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New Year New Me - The Dangers of the New Year’s & Diet Culture

Have you ever fallen into the common trap our culture sets of the idea of the “transformation obsession?”. Transformation obsession is how much of our diet culture obsesses about the idea of “New Year, New Me” mantra. Our culture has an obsession with the idea of a transformation story. A weight loss or diet story that paints a picture of a happy and successful life once someone changes the way they look is largely toxic and alluring to many people within our society. Diet culture has started a trend of giving people the false hope that their lives are going to drastically change if they start these new programs, hence continuing this cycle of continued ideas that you are more worthy when your body looks a certain way. This looks like false promises of new love, happiness, success, and overall joy after losing a certain amount of weight or changing your looks a certain way. This is a brilliant marketing technique used to trap people into thinking that all their problems will be solved once they start a diet. Let’s take a peek into some of the reasons people ACCTUALLY feel better when they start a new diet and how this can damage their body image and relationship with food long-term.

The Real Reasons We See People’s Mental Health SOMETIMES Improve When Starting a New Diet & The Dangers That Come With It:

1) Community Aspect of Dieting: Diets like weight watchers, keto, and other health and fitness trends, often have a community aspect which helps people feel connected to friends or a social community on their “fitness journey”. Research often shows that when people start a new community (whatever community that may be) they often have an increase of satisfaction and happiness due to socializing more. If they go to weight watchers, they talk to others and connect with them and have a common goal to relate on. This helps people to connect with others, because who hasn’t been tempted by a new diet or workout routine? This causes a lot of superficial connections and helps people to feel more tied with others. There are several downsides to connecting with people in this manner. Often people are anxious to continue these relationships if they regain weight or want to separate themselves from dieting. It can also create a toxic culture of people obsessing about their weights and what they eat- which can often create competitiveness along with comparison with others instead of a vulnerable and deep connection.

2) Routine Change: People often do well when they are more mindful and intentions of their routine. Diets often give people routine and often help people to feel more connected and present to their everyday life. Things like going to a gym at certain times, meal prepping, along with making short-term and long-term goals can often help someone to feel more present and like they are making more goals to move them in the direction they want. However, the problem with this is that making goals focused on weight loss can reinforce the ideas that your worth is tied to what you eat, weigh and how much you exercise. Another issue is that individuals start to tie how much happier they are with dieting when in reality it is having a more established routine, or feeling like they are actually having success with their goals and feeling better overall.

3) Making Meals at Home: There is research that shows when people make meals at home they often feel accomplished and can have a lessoning of financial burdens. There is NO SHAME at eating out and it is important to reiterate that eating out is a normal part of life. When people start new diets and are more intentional about making sure they have meals they have prepared or reduce eating out they can often associate this with accomplishment from making meals to saving money. Therefore, one of the ways dieting can convince someone that they are “doing better” when they diet in multiple aspects of their lives. One of the issues with this is that someone can often feel a large amount of guilt when they do eat out (which is inevitable) because many diets often demonize eating outside the home.

4) Body Changes/ Weight Loss with Dieting: If the person happens to have body changes from the diet, it often gives them a sense of achievement along with compliments from others. Due to our weight obsessed society, if someone has a body change people often idealize it and associate it as an attribute of worth/ worthiness. If someone has struggled with their self-esteem or body image issues for a large amount of their lives, they often do get a large amount of fulfilment from these body changes. One of the problems with this is that is someone gets a large number of compliments or reassurance after losing weight they often learn that “I did not look good before I lost weight” which strengthens weight stigma and thin obsessions. This then causes the individual to feel defeated when they regain weight (because 95 % of diets result in the weight regain within the 1st year).

What is damaging about the diet mindset long-term? Well one of the biggest issues we see in therapy is that people overly romanticize their lives changing for the better if they change their bodies. So, if this does happen then they learn that they were not as: worthy, attractive, or disciplined before their body changed. They often then fear returning to that body size and often equate their worth with their body and the changes. They also learn that people congratulate or give a large amount of reassurance or praise to someone when they lose weight or have a body change which increases hypervigilance and over awareness with what the person eats. If a diet doesn’t work for the person, they tell the individual that they “didn’t do it right”, and that they need to start a new diet or workout routine to make themselves feel more confident. Thus, increasing the likelihood of feeling undisciplined or like a failure. They will also often solidify a belief that their worth and worthiness is highly tied to body changes. And it can often reinforce avoidance because individuals often avoid things they want to do until they “have a better body”.

In the end, new year’s resolutions which are body or food focused can largely influence someone’s feelings of success, well-being, and overall body image. This year, instead of a new year’s resolution focused on the way your body looks, try making goals related to the way you talk about your body. This will help give you long-term results of liking your body more and helping your body image, no matter what you weigh, how you eat, or how you exercise.

Deanna Smith, LCSW

This blog is not meant as therapeutic advice, rather to provide education. If you or a loved one is struggling with disordered eating, or body image issues know that there are many educated qualified mental health therapists and dieticians who are well-versed in these complicated issues. Please seek therapeutic & nutritional support if disordered eating or body image concerns are impacting your life.

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