Dieting and Comparison: a Dietitian’s Perspective

We all know a friend, family member, coworker, or random social media follower who has appeared to have success on some new diet or “lifestyle plan”.

It may lead us to think thoughts about dieting and comparison of our own bodies to these people.

But how do these thoughts affect our body image, relationship with food, and mindset? What about the hidden dangers of dieting?

In today’s article, I will be discussing the dieting and comparison trap. As a registered dietitian nutritionist in Philadelphia, PA, I work with clients daily to ditch dieting, heal their relationship with food, and make peace with their bodies.

I have seen what the dangers of dieting and comparison can do to someone’s feeling of self-worth and confidence. If you are ready to start nourishing your body insteadcheck out our Nourished Basics Self-Paced Course!

Now let’s get into the article.

Why not me?

“My friend lost X amount of weight on this diet, that means it might work for me too!”

“The last diet I tried left me so fatigued and irritable, my coworker recommended one with a different structure so maybe it will have a different result.”

“I know I’ve tried a lot of diets, but I’ve seen so many people having success on social media with this new one and I really have a good feeling about it.” 

Have you said these questions before?

If you have found yourself bouncing from diet to diet in hopes of a new and desirable outcome the phrases above may sound familiar.

Dieting and Comparison

As humans, it is natural to compare ourselves to those around us and feel disappointed if our own lives, or bodies, don’t seem to measure up. 

This comparison trap can lead us down the path of yo-yo dieting with the hope that the next diet will be the one. This may result in ignoring our hunger signals, body cues, and our better judgment to follow an often rigid and restrictive plan. Usually as an attempt to shrink ourselves.

We may falsely believe that changing our bodies or reaching an arbitrary number on the scale will bring about satisfaction or happiness. Perhaps whatever prize must be waiting for us on the other side of intentional weight loss. 

dieting and comparison a registered dietitians perspective and thoughts on how it effects body image

“But they lost X amount of weight, they must be so happy now! Right?”

Honestly, who knows? We are a culture that praises weight loss and conforming to beauty standards at any cost. Those who are able to obtain this, even if for a brief time, may feel some temporary pleasure.

We never really know what goes on in other’s minds and lives and we can’t assume these dieters are any happier than they were prior to weight loss.

The behaviors often used to lose weight are generally not enjoyable or sustainable. This includes restricting energy intake, eliminating food groups, following rigid exercise plans, etc.

We may believe, albeit falsely, that weight loss is something that will add to our lives. However, both the loss and the means we have used to achieve it will often take away more than they could ever give. 

Why Diets Don’t Work

People with background knowledge in anti-diet work may have heard the statistic of diets having up to a 95% failure rate. If it is your first time hearing this please let me reiterate that DIETS HAVE UP TO A 95% FAILURE RATE.

If you were shopping for an item online and saw that only 1/19 reviews recommended a product, how likely are you to make that purchase? I’m going to guess, as the conscious consumer you are, unlikely. 

This statistic comes from several studies that follow the efficacy of dieting 6 months-5 years following diet cessation.

Research finds that the majority of dieters regain the weight they lost (and sometimes significantly more) within 5 years. Putting this into context, when you are seeing transformation pictures on social media remember that you are seeing a small snapshot in time, never the whole picture. 

If you haven’t already, make sure you check out my article on social media and its effect on your body image!

I know what you may be thinking. 

“But even if it only lasts short term, maybe it is still worth it?”

This is a sneaky diet culture thought that has led you to believe weight loss is still worth pursuing for short-term satisfaction. Regardless of efficacy or reliability.

Pursuing weight loss will always be up to the individual, you have full right to body autonomy and the free will to choose your own path. However, when making any informed choice it is imperative to know the risks involved. 

dieting and comparison a registered dietitians perspective and thoughts on how it effects body image

Dangers of Dieting and Comparison

Some of the risks of dieting can include:

  • Developing disordered eating behaviors/an eating disorder
  • Lower metabolic rates (as a result of undernutrition)
  • Hormonal changes
  • Menstrual disturbances and amenorrhea (loss of menstrual period)
  • Digestive issues
  • Weight cycling

Even though this is not an exhaustive list it provides us with a brief outline of some of the dangers we may run into when choosing chronic dieting.

The Takeaway

It is easy to fall into the diet comparison trap (and more difficult to pull ourselves out of it). Instead, understanding the poor efficacy, risks, and letdown that dieting will bring can help us make more informed choices.

Although words and statistics on a page carry weight it does not mean that after reading this we can easily wave the white flag in the war on our bodies and ditch dieting for good.

Give yourself compassion that it is simply not that easy and unlearning diet culture takes time and effort. And one last reminder: you deserve to live a full life, one in which you will never have to shrink yourself.

If you are looking to start your intuitive eating journey, or need more support on the journey you are already on – our Signature 1:1 Intuitive Eating Program may be for you.

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