27 Apr Why it’s time to just LET GO? Parting ways with perfectionism and the dangers of dieting.
80% of US 10 year old girls have already embarked on their first diet.
Concerning? Heck yes!
The body of an adolescent girl (for example) undergoes some big changes in terms of composition from about the age of 10 onwards, most of which are NOT discussed. For example it’s completely normal to gain on average 8kg per year during their peak adolescent growth period.
Did you hear that? 8kg in 12 months. Completely NORMAL.
All of which is necessary in laying the foundations for a healthy and full functioning reproductive adult body. However, young girls don’t know this (I didn’t) so instead it’s read as ‘I’m putting on weight’… ‘I’m getting fat’… ‘I need to go on a diet.‘
She doesn’t need to look far for inspiration or should I say ‘fitspiration’ either, with social media platforms and print media sprayed with images of ‘fit bods’ and ‘perfect meals’ as every is planned and micronutrient tracked. Combine this with a mother who is probably dealing with her own body image issues (stemming from adolescence), and she walks straight into her first fad diet and the beginning of a rocky road of disordered eating and body hate, unaware of the fact that such restrictive practices may be depriving her body of the vital nutrients she needs to grow. This included the need for macronutrients and adequate micronutrients like calcium, to drive the gain of adequate skeletal mass (90% of our peak bone mass in gained before 18), fat mass and the fuelling of a host of other bodily changes.
Yep, it’s scary to think that what you do as a naive 13 year old may essentially the foundations for your body’s composition for life.
I’m no stranger to this situation and it’s been the common experience of every second woman I’ve ever spoken to (seriously!)…like the same story on repeat.
BUT enough is enough. Isn’t it?
Diets don’t work. STAT.
Well actually, I lie. They do succeed in destroying our psyche and creating a guilt-ridden, unhealthy relationship with food and our bodies, but they certainly don’t allow for the the achievement of health, happiness, or even the achievement of sustainable weight-loss (the desired outcome in the first place).
Oh and it’s not simply because one doesn’t have enough ‘will-power’ or ‘self-control’ that restriction and dieting doesn’t…nope there is a biochemical reason for this too.
In her TED talk ‘Why dieting doesn’t usually work’, Sandra Aamodt, describes our brain’s innate sense of what we should weigh, like a set range, to which it’s hard deviate from (not impossible…but hard). Chemicals within our brain work to adjust levels of hunger, activity and our metabolic rate to keep us in this range. When we lose a substantial amount of weight our brain essentially thinks we are starving, regardless of the starting point, so we become hungry and burn less. This cycle exacerbates with every fad diet…each one more unsuccessful than the previous.
There is of course an evolutionary reason for this, as holding onto weight has (until now) been seen as an survival advantage, with starvation historically being a greater issue than overconsumption.
To save our youth from entering this dieting/bingeing cycle we must change our language and APPROACH on a cultural and societal level, because it’s true as Sandra says…
‘Diets create collateral damage…they ruin lives.’
Changing the food environment and accepting the profound diversity of bodies, is of course key. On a smaller and individualised scale, it’s about shifting to a more mindful approach to eating and living (hard in our fast paced society I know!); freeing oneself/one’s family from the emotional guilt and constant obsession over food and weight; being a role model for the young people in your life (comments about weight and dieting behaviours observed as a teen have a lasting effect!); and striving to improve your HEALTH first and foremost (weightloss should never be the intention).
“You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, irrespective of your weight.” Sandra Aamodt
The girls (and boys) of tomorrow are relying on us (the women and men of today) to lead by example.
Don’t get me wrong we are slowly learning the error of our ways (with the growing presence of body positivity and health-at-every-size (HAES) movements online), BUT the move from ‘thinspiration’ to ‘fitspiration’, the adoption of the adage ‘strong is the new skinny’ and an obsession with consuming only wholefoods (a.k.a CLEAN EATING) – is not progress in my eyes. It’s just disorder with a new name.
If I’d known at 13 what I know today (including that the awkward bodily changes were just a normal development phase) I personally would not have jumped on those first set of scales… BUT hey that’s hindsight for you.
It’s time we erased ‘going on your first diet’ as a milestone from the timeline of an adolescent’s (and future adult’s) life. The unseen damage that’s being done is reflected in rising rates of health conditions including infertility, osteoporosis, eating disorders (including orthorexia) and other mental health conditions, all consequences that you just don’t consider when you’re that young and impressionable.
Although, enough of the doom and gloom for now… I’m off to devour a piece of strawberry cheesecake (without any guilt) – it’s my birthday week, after all!