The official approach is now to avoid 'restriction' and focus on 'self-esteem'
The British Dietetic Association (BDA) doesn’t want you to start your post-Christmas shred next week. In a statement released on Tuesday, the association condemned aggressive weight loss diets (or “fad diets”) on psychological grounds, since the promotion of such diets might lead people to “believe that they are not good enough as they are, and that they have to conform to perceived society ‘ideals’.” A healthier approach would, according to one BDA dietician:
This is no doubt true for various fashionable diets – Beyonce’s infamous cayenne pepper diet, for instance – which promise rapid weight loss with a side order of malnutrition and mental illness. The BDA is right to point out that such diets very rarely lead to long-term weight loss.
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But is it really true, as the BDA claims, that “restriction” ought not to be the goal? It’s no secret that the population is growing fatter every year, with a particularly concerning rise in childhood obesity post-pandemic. The BDA’s insistence on “balance and moderation” is a gesture towards so-called ‘intuitive eating’, the anti-diet diet that encourages people to abandon rigid eating restrictions and instead respond to hunger cues sensibly — with the goal, ultimately, of settling at a healthy weight.
The problem is that our modern environment is perfectly designed to hijack our intuition when it comes to food. Several people I know who adopted the intuitive eating approach just ended up getting larger, and social media is full of posts with titles like “Intuitive Eating Made Me Fat!”
This should hardly be surprising, given that twenty-first-century Westerners are exposed to a hyper-abundance of cheap and delicious calories, whereas our instinctive responses to food evolved in an environment of scarcity. Present our stone-age brains with a tub of ice cream and our stone-age intuition will obviously respond with a “yes!”
If they can be persuaded to be honest about it, almost everyone who remains consistently lean in the modern world imposes some kind of rigid restriction on themselves. For instance: never eating sugar, regularly skipping meals, or counting calories every day for years on end (personally, my secret is a moderately dysfunctional exercise addiction).
And the celebrities who are in great shape suffer terribly for their bodies. Jack Dorsey only eats one meal a day, Kim Kardashian wakes up at 4am to work out, and Madonna forgoes wheat, eggs, meats, and dairy, surviving on a diet composed largely of seaweed.
Most people don’t have the self-control necessary to maintain that kind of lifestyle — not because of a moral failing on their part, but because self-control is strongly influenced by genetics. For people whose intuition is poorly suited to our hyper-abundant environment, the only proven, long-term effective tool to manage obesity is neither ‘fad diets’ nor intuitive eating: it’s bariatric surgery, a medical intervention that responds to a highly novel food environment with a highly novel form of appetite restriction.
Surgically shrinking the capacity of the stomach isn’t balanced, moderate, or natural, and it is definitely orientated towards “restriction” — but then, in the modern world, what is the alternative?