Today is International No Diet Day and Claire Droney wonders why so many women are obsessed with their weight
A GIRL stands in front of a mirror, and asks her boyfriend, “Why am I so fat?”. “Because you eat junk and do no exercise,” he thinks, but wisely doesn’t verbalise his thoughts.
It should be as simple as that. Eat less junk, exercise more often, and you won’t put on weight. But why does such a plethora of celebrity-endorsed, fad diets still exist? There is the Coconut diet, the Cookie diet, the Ice Cube diet, the Purple Food diet, the Salt and Vinegar diet, the Babyfood diet, the Cabbage Soup diet, the Raw Food diet, the Maple Syrup diet and even the Hypno diet, where you hypnotise yourself to think yourself thin.
But for one day, this can all be forgotten. Today is International No Diet Day (INDD). Founded by anti-diet British author Mary Evans Young in 1992, it is a day to celebrate body diversity and to promote healthier lifestyles.
After watching a television show about two women who had complications after having their stomachs stapled, and hearing the news about a teenager who committed suicide because she felt too fat, Young was so upset that she decided to try to change our attitudes.
“I decided somebody had to stand up and try to stop this bloody madness and, in the absence of anybody else, I decided it would be me,” says Evans Young, who describes herself as a recovered anorexic.
Unfortunately for me, every day is INDD. I arrive at work full of good intentions, but by 11am I invariably eat a canteen sausage sandwich smothered in ketchup on a hot buttered roll, while my lunchbox fruit salad ends up in the bin. However, in a straw-poll of 10 work colleagues, 60% were currently on a diet, or had been on a diet recently. A colleague even set up a weight-loss competition recently, where everyone put €20 into a pot before being weighed in. The person who lost the most weight after six weeks won the money.
“In terms of International No Diet Day, I think it is important to look at how the term ‘diet’ has evolved to refer most often to an unhealthy restriction of food choices or overall food intake — and that these behaviours have become normalised,” says Ruth Ní Eidhin of Bodywhys, the Eating Disorders Association of Ireland.
“The word ‘diet’ used to mean what you do and don’t eat. In the way the word is now used, it’s more likely to refer to the Atkins Diet, or the GI diet or other extreme diets which usually have a focus on weight loss.
“These types of diet have a very low success rate, estimated at less than 5%, and yet are promoted endlessly by an industry which is estimated to be worth $40bn per year in the US alone,” says Ní Eidhin.
But with 60% of adults in Ireland aged under 65 now either obese or overweight, sometimes a diet and exercise plan is needed.
“Our approach to dieting would be if a diet is specifically cutting out any elements of food, chances are you are cutting out something your body needs. It’s better to work with your GP and nutritionist to make sure you have a balanced approach to weight loss,” says Ní Eidhin.
Most people have tried dieting for a variety of reasons. And sometimes dieting can be dangerous. Not just for your health, but also for your self-esteem.
“The cycle of dieting can have a lasting impact on a person’s body image and self-esteem, as well as on their physical health. It is also important to note that dieting is often found to be a precursor to the development of an eating disorder,” says Ní Eidhin.
“Every newspaper and magazine has the latest celebrity diet, and most of those diets will work the first time the person tries them. People will automatically compliment the dieter saying: ‘You look great’. But eventually people will fall off the wagon and end up feeling bad about themselves. If the diet doesn’t work, the person internalises it and reward and punishment becomes very much a part of how they feel about themselves.
“In this context we would see International No Diet Day as an opportunity to challenge the increasingly accepted norm that almost everyone should be on a diet all of the time — and instead shift the focus to a healthy approach to food, and an appreciation of body shape diversity.”
However, INDD is not an excuse to act like Bill Murray in the movie Groundhog Day. Knowing that he will live forever, Murray sits in front of a food-covered table, folding pink-iced cakes into his mouth. But he was guaranteed to survive without clogged arteries or a sky-high cholesterol. Instead, INDD is an excuse to live a little and have a bit of what you fancy. Even Beyoncé admits to having “blowout Sundays” where she indulges in her favourite — fried chicken.
“What causes someone skinny or overweight to be called ugly?” comments one woman on an anti-dieting internet forum. “I think society puts way too much emphasis on skinny equals pretty. I’m 30lbs overweight but I’m pretty. Do I look smoking hot in a two-piece bikini? No, but then again, who really cares?”