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Should Dieting Be Considered an Eating Disorder?

Research suggests that dieting has negative consequences for our emotional and physical health. Despite this scientific evidence, dieting continues to be seen as a normal and even "healthy" behavior. In this post, I ponder whether dieting should continue to be portrayed in this light, or perhaps be better characterized as an eating disorder. Read More

I think how a person feels

I think how a person feels about the diet is crucial. I'm sure it must be possible that there are some people out there who encourage themselves to exercise and not eat junk food, and who don't end up obsessing over their size. That kind of moderation wouldn't be a good candidate for an eating disorder. But it does seem like most of us who diet do so because we seem to judge or hate something about ourselves, and we think that reaching that photoshopped ideal is going to somehow transform us into the person we've always wanted to be--happy, successful, admired, etc. I agree with you, that kind of dieting outlook seems very self-destructive, not at all a good path to life satisfaction.

Agreed. However,

Agreed. However, statistically speaking, the person who diets in a healthy non-destructive way is a unicorn.

Are you suggesting that all

Are you suggesting that all 108 million people on diets in the U.S. should be considered mentally ill under the DSM and therefore should go into psychotherapy?

I'm suggesting that we stop

I'm suggesting that we stop thinking of dieting as a healthy or "normal" behavior. Dieting is a risk factor for eating disorders, weight gain and weight cycling, body image dissatisfaction, and a whole host of other issues. I'm suggesting that we challenge what the media has us believe about dieting and start eating in a way that is mindful and attuned to our bodies.

Well, in your post you ask

Well, in your post you ask "should dieting have gotten inclusion in the new DSM-V?" The DSM-V, of course, is the manual of psychiatric disorders issued by the American Psychiatric Association. Further down in your post, you write that "I'm not optimistic we'll see dieting in the DSM soon." This suggests you actually are in favor of making dieting a psychiatric disorder under the DSM-V and therefore declaring 108 million Americans psychiatrically ill and in need of psychotherapy. Don't you think this is an over-reaction? Do you sincerely believe it would be healthy to interrupt the lives of millions of people by putting them into psychiatric care merely because they are "dieting"? Is there any evidence that psychiatrists possess evidence-based methods of stopping people from dieting, even if dieting were considered a psychiatric illness? How much would it cost our nation in financial terms to put 108 million people into psychotherapy? Should psychotherapy for dieting be covered by all health insurance plans and government financial assistance under Medicaid and Medicare, which would be the effect to declaring dieting a psychiatric illness under the DSM-V?

Anonymous, simply classifying

Anonymous, simply classifying dieting as a psychiatric condition in the DSM would not "put 108 million people into psychotherapy". Individuals have the choice to go into therapy or not go into therapy as they see fit for any condition. There would not be a sudden meltdown of psychic morale and governmental healthcare reserves just because of a new DSM classification.

It is worth taking a breath and considering that there may be some damaging effects of dieting for a large number of people who try to diet. There is a huge body of research that shows that diets don't work, particularly long term, and for a number of reasons. Some people do figure out that the best way to go about losing weight and getting slim is to combine eating in moderation and increasing activity, but many dieters get stuck in a cycle of following plans that cut out entire groupings of food (while calling the food "bad" or "unhealthy" in some way) and promise quick, dramatic results. When individuals are unable to maintain these plans, it can be emotionally devastating - no one wants to feel like a failure, and dieters get stuck in a cycle of feeling that way again and again, with society making things worse by vilifying them for being fat, lazy, dumb, unmotivated, etc. It's a terrible psychological burden. This is what dieting has the potential to do, and I've seen it do this to peers and clients, over and over again.

I'm not sure I agree that dieting should be in the DSM - that may be going to far. I do cringe a little every time I see a new diet book has come out though. I hate that people get away with writing some of this nonsense and marketing it to individuals who are desperate to make a change in their lives but can't see a clear way to do it. I wish people understood that there is no "bad" food, even if you are on a "diet", but that isn't the way the commercial dieting industry likes to play things.

I appreciate that the article

I appreciate that the article mentioned that eating disorders are prevalent in individuals of all sizes. However, I don't agree that dieting is always the same as an eating disorder. I feel that the term "eating disorder" can be applied to dieting when the dieter's life becomes unmanageable because of their actions around food. Are you constantly thinking about food? Is food or a lack thereof interfering with your health and overall well-being? Are you isolating and losing relationships because your body size has become a priority? Are you failing classes or screwing up at work because you are overwhelmed by thoughts about food or weight? Has your weight become your only defining factor? I feel that answering yes to questions as such point more in the direction of dieting as being an eating disorder. It's good to integrity check and ask yourself, "Has my life become all about losing weight?"

It seems that the problem is

It seems that the problem is not dieting, per se, but instead
obsessive thinking about diet or compulsive behaviors. The DSM, however, already covers disorders characterized by obsessions and compulsions. Therefore, why can't obsessive or compulsive dieting be covered by existing categories, rather than declaring all dieting to be a mental disorder?

When did we start feeling guilty about eating

Hi i am a yoga teacher for disordered eating and i would love to share my video which asks woman and kids about their relationship with food which is part of my entry to study the psychology of eating. Thank you

Response to "Should dieting be considered an eating disorder?"

I've written a response to your article on my Psychology Blog.
Please feel free to discuss this is the comments section.

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Alexis Conason, Psy.D. is a clinical psychologist in practice in New York City and a researcher at the New York Obesity Nutrition Research Center at St. Luke's-Roosevelt Hospital.


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