Are fad diets leading to eating disorders?

A growing number of women over 30, 40 and beyond are quietly giving themselves eating disorders and psychologists are worried. In 18 years specialising in “body dissatisfaction” psychology, clinical psychologist Louise Adams has never seen as many women of all ages with food issues; food anxiety is at epidemic proportions, thanks to the ubiquitous influence of Big Diet.

Sadly, healthy women’s dissatisfaction with their bodies is “rampant” and more women are getting later-onset eating disorders after cycling in and out of diets that have destroyed their natural eating.

From what Adams sees, “no one likes their body, everybody is feeling guilty about the food they’re eating and the exercise they’re not doing and we have an explosion of eating disorders”.

In the 10 years from 2005, troubled eating issues doubled.

“People are dieting really strictly at younger ages, it’s a really worrying time — people’s psychological health is really deteriorating in this area,” she says.

Despite strong evidence diets don’t work and usually result in weight lost on every kind of strict regimen not just coming back within a couple of years, but usually returning with extra, Adams says a million Australians now meet the definition of having an eating disorder from being on them. More and more people “dislike the look of their bodies” partly because even thin is no longer enough, thanks to the “fitspo” (fitness inspiration) trend.

Slogans such as “strong is the new skinny” also make people feel insecure and think “there’s something wrong with their body”.

“The obsession with clean eating, the fear of fat and the obsession with ‘health and fitness’ are coming together, ” Adams says. Ironically, diet-industry marketing messages, such as eating low-fat or “lite” will help, were found last month to be turning people away from healthy foods.

A panel of global dietary experts reported low-fat and lite food were generally full of sugar — “diet” food is undermining us.

Adams cites study data that suggests dieting has a 95 per cent failure rate.

Doesn’t it make you feel as if you should have eaten the damn cake to hear “dieting is the best way to put on weight in the long term”?

“Bodies tend to become better at holding on to food, slowing down the metabolism and increasing the amount of calories extracted from foods eaten,” Adams says.

Happily, one solution lies in being kind to yourself about food and learning to listen and respond to what your body needs.

“Mindful eating”, where you learn to take cues from your body rather than follow external rules, is a gentle way to manage food intake. When eating “mindfully”, you learn to recognise when you’re hungry and when you’ve had enough and trust yourself to eat what you feel you need. To read more click here.