Q&A with Yoni Freedhoff M.D. on The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail and How to Make Yours Work
What misconception about dieting do you think causes the most damage?
The most damaging misconception about dieting is that our weights should all be “ideal” and that scales not only measure pounds, but also possess the ability to measure the presence or absence of health. It’s those messages that lead dieters to undertake wholly nonsensical approaches to weight management, and they also serve to help fuel society’s hateful weight biases.
What is Post Traumatic Dieting Disorder?
Post-traumatic dieting disorder or PTDD is the frequent consequence of years of recurrent traumatic dieting efforts. It’s a shared constellation of symptoms that often extends far beyond a dieter’s relationship with food and may include feelings of ineffectiveness, shame, hopelessness, loss of healthy body image, feeling permanently damaged, social withdrawal, and, at times, can even impact upon interpersonal relationships. Another very common symptom of PTDD is the belief that traumatic diets are required for weight management success; oftentimes folks with PTDD spend huge portions of their lives yo-yo’ing from one traumatic diet to the next. This leads to a vicious cycle of suffering, binge dieting, and feelings of inadequacy that sets people up for failure.
What is the most important factor in sustaining your weight?
The most important factor in sustaining your weight is not just tolerating, but actually liking your life and being both consistent, and, believe it or not, imperfect. Truly, your job in regard to both weight and health is to live the healthiest life that you can enjoy - in other words, to do your best. That said, it’s important to note that the best you can do over say, Christmas or a vacation, is very different than the best you can do during a plain, old, boring week, but that also doesn’t mean you shouldn’t still be thinking about things. Given our modern day Willy Wonkian food environment, not paying attention, for many, leads to easy gains, and given it’s so much easier to gain than it is to lose, remaining thoughtful, but not blindly strict, and doing so consistently, is crucial. Putting this another way - the healthiest life you can enjoy still needs to include chocolate, but that amount of chocolate needs to be the smallest amount that you need in order to be happy, and that amount changes day by day.
Why is the label of obesity misleading?
Unfortunately the label “obesity” carries with it a huge amount of societal stigma, stereotype and frankly ugly judgment whereby people who are described as “being” obese are regularly perceived and portrayed as lazy and gluttonous. Yet the presence or absence of weight really doesn’t define anyone. There are healthy people with weight to lose, and unhealthy skinny ones, and I certainly know plenty of beanpole gluttons. While there’s no doubt that medical risk rises with weight, risks are certainly not guarantees, and more importantly, weight does not and cannot be used to judge a person’s lifestyle. So if you’re ever writing about obesity, remember that a person cannot “be” labeled as obese, they can only have obesity, and that given the negative stereotypes and implications surrounding the word obesity, that distinction matters.
What is the biggest misconception you wish people could shake off about dieting?
The biggest misconception that I wish people could shake off about dieting is that suffering and sacrifice are dieting’s true determinants of success. Unfortunately, as a species, we just aren’t built to suffer in perpetuity. Consequently, weight that’s lost through suffering, through some combination of under-eating and/or over-exercising, is bound to come back.
What’s the best diet?
There really is no one “best” diet - if there were, there wouldn’t be tens of thousands of different diet books available, and weight struggles would be rare to non-existent. Ultimately a person’s “best” diet is the healthiest diet that they can enjoy, as diets that are merely tolerable, given food’s star billing as one of life’s most seminal pleasures, simply don’t last. Real life does, and frankly must, still include chocolate.
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