May 6 is International No Diet Day. It is an annual celebration of healthy eating and living and body shape diversity. It is also an opportunity to raise awareness of body size discrimination and the harm that can be caused through dieting.
International No Diet Day
International No Diet Day was founded by Mary Evans Young, in the United Kingdom, in 1992. Mary experienced an eating disorder herself, after being bullied at school for being fat. As a young adult she was concerned about the negative impact of promoting one perfect body image on the self-esteem and health of young people. After its inception, International No Diet Day quickly spread to other countries.
Body Size and Shape Acceptance
We only have to take a look in our local community to see that we all come in different shapes and sizes. And we have to take care not to judge ourselves or others based on this. Body shape and size are only two very small aspects of who we are. I believe that by appreciating our uniqueness, we can then make lifestyle choices that support health and wellbeing.
In the West, we describe shape and weight with a measuring tape and scales, and the size of our clothing. This approach categorises people as underweight, normal weight, overweight and obese. And whilst there there can be health concerns for being under weight and carrying excess body fat, individuals tend to focus on their weight and the category that they have been placed in. For some, this creates motivation to lose or gain weight to improve health, but for many it becomes and obstacle to making healthier choices. The body weight obstacle is further enhanced by the promotion of one perfect body image through traditional and social media streams, the fashion industry and the film and music industries. Over dieting and a preoccupation with body weight and image can lead to serious eating disorders and medical conditions
For thousands of years, Eastern medicine has described core body types or constitutions. Ayurveda describes three main types (or doshas): Vata, Pitta and Kapha. Ayurvedic medicine outlines lifestyle choices, including eating, exercise, sleep and meditation, to support good health for each body type. No one body type is viewed as superior. Individuals are encouraged to know their constitution and monitor their own health—to become experts on how their choices influence the strength and stability of their mind and body. I also believe that we are best-placed to be the expert of our own health and wellbeing.
Do Diets Work?
From your own experience, or your observation of others’ experiences, of weight loss dieting, whilst the diet guidelines are followed body weight decreases, but as soon as choices divert from these, often strict, guidelines body weight increases. This pattern is what produced the term yo-yo dieting. Research shows that by decreasing kilojoule (calorie) intake and raising exercise levels, weight loss is possible but often short term.
So what is the answer to maintaining a healthy body weight?
Mindful Eating Offers the Solution
Mindful eating encourages us to be present for all of the decisions we make about food. Often we make eating decisions based on habit and not mindful choices. The type of questions that I encourage include:
Am I hungry?
What do I feel like eating?
How much do I need?
Eating mindfully also requires you to understand your individual health and lifestyle needs. If you have a long history of ‘dieting’ then it is quite possible that you do not know what you ideal body weight is, or the best way of eating is for you.
How do you know if you need to put some weight on or take some off to be healthier and happier?