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Virtual Book Club: Anti-Diet Chapter 3

This week we’re chatting about Chapter 3 of Anti-Diet our first virtual book club read. Catch up with our thoughts about chapter 1 and chapter 2, or jump into the conversation about chapter 3 below.

Laura: In the third chapter, which focused on the widespread failure of diets that has been a well-known statistic for decades, Harrison describes the research that has found that between 90-98% (depending on the study) of all diets fail. (Failure defined as regaining any weight lost and, in many cases, actually gaining more weight than what was initially lost). As the research shows, diets don’t work, yet the onus of that failure is usually put on the individual dieting e.g., you regained any weight you lose because you are a failure (or don’t have willpower, don’t have any self control, are a failure in general etc etc etc). The labels of individual failures is used in the marketing of new fad diets (e.g., you won’t fail this one) but also fails to neglect the idea that the problem is not with the individual but with the very ideal of dieting. Dieting is unsustainable and I might argue, unnecessary.

One of the things I’ve often wondered is about that 2-10% of folks who keep the weight off. What exactly is it that they do? Harrison quotes research that found that maintainers, “weigh[sic] themselves compulsively, weighing and measuring food, not taking any breaks from their exercise routine, adhering to strict diets even on holidays and vacations, and basically having all of their time monopolized by their efforts at weight control” (p. 97). Sounds, to me, a bit like an eating disorder. And this, I think, is what I find so frustrating. For someone who is overweight or normal weight, these behaviors are desirable. For someone deemed to be underweight, these behaviors are dangerous and the opposite (e.g., binge eating, eating when not hungry) is prescribed. In the long run these restrictive behaviors could, and often do in the case of the successful dieter, lead to long term disordered eating habits including clinically diagnosed eating disorders. I am one of these maintainers, and now instead of being told I should exercise or having family members kindly withhold food (which happened), I’m told to “indulge” because it’s totally okay if I gain some weight (which also happens, on the regular). To be clear, it would be okay if I gained weight, and I try to gain weight before make speed record attempts because I lose so much weight on them.

As Rose brought up last week, one of my frustrations with this chapter was the amount of time the Harrison spent equating “wellness dieting” with food sensitivity tests results. I’ll premise here by saying that Harrison makes an excellent point that the elimination of a certain food group or groups (including, say veganism, going “gluten-free,” paleo, etc etc) can be a mask that hides disordered eating. Yet, I found it frustrating that Harrison failed to acknowledge or validate that people can, indeed, be sensitive to certain foods and have a better quality of life without eating those foods without any sort of medical diagnosis (e.g., verified with an elimination diet). I’m like that with cooked tomatoes. I love them almost more than anything, but they make me very very sick. I am not, however, allergic to them according to allergy tests I’ve taken. Tomatoes are also very healthy, a so-called super-food, and low in calories. As someone with a disordered eating past (and present?), I would eat cooked tomatoes every days if I could. In book ostensibly about intuitive eating, it seems intuitive to say “if a food makes you feel bad, don’t eat it,” and perhaps better advice regarding food sensitivity tests would be to validate the results through other means, like an elimination diet.

Rose: Harrison writes about exercise as something that people hate. It is true if you don’t find what you love and why you love it. And if you are only exercising to lose weight or sculpt a part of your body, you’re likely to be disappointed more often than not and not likely to find joy in the process of training and improving, regardless of activity.

Harrison also writes that poor body image is not cured by weight loss. I can identify with this. Even weighing 40 pounds (or more) less than my highest weight I body identify with the people on My 600-lb Life more than with the athletes I train and socialize with. It doesn’t matter if I am a more experienced (or even accomplished) athlete than the more, well, athletic looking, I still feel like the fat imposter at the table. I will likely never see myself as anything other than heavy. I tend to interpret other people trying to be helpful or supportive as being rude and suggesting that I am a new/inexperienced athlete.

I’ve had IBS for decades. As a child IBS-C and then in middle age IBS-D. The circular logic presented on this topic is nearly mind-boggling. You changed your eating because you have a gut issue, but changing your diet makes you have a gut issue. Huh? So what was the cause of the problem in the first place? I guarantee the solution isn’t ice cream.

Are you reading Anti-Diet too? What are your thoughts on chapter 3?

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