TCS Daily

'You Can Relax About Food and Eat What You Want'

By Sandy Szwarc - June 2, 2005 12:00 AM

Just as the recent Flegal study by the Centers for Disease Control put the nail into the coffin of the obesity crisis myth, one published this week in the Journal of the American Dietetic Association buries the dieting myth. While it's popularly believed that dieting and weight loss improve health, this study found the greatest improvements are among women who don't diet.

"You can make significant improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without ever stepping on the scales or counting calories," said lead researcher Linda Bacon of the University of California, Davis. "You can relax about food and eat what you want."

This was a randomized clinical trial, universally recognized by the scientific community as the strongest type of experiment to test the efficacy of medical treatments and the least susceptible to bias. This study clinically followed the segment of the population which diets the most, and is most targeted by the weight loss industry: fat women ages 30 to 45. For six months, half of the women participated in a traditional diet and weight loss program, complete with social support; standard nutritional guidance to moderately restrict calories, on how to count calories and fat, read food labels and shop, maintain food diaries, and monitor their weight; and were given information of the benefits of exercise and behavioral strategies for successful dieting. The other women were instructed to let go of restrictive eating habits and not weigh themselves, were counseled to eat according to their natural appetites, given standard nutritional information about healthful foods, and participated in a support group designed to help them become more accepting of their larger bodies, develop a positive self image, and enjoy their bodies. The second approach is the medical paradigm known as "health at every size." After six months of weekly group interventions among both groups, they were followed monthly thereafter.

The just-released findings show that while the dieting group that had initially lost weight, it had regained almost all of it two years later, while the nondieters' weights had remained stable. Both groups had initially lowered their systolic blood pressure but it had rebounded among the dieters, while the nondieters had sustained their improvements. The dieters showed no change in their total cholesterol or LDL cholesterol, while the nondieters had significantly decreased theirs by the end of the study.

It has been well documented that dieting virtually always fails long-term -- about 90 to 95% of the time -- and that dieting drop-out rates are high. But this study also poignantly illustrated that improvements to health and health behaviors with dieting are not maintained and in the end dieting actually worsens women's health and quality of life. The dieting group which had significantly increased their physical activity right after the treatment period, had returned to their initial levels by the end of the study. And most remarkably, there was nearly 200% more bulimia and eating disorders among the dieters compared to the nondieters. The dieters' self esteem and depression had also significantly worsened, which isn't surprising given most dieters are left with an overwhelming sense of failure. And the psychological and physiological effects, as well as eating problems, resulting from calorie restriction itself have been clinically documented.

The nondieters, on the other hand, enjoyed extraordinary improvements in their self esteem and feeling good about their bodies, and less depression. Nondieting resulted in healthier eating and more normal relationships with food, less eating restraint and feelings of hunger. And the nondieters, by learning the joys of movement separate from an "exercise" or weight loss regimen, had nearly quadrupled their physical activity. They'd naturally made healthier habits part of their lifestyles by simply nurturing and appreciating the bodies they had.

Dieting advocates continue to voice objections in mainstream media about the nondieting approach. In the March issue of Diabetes Health experts debated whether weight loss was the appropriate prescription for better health. Kelly D. Brownell, director of the Yale Center for Eating and Weight Disorders, claimed "People who say that you just need to eat right and exercise have no data that that works better than telling people to go and diet." But after this recent body of evidence, now we know the real story.


TCS Daily Archives