With every shift in season or impending holiday comes diet culture telling us all the things we *need to do* to get ready. At this point, we have been seeing the “get your body ready for summer” diet culture propaganda for months, and I think it’s worth taking a pause to shed light on one of the less-talked-about implications of diet culture’s messaging – weight cycling. For those who struggle with body image and/or an eating disorder, the ramping up of diet culture messaging can be particularly challenging to tune out as we turn the corner into the summer months. Maybe I should just try to lose five pounds and *tone up* a little bit. I’ll feel better in these shorts this summer if I lose just a little bit of weight. 

And then, if we succumb to diet culture’s attempts to create or increase our dissatisfaction with our body image, we may give in to those thoughts and try one of the multitude of diets out there that promises weight loss and, with it, to solve all of our problems. So then, we may try to lose weight, only to later learn we have just engaged in another weight cycle.

What is Weight Cycling?

Weight cycling is a common experience for those with poor body image, certain eating disorders, and those who tend to yo-yo diet. It’s characterized by periods of weight loss followed by weight gain due to the fact that many diets promoted by diet culture promote an unsustainable lifestyle. Then we may try another *diet* or *lifestyle change* only to realize that as soon as that diet is “done” or the lifestyle change wears off, any weight lost comes right back on. 

Not only is this a frustrating and deflating process for those who find they are caught in the dieting and weight-cycling web, it’s a cycle perpetuated by the very industry that promises to *fix* our body image and provide long-lasting *results.*

Let’s take a look at some research (from the National Library of Medicine, UCLA, and National Institutes of Health) regarding dieting and weight cycling:

  • 42% of all adults are actively trying to lose weight
  • 28% have tried to lose weight 3 to 10 times.
  • The body responds to dieting the same way it would to starvation– by conserving energy.
  • 80% of people who lose weight return to their pre-diet weight within two years of dieting.
  • 83% of people gain more than what they lost after two years of losing weight.
  • 95% of people who completely cut one thing out (no carbs, no sugar) while dieting will regain the weight they lose

Dumping the Dieting Mentality

Diet culture’s ploys to “help us lose weight and keep it off” are just that: ploys. Diets are unsustainable, and our body image is almost always independent of what our body actually looks like. While diet culture tries to convince you that you will have the best summer ever if you do x,y, and z to lose a few pounds, we know that any changes that we do see in our body composition and weight as a result of dieting are unlikely to last, which increases our chances of weight cycling.

Studies done to compare dieting outcomes to outcomes of a Health At Every Size approach to health and well-being indicate that a HAES approach is associated with statistically relevant physiological improvements and health behaviors. There were also notable improvements in self esteem and body image with a HAES approach. The research indicated that, in addition to these benefits, HAES achieves these health outcomes more successfully than weight loss treatment and without the risk factors associated with a weight focus.

In order to embrace a more compassionate and accepting approach to our bodies, let’s collectively agree to reject the harmful messages of diet culture. Let’s reject the temptation to give our mental energy to the messages diet culture wants to sell us this summer. Let’s reject diet culture’s attempt to add shame or guilt to the foods we want to enjoy and the experiences we hope to have this summer. And let’s reject diet culture’s attempt to add us into the weight cycling fold – your mind, body, and soul will be better for it.

By: Erika Muller, Assistant for Wildflower Therapy LLC

All images via Unsplash

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