Aamodt quote
Diets That Work!” — the cover of US Weekly informs us. You can “shed weight fast” “WITHOUT STARVING,” the magazine promises. It’s amazing that, in 2019, dieting is still being promoted as a way to find body acceptance and true health. And yet, when we look at a celebrity who is “slim,” “cut,” and “toned,” with smooth skin, very low body fat, and “perfect” teeth, we have a mental imprint of “health.” Of course, who benefits? from women (and it is mostly women to whom this is addressed) who seek to change their bodies to maintain these images? The industries and corporations that promote diets, workouts, special foods, books (yes, even book sales :-(), movies and TV, sports, cosmetic surgery, “esthetic” treatments, and the list goes on. 
Traditional knowledge from yoga speaks of leading us “from the unreal to the real.” When it comes to our relationship to food and dieting, there’s a whole lot of “unreal” going on, as US Weekly demonstrates. Let’s shift gears here, and investigate some “real.”

Dr. Sandra Aamodt shares in the quote above from her brilliant book Why Diets Make Us Fat, diets are dangerous because they convince us that we must override our hunger response. This override can “impair [our] ability to recognize hunger.” So many suffer from eating disorders triggered by this kind of thinking and habituated response. She also convincingly argues that dieting eventually fails, as it depends on willpower. Our willpower is limited, we yo-yo diet and torture ourselves, and more damage than good results. Her review of the scientific evidence reveals that each of us has a “defended weight” that we can maintain, which encompasses our natural and intuitive hunger cues and responses, and does not drive us to suppress our starvation avoidance mechanisms. For many, that defended weight will be higher than the images in the magazines. However, we CAN find a healthy weight, discover body acceptance and positivity, and we CAN stop the endless struggling. 

The health claims being bandied about for the need to “lose weight” in order to be healthy must be questioned in light of science and real outcomes. Read on to find out what factors might actually support your health — 

four healthy habits

As Dr. Aamodt discusses in her Ted Talk, a study shows that maintaining four healthy habits can reduce the risk of death over a 14 year period: 

Now, check out this graph. This graph from a study of healthy lifestyle habits shows that risk of death over a 14- year period is reduced at ALL WEIGHTS (see the height of the bar at “4” in each group), through adoption of the four healthy habits. Yes, even people labeled “obese” (we’ll save the myth of the BMI for another time) can have the same reduction in risk of death as so-called normal weight people when those four habits are adopted. There’s nowhere in those four habits that talks about special diets – the only aspects that relate to food are alcohol consumption and “plenty of fruits and vegetables.”

healthy habits and weight

Table from Eric M. Matheson et al., “Healthy lifestyle habits and mortality in overweight and obese individuals”, Journal of the American Board of Family Medicine, January/February 2012

From the standpoint of “what is real,” we see that exercise has a strong role in maintaining health and avoiding premature death. Yoga and other types of fitness can be the bedrock of a plan to cover these four areas. Where yoga and fitness differ, is that yoga has been shown, in hundreds of studies,* to provide physical fitness benefits, but also provide stress release, lower anxiety and depression, and help with sleep — the very factors that can lead to emotional eating that is disconnected from our natural hunger cues. AND, the big add-on is the mindfulness and awareness that generates from yoga and mindfulness practices — the techniques that allow us to dismantle habitual and addictive thinking and behavioral patterns.

If this information intrigues you and you want to find out more, look for our next Mindful Eating workshop. Together, we can take steps and move from the unreal to the real, and be healthier with each forward step.

*See https://www.jenreviews.com/yoga/