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Thirteen reaons not to diet

Margie


 
In America, thin means good. Almost all of us wish we were thinner, even if we're not fat! Younger and younger chicas go on diets - one study said that 60 percent of fourth grade girls wish they were thinner. Do I have to expound on why? Because the female body held up as the ideal of the moment is a skinny one. Because Barbie is a role model. Because magazines, ads, movies and MTV have too much power. Because our culture is rife with stereotypes about fat people being greedy, lazy, slovenly, lacking in willpower. Because while half the women in this country wear size 16 or larger, a size 6-8 is labeled medium. Yech.
Dieting is not good. It is bad, bad, bad. By "dieting" I mean going on a short-term, hard-core regimen of deprivation just to drop some quick poundage. I'm not talking about adopting good eating habits - noshing on more fruits and veggies, less butter, salt and red meat. That's something we should all do, definitely. It's a healthier way to live. But cutting calories purely to become pole-like? No. Here are 13 reasons why it's the worst thing for your body and soul.

 
1. Your weight was genetically programmed when you were only a glimmer in your parents' eye. Like hair colour, eye colour and the ability to do the Vulcan salute, weight is a hereditary thing. Your genes usher you toward a certain weight. The proof is that identical twins have similar body weights and fat distributions, and adopted children's weights approximate those of their biological parents, not their adoptive ones.

 
2. Dieting slows your metabolism. Your body has a weight it inherently wants to be, and your metabolism - the speed and efficiency with which it burns calories for fuel - constantly adjusts to keep you weighing just that much. Eat more, your metabolism speeds up and burns extra calories to compensate; eat less, it slows down. When you buck biology to try to get below your natural weight, your system fights to keep every pound. Your metabolism becomes so sluggish that it's hell to lose and ounce. Basically, your body is reacting to being starved. It wants you to live, dammit! It is on your side!

 
3. It makes you boring. As anyone who has had a conversation with a fan club president knows, when you talk endlessly about the object of
your obsession, it is tiresome to the listener. Calories, fatgrams and grapefruit are not innately interesting subjects. Get away from me.

 
4. You feed the evil diet industry. Which is practically unregulated. Diet programs have no legal obligation to provide evidence that they work - convenient, since they usually don't (see #9). These companies rely on return customers who believe regaining the weight is their own damn fault. But why, I ask you, do we blame ourselves, never the diet? When yu buy sneakers from a catalog and they're shoddy and have glue globs on the rubber, you don't berate yourself. You get pissed at the company! Besides, not only are diet foods ineffective (how will tasty shakes for breakfast and lunch teach you to eat normally?), but most ooze sodium and are chemically processed to within an inch of their lives.

 
5. You're always hungry. It's a myth that fat people eat more than thin people. Nineteen out of 20 studies indicate that obese folks eat the same number of calories as their thin counterparts. To lose weight, you'd have to eat tons less than thin people. To keep it off, you'd have to do this forever. And then you'd be cranky. Having a constant gnawing in your gut and hallucinations about pork rinds is not a merry thing.

 
6. And what is the point? Why are you doing this to yourself, anyway? Do you think being thinner will make you more popular? Earn your mother's love and attention? Lure the boy meat? (No on that last one - studies show that boys like girls to be slightly heavier than girls think they should be.) Come on. Would anything really be different if you were a twig? You have to be the source of your own self-worth; the media is always just gonna show ideals, dreams. Your body is not you - it's the receptacle that holds you.

 
7. You're depriving yourself of essential nutrition. The teenage years are the most vital time to stockpile calcium, to avoid osteoporosis when you're old and crackly. Also, it's nearly impossible to get enough nutrients on 1,200 to 1,500 calories a day of vacuous diet foods (e.g. fat-free cakes, cookies and frozen yogurt - all containing, like, zero vitamins and minerals) instead of fruits and veggies and beans and grains, which may prevent cancer and heart disease down the road. And dietary supplements are no substitute for eating well, so don't start that with me.

 
8. You put off living. One of our former interns actually refused to leave the house when she felt bloated. She'd say wistfully, "Maybe next week," Oy vey iz mir! Postponing your life while waiting to look different is ridiculous. Excuse me for quoting another study, but women who are large and have accepted it are more emotionally resilient than those addicted to dieting, according to research by Dr. Debora Burgard of the American Psychological Association. Believe me, if the well-adjusted fat chicks she studied feel like going to Lollapalooza, they go. They do not sit home gazing hypnotically at their stomachs.

 
9. You'll gain it back. Ninety percent of all dieters who lose 25 pounds or more on a diet revert to their old weight in two years. Which again indicates that the fault is with dieting, not you.

 
10. It's worse for your health to yo-yo. In a famous study, more than 5,000 people from Framingham, Massachusetts, were observed for 32 years. Those whose weight fluctuated over time had a 30 percent greater risk of death from heart disease tan those whose weight was stable, if a bit high. Plus, radical dieting can lead to mysterious, sudden death - perhaps from a lack of nutrients or a stuttery heartbeat or a protein-deprived heart muscle. There's almost no info on these scary sudden deaths because many lawsuits against hospitals and companies running very low-calorie diet programs are settled quickly, out of court, so statistics are obscured.

 
11. It leads to eating disorders. The frustration and depression of fighting genetics can take you to a desperate extreme: Binging and purging, anorexia and total self-hate. You dwell on every calorie. You end up snarfing laxatives or cutting an apple into 70 tiny pieces and eating the slivers with a toothpick. This is really futile and sad. The longer you starve your body, the more it will demand Drake's cakes and Haagen-Dazs, and the harder it will be to resist their siren call. At some point you'll give up and gorge yourself, and no sooner will you wipe your mouth than you'll begin despising yourself for your "weakness." Bulimia is the natural result of a pointless tug-of-war between you and your genes. With it comes rotted teeth, breath stinking of vomit, a puffy face, holey intestines and terrible self-esteem. If, on the other hand, you refuse to succumb to your body's cravings at all, you'll get anorexic. As we all know by now, anorexics who don't get help are not done dieting until they are dead. A disturbing fact from Psychology Today: Cultures that hold up a thin ideal for women also have eating disorders and a rate of depression that's twice as great in women as in men. Cultures without a thin ideal have no eating disorders and have equal rates of depression for men and women. Just something to chew on (heh).

 
12. The connection between weight and health problems is iffy. Yes, it's documented that fat people are more susceptible to heart disease, cancer and lung problems than skinny people. But are health problems caused by fat, or is fat the result of health problems? The relationship is unclear. This makes it especially disgusting when doctors are prejudiced against the overweight, reflexively ordering them to reduce. Believe it or not, there's no evidence that losing weight will make you as healthy as someone who's naturally thinner. The very idea of an ideal weight is based on charts of 4 million people who used to be insured by the major US life insurance companies. "Ideal weights" are simply the weights of those who lived the longest. It's a distribution curve, algebraically speaking, and doesn't mean that if you lose 15 pounds, you'll live longer. And hello, those people are all dead, anyway.

 
13. It makes you feel bad. By its very nature, dieting means that no matter what, you've eaten too much. Even if it's one extra grape, you end up feeling helpless and piggy. But Dr. Burgard's APA study indicates that women who accept their bodies and believe their weight is determined by factors outside their control, experience "greater self-esteem, competence, personal power, self-confidence and overall self-control" than women who are hooked on dieting. How delightfully paradoxical - admitting you are powerless makes you feel powerful.
Look, I encourage you to eat good-for-you foods and get daily exercise - not to be skinny, but to be healthy and happy and possess energy for more important things. Obsessing over your thighs is neither fun nor valuable to society. If yours are naturally meaty, well, that's that. Give up on dieting. No one has ever climbed Mount Everest on a meal of a single carrot stick.

 
 
 
 
This article originally appeared in Sassy magazine

 

August 2004

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