The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

It’s Diet Season: Are You Prepared?

girl with unbrella

Diet season is officially upon us.
Weight loss companies are well aware that millions of Americans are actively making New Year’s resolutions. Armed with teams of marketers and millions of dollars, they’ve spent the last twelve months crafting their year-end advertising.  And year after year they are wildly successful, at least in terms of revenue. According to this report, global weight loss markets were expected to be worth $586.3 billion in 2014. The U.S. is the largest contributor to that figure and was projected to reach $310 billion last year.

Yes, the weight loss industry has been preparing for an entire year. But, you can be prepared too. The first step is anticipating the messages that you will be bombarded with so you’re not caught off guard. Here are just a few of the diet industry’s strategies you are sure to encounter in the new year:

  • They will make a lot of promises for a “better” you, a “more successful” you, a “happier” you, but most emphatically, a “thinner” you. They will use those terms interchangeably to try to convince you that you cannot be better, happier or more successful without weight loss. You can.
  • They will pay celebrities enormous amounts of money to endorse what they are selling. Average salaries for celebrity weight-loss endorsers range from $500,000 to $3 million via ABC News.
  • They will tell you this time will be different.
  • They will make faulty connections between weight and health.
  • They will use scare tactics and personal stories to appeal to your emotions.
  • They will use before and after pictures that may or may not be the same person, are often retouched and photoshopped, or might just be stock images of someone who never used their product.
  • They will try to convince you that your body cannot be trusted to do one of it’s most basic jobs.  They will insist you need to pay them money to rely on external rules or charts for when and how much to eat.
  • They will ignore the natural and healthy diversity of bodies by telling you everyone can be thin if they work hard enough. This also happens to be one of the four toxic myths that promote most body image and weight concerns. This cycle works very well for diet companies because the more concerned people are with their bodies, the more likely they are to engage in weight control behaviors. In other words, it is in their best interest to keep you dissatisfied with your body so that you keep buying their product and it keeps being ineffective.
  • They will share short-term statistics from studies funded by their own investors to show how well their diet plan works for the first 3-6 months. They will not respond to requests for independent, long-term outcome studies.
  • They may tell you their product is “not a diet but a lifestyle”.
  • They will tell you your health is at risk. They will not tell you about studies like this which found the risk of mortality was higher among people in the underweight category than it was for those in the overweight category OR like this one which showed increased health behaviors led to improved health markers even in the absence of weight loss.
  • They may even include the phrase “results not typical” in fine print at the very bottom of their full page ad or in speedy verbal disclaimers at the end of a commercial.
  • It is only January yet still, they will tell you that summer is just around the corner and then attempt to make the case that your body is not “ready” for the beach. Spoiler Alert: If you have a body and you have the chance to go to a beach, then you are ready.
  • Are we missing anything? Can you think of other trends or predictable marketing slogans used by the diet industry to try to sell their products? You can add to the list on our Facebook page.

Why is it important to be prepared?
The National Eating Disorder Association reports that 35% of “normal dieters” progress to pathological dieting, and 20-25% of those individuals will develop eating disorders. This is not because eating disorders are simply “diets gone too far” but because diets trigger biological, emotional and mental shifts in the way you process food and information about that food. It is well established that diets can…

  • Dysregulate and weaken your body’s natural cues for hunger and fullness.
  • Trigger obsessive thoughts about food and weight
  • Cause intense cravings for off-limit foods
  • Create anxiety about certain types of food and in response to specific situations involving food such as eating with other people or in public places when the diet-safe food is unavailable.
  • Establish a pattern of failure, low self-esteem and distrust of one’s body
  • Assign moral judgment to foods
  • Develop a system in which exercise is used as a form of punishment instead of a fun or social activity

Clinging to the diet mentality or getting caught up in weight cycling is futile, not to mention potentially harmful to your health and your wallet. For individuals at risk for eating disorders, or for those in recovery, these dieting side effects can be even more dangerous and may create risk for relapse. This year, don’t let the diet season bring you down. Be prepared to stand up against diet pressures by knowing exactly what to expect.  If you find yourself getting overwhelmed or tempted by the ads this season, print out the list above and try checking off all of the marketing tactics you notice.  Then choose to move towards nourishment, self-care and non-judgment by inviting a body-positive friend to lunch, scheduling a massage, setting the table for a mindful eating experience or reaching out for extra support from a treatment provider.

Other Helpful Resources:

  1. Mindful Eating on Campus: Parts 1 & 2
  2. The Resolution Solution
  3. A Message for People Considering Their Next Diet (pdf) from Linda Bacon, PhD
  4. Ringing in the New Year in a New Way
  5. What is Intuitive Eating?
  6. www.eatingdisorder.org

Join CED on Facebook for body image inspiration and recovery support.

*Above image courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net and a454