Zen and the Art of Dieting: Part 4

Stop Dieting! A Great Way to Begin Your Weight-Loss Program

Posted Dec 03, 2012

Most people look at their bodies and don’t like what they see; in short, they feel ashamed. Such shame is fostered by families; ever-present media images; ignorant cultural assumptions about women, beauty, and health; denial of the prevalence and role of sexual abuse in creating body shame; and a burgeoning $60 billion dieting industry ready to exploit all believers, banking on our failure. They hope to rid themselves of their shame by losing weight.

The logic is simple—simply dangerous!   In actuality, diets motivated by body shame are not only unsuccessful, but also the voices of criticism and feelings of shame will rarely disappear for more than a short time. However, if people address the underlying shame psychologically, in a more direct and successful manner, they may no longer be motivated to diet at all.  What’s a girl or fella to do?  Does that mean people should never try to lose weight?  Psychotherapists Jane Hirschmann and Carol Munter, in their groundbreaking book Overcoming Overeating, suggest that only after giving up dieting can people free themselves from the never-ending cycle of criticizing themselves, controlling themselves, and then breaking free and binging. Hirschmann and Munter explain how people shouldn’t be ruled by raging self-abuse and criticism, but that is what motivates most people to diet.

The main conclusions I drew from my own research that inform my current view of dieting and body image are: 1) Most people diet as a result of shame and self-hatred. 2) Shame and self-hatred rarely generate positive results. 3) People’s stories of pain and struggle regarding body image and eating patterns provide a window to understanding the motivation and meaning of their behavior. 4) Learning to respond to internal and external criticisms helps people learn to love themselves. In short, successful weight loss begins with building a new relationship with our bodies, our eating habits, and ourselves, one not based on losing weight! (For more about my research click on the link to my website: The Diet Project.)

Nonetheless, most of what people hear, much of which is funded by the diet industry, never suggests that people consider not dieting as a way of beginning a better relationship with their bodies and themselves.  The dieting industry depends on people, particularly women, disliking their bodies, feeling ashamed about themselves, and trying to lose weight to remedy the situation.  The agenda of loving ourselves, which includes loving our bodies, is so radical that most of us can’t fathom the possibility that this will help us find a way of eating that nurtures and supports us. We have come to believe so firmly that the way to happiness and well-being is to meet certain cultural standards and make appropriate changes that the notion of loving ourselves the way we are seems almost pathological. We simply don’t believe that loving ourselves, not fixing ourselves, is a worthy path.  

This morning my partner, Lisa, told me that Jada Pinkett Smith’s daughter, Willow, had cut and colored her hair in a way that garnered much negative attention. Many people questioned Jada Smith’s judgment as a mother asking how she could let her daughter wear her hair that way. She responded, “This is a world where women, girls are constantly reminded that they don't belong to themselves; that their bodies are not their own, nor their power or self determination." She went on to say, "Even little girls should not be a slave to the preconceived ideas of what a culture believes a little girl should be."

Thank you Jada for standing against the power of cultural standards to shape and shame girls, women, and the rest of us!

What do you think dear reader? I welcome your comments and questions.


David Bedrick, J.D., Dipl. PW is the author of the book Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology. You can also click on The Diet Project to read real client stories and learn more about David's research on diets, body image, and eating patterns.

About the Author

David Bedrick, J.D., Dipl. PW, is a counselor, educator, attorney, and the author of Talking Back to Dr. Phil: Alternatives to Mainstream Psychology.

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