.

How would you eat if you’d never learnt to diet?

Would you wake up feeling confused and stressed about food?
Would you feel guilty and ashamed about eating something you “shouldn’t”?
Would you still binge? Label food as “good” or “bad”? Hate your body?

Continue reading “A World Without Dieting”

Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way

“Body image is quite independent of physical appearance. Someone with high self-esteem tends to view her body favourably, regardless of how she actually looks.  

The weak connection between body image and physical appearance means that changing your looks won’t guarantee a lasting improvement in self-esteem…you need to get past your appearance and focus on your other personal strengths as well.”

Rita Freedman, “Bodylove”

It may come as a surprise that body image really has nothing to do with how you look.

Continue reading “Expert Insight: Looking the Wrong Way”

Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?

You’re sitting in a café having coffee with a friend. Every few minutes you surreptitiously tug at your top so it doesn’t cling to the contour of your stomach.

You receive an invitation to your school reunion.  You’d love to go but feel you can’t because you’ve put on weight and you worry about what people will think.

You regularly scan your body in a full-length mirror, thinking “God, look at my thighs/belly/insert other body part here”.  When you’ve examined all your “defects”, you mutter a conclusive “ugh” before walking away from your reflection in disgust.

Continue reading “Why Should We Be Ashamed of Our Bodies?”