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Through January, it can feel as though there’s no escape from the onslaught of ads that promote weight loss and dieting.
All too often the messaging in adverts for dieting trends and techniques tells us that we should either be eating better (at best) or less (at worst), lipitor heart beat all in the name of becoming thinner.
Counselling Directory member and eating disorder specialist Julie de Rohan tells Metro.co.uk: ‘These adverts remind us relentlessly how we fail to measure up to their ideal, and tell us we have to do something about it or we’re simply unacceptable.’
Many weight loss adverts feature pictures of the so-called ‘perfect’ body type, which can lead to those who don’t fit that mould feeling ashamed.
Julie says this is just one of the ways in which weight loss adverts are blatant in their fat shaming, targeting women with the message that they are supposed to be the same size and shape.
Crucially, though, size and health are not the same thing, and believing thinness to be the most important signifier of a healthy body can cause all sorts of issues.
Julie explains that the language used in weight loss ads usually promotes an attitude to food that is outright psychologically unhealthy.
‘It’s often about getting “control” and eating in the “right” way, and food is labelled either as “good” or “bad”, as are we depending on our choices,’ she notes.
There is a very real concern that these messages will contribute to disordered approaches to body image and food.
As Rebecca Willgress from eating disorder charity Beat tells us: ‘Adverts with messages of not eating calories, diet or weight loss that are promoted by the diet and food industries are unlikely to be the sole and direct cause of an eating disorder, but they may exacerbate the problem or be a contributing factor for someone who is vulnerable to developing one or is already ill.’
Such adverts can contribute to more regimented eating behaviours or encourage people to go to unhealthy extremes in order to lose weight.
As Rebecca points out, these are signs that someone is developing or has an eating disorder.
If a person does start to develop symptoms, it is important that they seek treatment as soon as possible, ‘as this will give them the best chance of recovery,’ she continues.
While eating disorders are complex and will often be triggered by a whole range of different factors, constant reminders of unrealistic societal expectations splashed across TV and social media definitely have their part to play.
This is true even of those diets that place more emphasis on health rather than weight.
As Counselling Directory member and psychotherapist Sophie Boss explains: ‘Health has become synonymous with slim – the two are inextricably linked. And while some people would claim not to do diets for weight loss, they are unlikely to be neutral on the subject.’
Regardless of the primary aim of the diet or the dieter, sudden overhauls of our eating habits can cause us to get stuck in a cycle that starts with drastically changing our eating habits, sees us struggling to sustain the change, and ultimately leads to giving up.
‘The impact on our relationship with food can be devastating,’ says Sophie. ‘As we cycle from being ‘good’ to giving up and surrendering to the ever-growing list of forbidden foods, often we end up piling on any weight we lost.’
This in itself is cause for concern. In fact, according to Sophie, ‘the WHO have said for decades that yo-yo dieting and weight cycling are considerably worse for our health than staying at a consistent weight, even if that weight is higher than we deem acceptable’.
Tthe drive to go down several clothes sizes is all too persistent, so much so that we put our bodies and minds at risk.
Ssadly (but perhaps not shockingly), Julie says that ‘research concludes that dieting is the most important predictor of developing an eating disorder’.
‘In a major study of 14 to 15 year olds, those who dieted moderately were found to be five times more likely to develop an eating disorder,’ she says. ‘For those who dieted severely, the risk increased to 18 times more likely.’
Not only are these sorts of fad diets largely ineffective, then – ‘with at least a 95% failure rate’, according to Julie – they are also putting vulnerable people at risk of disorders that can severely impact both their physical and mental health.
Unfortunately, diets condition us to not trust our own bodies.
But, as Julie so rightly says: ‘In reality, the best thing we can do if we want a peaceful relationship with food is to reject diet culture, dismantle our diet mentality and learn to trust our bodies again.’
If you suspect you, a family member or friend has an eating disorder, contact Beat on 0808 801 0677 or at [email protected], for information and advice on the best way to get appropriate treatment
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