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How Crash Diets Burn Off Your Self-Esteem

Updated on July 5, 2011

Dieting and Body Image: The Facts

Raking in $40 billion every year, the diet industry is one of the most profitable areas of our economy today. One out of three women and one out of four men are on a diet at any given time. With these statistics, you well may wonder why the so-called "Obesity Epidemic," has not yet subsided. Surely, with such a wide consumer base and high profit margin, diets must be helping somebody... But what those before and after pictures don't show you is the other side of the coin. Of all their customers, two thirds of dieters regain the weight within one year and virtually all regain it within five years.

So? No harm done, you say. They're back where they started, minus a few dollars (or hundreds, or thousands...). Unfortunately, it doesn't stop there. Dieting has actually been shown to be counterproductive, taking a toll on both your self-esteem, and your body. Food deprivation slows your metabolism, making it harder to lose weight in the future, and easier to put it back on, plus some. The average weight change per diet today is not to lose weight, or even break even, but to gain seven pounds. And failing, time and again, does nothing for your confidence in yourself.

Perhaps you're still not convinced. You have more discipline than the rest. You want it bad enough. I do not doubt your determination, or your desire. After all, two out of five women and one out of five men would trade three to five years of their life to achieve their weight goals. However, the diet industry, like most others, is dependent on repeat customers, on bringing back your business. You are set up to fail, simply to afford the opportunity to re-enroll you, and make another few bucks off of your misery.

New Study Proves Dieting Ineffective

A two-year study at UC Davis highlighted the difference your attitude can make in losing weight. The participants, all obese, were divided into two groups for monitoring: dieting and non-dieting.

The dieting group was told to moderately restrict their food consumption, maintain food diaries and monitor their weight. They were provided with information on the benefits of exercise, on behavioral strategies for successful dieting, and on how to count calories and fat content, read food labels and shop for appropriate foods.

The non-dieting participants were instructed to let go of restrictive eating habits, and pay more attention to their internal cues, both physical and emotional, such as hunger, satiety, anxiety, sadness, and anger. Instead of diet propaganda, they were given information on healthy nutrition, and participated in a weekly support group focused on addressing the particular concerns of the obese person in an intolerant society.

The Results

Almost half of the dieting group dropped out before finishing the treatments, while 92% of the non-dieting group completed the program. While the non-dieters did not lose any significant amount of weight, they experienced numerous health benefits that the dieters did not: lowered bad cholesterol levels and systolic blood pressure, quadrupled their physical activity, and felt significantly better about themselves and less depressed at the end of the two-year period.

Yes, you say, but the dieters lost the weight. Not so. While the members of the dieting group lost 5.2% of their initial weight in the first 24 weeks of the study, by the end of the program, they had regained nearly all of it. That first boost of self-confidence due to the rapid weight loss deteriorated as the pounds piled back on, leaving participants with lower self-esteem than when they had started.

"We have been ingrained to think that seriously large people can only make improvements in their health if they diet and slim down," said nutrition researcher Linda Bacon, who conducted the study along with Judith Stern, a UC Davis professor of nutrition and internal medicine. "But this study tells us that you can make significant improvements in both metabolic and psychological health without ever stepping on the scales or counting calories. You can relax about food and eat what you want." Now, wouldn't that be nice?


Included below are several resources to help you think critically about the diet industry and glamorization of emaciation in the media, as well as a recent news feed regarding the failure of diets to deliver what they promise. Please check them out, and consider picking up one or two of the books I've recommended.


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    • STEVE WELSH profile image


      10 years ago from England

      This is so true as a guy who has tried most diets over the last 20 year I totally agree the weight comes back.

      This hub is super true.

      I found my key to weight loss by dumping high fat foods

      And fully support the case against crash loss.

      Well written

    • Claudiazinc profile image


      11 years ago from Blandford, Nova Scotia

      Hi there;

      Totally agree with the article

      I keep preching to my weight loss groups, you have to EAT to lose weigh

      Don't feel guilty about those chips and wine on Friday night

      Just keep plugging in the get healthy direction and you will get there.

      So what if you go up a couple pounds, just keeps you on track for the big picture, You will be down again

      I do year round nutrition/weight loss groups

      Even offering 50 free spots for my new whiz bang site I am learning to use.

      Keep those articles coming

      I enjoy them


    • bruzzbuzz profile image


      12 years ago from Texas , USA

      It's all about reprogramming yourself. A diet is temporary. Learning to live healthy is more permament.

    • dsletten profile image


      12 years ago from United States

      Eating a balanced diet and exercising is the only way to lose weight. Fad diets just don't work, as you show, so people should stop trying to lose weight fast and do it the most effective way. Great article!

    • Hovalis profile image


      12 years ago from Australia

      I always wondered if there was anything to back up my theory that diets were for the most part counter-productive. I gave up dieting a couple of years back, and believe it or not, have been slowly and steadily losing weight with no effort on my part. I'd really like for a more extensive study to be done on this, because I think it's needed.

      Thanks for writing this hub. :)

    • Evelyn Lim profile image

      Evelyn Lim 

      12 years ago from Singapore

      This is definitely a very interesting angle about how going on crash diets can also be counter productive.

    • Karina profile image


      12 years ago from Bellingham

      The media makes it much harder to have excess weight and a healthy self esteem. All those models with ideal bodies given so much exposure

    • Power Advisor profile image

      Power Advisor 

      13 years ago from Durham

      It is so sad how something that is presented to be helpful is really quite the opposite. I feel that most of the problems with these fast-track diets and their popularity stems from our own society, and how we view people. Society has made it "cool" to be thin. The media makes us feel as if it's the only thing that's acceptible. And then our society is money-hungry, feeding on our uncertainty and sudden disgust at our own bodies to gain a buck. Not a good combination!

      In reality, if you want a thinner body, there are easier, less expensive ways to get it than with these crash diets (which can also help you in other ways). Whatever happened to just eating right? Smaller, well-balanced meals (wherein each food group is well represented), and regular exercise can do wonders! Sometimes, just small adjustments to our daily habits can help: take the stairs instead of elevators or escalators, park farther away from the store to get some walking in, go for a walk with some fruit and a bottle of water on your lunch break....

      Unfortunately, most people are just too lazy to do such things. That laziness is what takes them in search of these fast-track diets. They view them as easy-outs, when in fact they can do much more harm than good.

      Perhaps if people can break themselves of those lazy habits, they will save valuable time and money that would otherwise have been spent on these diets. There's got to be a point when folks realize that it isn't working. Hopefully then they'll seek out the help of a doctor or nutritionist, or perhaps their own common sense.

    • jstankevicz profile image


      13 years ago from Cave Creek

      It’s a shame that common sense hasn’t caught up with the dieting craze. Look around you and count the number of people you know that have lost weight and maintained the loss. You won’t need many fingers to count them. I can’t get past one! Regards, Jack


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