Many moons ago, when I was at high school, two of my best friends and I were so horrified by an advertisement on the front page of The Canberra Times that we decided to take action! The ad was for a popular weight loss clinic in Canberra at the time. Before and after photos of an attractive woman were used, promising that women of any shape and size could achieve the same beautiful body by attending their clinic. The horrifying thing to us 16-year old girls from an all-girls school was that the ‘after’ image showed an emaciated woman in a bikini, collar bones, hip bones and rib cage protruding, back hunched over and a weak smile on her face. Was this really what women of all shapes and sizes were aiming to achieve?

Unfortunately, we were surrounded by impressionable girls who did want just that! So we wrote letters to the editor and were interviewed on the Channel 10 news. It was exciting for us at the time and we were sure we were making a difference by highlighting the impact images like this can have on girls, both young and old. The clinic closed down some years later which we took as a personal triumph!! My two best friends are now brilliant doctors and I am a dietitian with a special interest in weight management and behaviour change, so perhaps we are making a difference in our own way.

The sad truth is, however, that 18 years on I am still seeing the same negative images of the ‘ideal body size’ in magazines and on TV and hearing about them in so many conversations around me. Young Mums who should know better are taking drastic measures to reach the weight they were back in high school – despite the fact they have to starve themselves to get there. The media, obviously, does their bit to encourage the size zero ideal, with one high profile celebrity being disgusted at her fertility specialist’s suggestion that she gain 5 kg to assist with conception!! I mean, he obviously has no idea that designers only provide size zero dress samples!!

What is a diet?

To me, the word DIET is far more dirty and crass than many other four-letter words out there.  Any word that results in a reduced enjoyment of food, a word that instantly makes me feel negative about myself or highlights where I’ve been going wrong all my life rather than pointing out the positives or a word that impacts on my positive relationship with food should surely never be repeated!!

Common diets that will always go in and out of fashion include the Atkins diet and it’s various high protein-low carb offshoots, the Israeli Army diet, the Grapefruit diet, the Lemon Detox diet, the Blood Type diet and the buzz word in dieting circles at the moment – the HCG diet, which includes combining a 500 calorie diet with HCG hormone drops! Magic really.

How do you know when a diet is a diet, rather than a way to incorporate healthy eating into a balanced lifestyle? Ask yourself these questions:

  • Does it promise rapid weight loss – more than 1kg/week?
  • Does it claim a single food is the magic key?
  • Does it eliminate an entire food group?
  • Does it suggest that you skip meals?
  • Is there a specific product to buy to support your weight loss?
  • Does it focus on results being associated with your appearance rather than health benefits?
  • Does it suggest you cut out your favourite food altogether?
  • Could you stick to it forever?
  • Is it simply too good to be true?

Yes to any of these questions means it probably is too good to be true.

 What is wrong with a diet?

We all know that there are plenty of people who should really lose some weight to reduce their health risks and the tempting and often easy option is to try the latest fad diet. Despite the results these diets promise, there are also plenty of risks involved in following any drastic form of weight loss.

The risks of following a fad diet:

  • It’s not fun and leads to a reduced respect for food and it’s value
  • You lose muscle and water, not fat
  • Your metabolism slows down due to a reduction in lean muscle mass
  • You are at high risk of premature bone ageing, potentially leading to bone diseases such as osteoporosis
  • You can suffer from low energy levels, constipation, hair loss and even worse – bad breath!!
  • It can impair your kidney function and lead to gallstones
  • Your self esteem and confidence can take a battering if you find you can’t stick to the diet (but really, who can?)
  • Your self esteem and confidence can also reduce when the weight you’ve lost plus more comes straight back on as soon as you return to your normal eating behaviour
  • It can lead to a lifelong habit of yoyo dieting – which makes long-term weight loss even harder
  • It can isolate you socially – who wants a dieter at their dinner party?

I doubt that anyone could see a positive in any of the above, especially hair loss and bad breath! Who wants that?

I think what disappoints me most these days is that we have become so preoccupied with weight and how we look that we forget about the important things in life. Food is an essential component of our breathing life, so if we can’t enjoy food, that leaves a big gaping hole!! In my role as a dietitian helping people to achieve a healthy lifestyle, I place huge importance on improving my clients’ relationship with food and helping them to realise that food is not the enemy! It is vital that we take time out for ourselves, learn to trust our intuition, pat ourselves on the back when we achieve a goal and start to feel comfortable with who we are as a person, not what we look like.

Now, please go and look in the mirror, tell yourself something positive, encourage your family and friends to do the same and then enjoy sharing a delicious, balanced and happy meal with your loved ones.


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