Is it time we stopped talking about dieting and weight loss in public?

Zoya Patel 15 July 2021 26
Eating disorders

Eating disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness. Photo: File.

At a recent dinner with a group of friends, one woman told the group as she perused the menu that she had lost weight recently and was trying to stick to a specific calorie limit each day.

At the same table was someone who had suffered an eating disorder and who has been open about her experiences and the negative impact that diet talk can have on her mental health.

Watching this unfold, and feeling hyper-alert to the potential triggering impact the conversation could have on others at the table, I felt quite conflicted.

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On the one hand, I want to be supportive of friends who are setting and achieving health-related goals, of which weight loss may be one.

But on the other hand, I hate discussing weight loss and dieting with other women for a number of reasons. The first is that many women suffer from negative body image and speaking about losing weight and dieting can spark these thoughts and reinforce the notion that our value and self-worth should be dictated by our weight and appearance.

Second, I worry that congratulating friends on their weight loss will validate these same ideas and fuel unhealthy habits around restrictive eating if they are already predisposed to those attitudes.

And finally, there’s enough evidence to show that dieting and restricting calories are not sustainable ways to lose weight, so I don’t necessarily want to suggest that it’s positive or encourage that as a long-term strategy for my friend.

On the flip side, I don’t want to create a culture of hiding dieting or body image issues, and I certainly don’t want to police how my friends talk about their own bodies and health.

That said, these types of discussions might be better kept for smaller groups or private conversations, where there is the opportunity to limit the impact on people who may struggle with disordered eating and exercise, and we can engage with the issues with more nuance.

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According to the Butterfly Foundation, a charity for Australians impacted by eating disorders and body image issues, 15 per cent of Australian women will experience an eating disorder in their lifetime. That’s a significant number, and part of the challenge is that our concept of what an eating disorder is has been centred on extreme cases, without raising awareness of the more common experiences which are less visible but just as harmful. I’m talking about obsessive calorie counting, extreme exercise, restrictive dieting (such as diets focusing on cutting out entire food groups) or unsustainable eating regimes.

For people who are already engaged in unhealthy patterns of thought and behaviour around their bodies, having someone even casually refer to the calories in a certain meal or how much weight they have recently lost can be incredibly triggering and cause their existing disordered behaviour to spiral.

I’m sure I’m not alone in saying that, as a woman, your weight – whether you’ve gained or lost kilos – is often a source of unwanted attention. I’ve had friends refer to my weight casually, with comments like “You look way slimmer than usual”, or “Maybe now you’ve started running, you’ll have a more lean physique”; or the worst, “Wow, you’ve lost weight, you look so great!”

These might seem innocuous or even positive, but they plague my thoughts about how I look, and I can confidently say that I don’t have an eating disorder or disordered behaviour around exercise and diet. What’s the impact of these throwaway lines for those women who do?

Yes, bodyweight can have implications for our long term health, but that doesn’t mean ‘overweight’ automatically equates to ‘unhealthy’ because different body shapes simply function differently, and it’s really down to an individual’s health profile.

More importantly, it simply isn’t anyone else’s business what your weight is and how it impacts your health. That’s for people to discuss with their doctors, families, and others they want to confide in, when they choose to, not a topic for random commentary from anyone.

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At dinner that night, I was saved from having to say something by my brave friend who had battled an eating disorder, who calmly said, “See, people saying things like that is what kept my eating disorder alive for years – I’d prefer it if we didn’t talk about diets at dinner”. I can’t say it was received particularly positively, but I appreciate how willing this friend is to gently call out the negative weight loss chat when it happens.

Perhaps it’s time we ditched the diet talk altogether and focused instead on how we feel, not how we look.

What's Your Opinion?

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26 Responses to Is it time we stopped talking about dieting and weight loss in public?
buzz819 buzz819 5:23 am 16 Jul 21

No, we should stop being silent on matters of importance because someone might be offended.

Elisa Boughton Elisa Boughton 7:43 pm 15 Jul 21

I think we should leave diet advice to GPs, dieticians and otherwise qualified people. That way people can receive personalised, professional advice that they have actually asked for 😊

TimboinOz TimboinOz 7:32 pm 15 Jul 21

No, not at all. Obesity is a national health crisis. It should be talked about and people who need to lose weight should keep being told to do it.

Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 5:56 pm 15 Jul 21

I think we should focus on wellbeing

Kathy Franklin Kathy Franklin 3:56 pm 15 Jul 21

Yes. Society and social media is telling people that skinny is good, skinny makes you valid. Every second ad on TV is about weight loss.

To those who say "people need to grow a spine and toughen up", would you say that to someone with depression?

    Nell Feneck Nell Feneck 5:57 pm 15 Jul 21

    Kathy Franklin sadly they probably would 🤷🏾‍♀️

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 7:28 pm 15 Jul 21

    Kathy Franklin Kathy, I know the comment seems to come across that way. Overweight issues aren’t always about depression – lots of skinny people with depression too.

    I think it is about achieving the overall ‘healthy’ factor (healthy body will help with healthy mind)

    It is hard to achieve a healthy weight during depression, as both physical and mental issues are often intertwined.

    Bottom line is that a healthy weight range will save you from so many other health issues (diabetes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease etc)

    I am commenting from current personal experience and advice from GP. I need do need to lose weight and increase physical exercise as my current weight/lifestyle is unhealthy…and before the above mentioned health issues arise – but still find it so hard (having a vino as writing I’m writing this…so not getting anywhere fast :( )

    Kathy Franklin Kathy Franklin 7:56 pm 15 Jul 21

    Nada Krstin i understand as im overweight, and im all for being healthy, but i see the other side of the coin.

    These constant ads just reinforce the message that only one size is healthy, you will only be happy if your skinny etc.

    We all come in different shapes and sizes.

    I also find those who have said that people are "snowflakes" or "need to toughen up and grow a spine" it just doesn't help.

    We all need to be a little kinder to each other.

    I applaud you and wish you well on your journey to get healthy. And some days you just need a vino :-) stay safe and well

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 11:31 pm 15 Jul 21

    Kathy Franklin oh bella, same to you too!!

    Yes, the blanket comments about 'snowflakes/toughen up' etc ...only get posted by those that are ignorant, so ignore them - they will learn in their life journey eventually...

    I still believe that kindness will always prevail

    Luke Ashe Luke Ashe 7:44 am 16 Jul 21

    Have you tried going to settings ad preferences on Facebook and going through all of that?

    Might help a bit

Jackie White Jackie White 12:51 pm 15 Jul 21

Being overweight or obese greatly increases your risk of a severe outcome if you contract COVID, even with no other comorbitdities.

Let that sink in.

    Nada Krstin Nada Krstin 7:05 pm 15 Jul 21

    Jackie White yes, thank you for the wake up call, exactly what my GP told me

    I have been slack of late and allowing the weight to creep up ...which in turn does create soooo many other medical issues (covid susceptibility being the least/last of it!)

    Jackie White Jackie White 7:07 pm 15 Jul 21

    One only has to look at photos from other countries of people in ICUs with COVID to see how many are overweight.

    I think I read it was the single greatest risk, after old age .

    Joannah Leahy Joannah Leahy 8:17 pm 15 Jul 21

    Jackie White i think there actually should be more media reporting on this to double as a public health announcement as to why people shouldn't become obese (with avenues for support to lose weight).

    Jackie White Jackie White 8:26 pm 15 Jul 21

    Joannah Leahy definitely!

Shane Phoenix Shane Phoenix 12:10 pm 15 Jul 21

There needs to be better control or oversite regarding these quick fix diets and fads. But nothing wrong with discussion regarding healthy diets and exercise if the information is factual and not deceptive

Shane Phoenix Shane Phoenix 12:07 pm 15 Jul 21

Except when how you look directly relates to how healthy you are. No we shouldn't put unhealthy diets under the rug because people get offended.

I'm not saying fat shaming is OK. But erasing any discussion about healthy eating isn't the answer

Karen Hedley Karen Hedley 11:38 am 15 Jul 21

People need to realise that it's psychological in many cases. People can't just change overnight without support and understanding from a psychological side.

M.J. Leonard M.J. Leonard 10:45 am 15 Jul 21

Sounds like a hoot of a dinner.

yrgna nagev yrgna nagev 10:19 am 15 Jul 21

We should stop talking about weight loss and instead talking about gaining back our health and helping people to gain back health by switching to whole food diets, reducing highly processed food like substances because obesity is a precursor to inflammation which is responsible for disease. 80% of the Covid deaths in the USA were obese people. Lets change the conversation to ‘Claim back my Health’ so that Australia can ride out the next pandemic like a roller coaster

Tracy Robinson Tracy Robinson 10:02 am 15 Jul 21

No. Don’t stop discussing anything. Everything is becoming more and more taboo in fear of upsetting someone.

We should discuss everything. Sweeping things under the rug isn’t healthy nor helping anyone.

Kate Myers Kate Myers 9:44 am 15 Jul 21

No... obesity causes more problems than anorexia.

People need to build a stronger spine.

Unless you're a doctor Zoya maybe do a little bit more research as to why most Australians NEED to lose weight

rsm1105 rsm1105 9:24 am 15 Jul 21

“So the researchers divided the patients into four age ranges: 20-39, 40-59, 60-79, and over 80. They found that in the two younger groups – including adults up to age 60 – being obese was associated with nearly ALL the risk that Covid would lead to intensive care or death. The findings held even after they adjusted for many different potential confounding factors, like smoking, non-weight-related illnesses, and wealth.”

” In fact, the findings suggest that for people under 60, weight loss would be the single best way to reduce the risk of Covid – probably even more than a vaccine (and with no side effects).”

rsm1105 rsm1105 9:21 am 15 Jul 21

For under 60s what’s the biggest risk factor relating to covid?

Please just stop.

Acton Acton 9:00 am 15 Jul 21

A pandemic rages around the world. China is threatening to invade Taiwan. The Taliban is on the rise. But discussing first world problems of body shapes and dieting occupies detached minds around a well stacked dinner table.

Avril Pounds Avril Pounds 7:33 am 15 Jul 21

Never going to happen when there's a celebrity weight loss story on the front of every magazine.

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