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Helping friends caught up in diet myths?

Feeling Hunger and Fullness in Eating Disorder Recovery? | Libero Magazine 2
As you probably know, it’s really tough these days to escape diet myths. Nutrition information is everywhere and much of it is a twisted form of the truth.

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What advice do you have for helping friends who are caught up in diet myths? I have many friends with irrational beliefs about “evil” foods and while I know setting a good example of a healthy relationship with food is critical, I would love to be able to point them to a professional debunking of some of the common ones. I’d also love advice on how to help people who have been pulled into profit-machine diet companies without critical evaluation, especially things like the 21 day fix.

Dear E,

As you probably know, it’s really tough these days to escape diet myths. Nutrition information is everywhere and much of it is a twisted form of the truth. It can sometimes be really tough to help a friend who is caught up in the dieting cycle because diets sound so convincing.

Here are some of the most common dieting myths I have heard and the truth about them:

1) Eating less will help you lose weight.

diet-mythsJust about every diet teaches too many calories are bad. However, our bodies need a lot of calories just to do natural functions like breathing, blinking our eyes, circulating blood, and keeping the heart beating. It also uses a large amount of energy during the day while we’re up and about. If you eat significantly less than what your body needs, it will kick into starvation mode, slowing down the metabolism and storing much of the food that you do consume.

If you eat significantly less than what your body needs, it will kick into starvation mode, slowing down the metabolism and storing much of the food that you do consume.

2) Fat in food will make you gain weight.

The truth is, our bodies actually need fat to function properly. I like to tell people who the fat in our food does not turn into the fat on our bodies. Our body uses the energy from fat to store the fat-soluble vitamins (aka vitamins A, D, E and K). Fat also aids in proper hormone production and is used to protect our organs, while unsaturated fat reduces the risk of heart disease. Plus, we need to make sure we are eating those omega-3 essential fatty acids!

3) Carbs are bad, cut them out.

Carbohydrates, whether they are complex (whole grains) or simple (sugar), are your body’s first choice of energy. Our brains prefer carbs to any other type of nutrient to function properly. Our muscles also need carbs to keep us going during the day, as well as while exercising. Enjoy movement and exercise? A mixture of carbohydrates and protein both pre and post workout are actually going to benefit you most.

4) Diets are a sustainable, life-long way of living and being healthy.

In reality, dieting leads to an unhealthy lifestyle. 35% of occasional dieters turn into pathological dieters. 25% can then go on to develop an eating disorder. There is a reason why diets are called fad diets. They aren’t supposed to last forever. Many become trapped in the dieting cycle, finding it difficult to escape, and leading to an unhealthy relationship with food.

Now, to answer your question about how to help a loved one who is caught up in the promises from the “profit-machine diet companies.” This can get tricky because many people truly believe the diet will work. I don’t blame them; the promises are very enticing!

Here are some of my ideas:

1) Be a Role Model.

If your loved ones see you enjoying food and loving your body, it might get them thinking. Avoid fat-talking or making negative comments about food. Talk about how you try to mindfully and intuitively eat by enjoying what you’re in the mood for and trying to eat when you are hungry and stop when you are full.

2) Ask Questions.

Ask them about the diet. Why did you start it? How will you miss out on life if you follow it? Is it something that you plan on following forever? Again, this will get them thinking more about the diet. Hopefully, they will realize it might not be the best idea for a healthy lifestyle.

3) Give Advice.

If someone asks for your opinion about the diet, I would definitely tell them all about dieting myths and how diets can be harmful. However, if they do not ask for your opinion, try to not trash talk the diet too much. This could lead to the person becoming defensive. Rebel against the diet by modeling your healthy relationship with food!

4) Offer Support.

Diets can continue on to become full-blown eating disorders. Please keep this in mind when friends and family are dieting. Explain the reasons why their behaviors are concerning. They may not accept help right away, but just knowing you are there for them is important.

One of my favorite videos about dieting is by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD. She explains myths/facts of dieting by using scientific studies. This video may interest a friend or family member who has been sucked into the dieting promises.


Alex Raymond, RD, LD
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Alex Raymond, RD, LD, CEDRD is an eating disorder dietitian in private practice in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex specializes in treating individuals struggling with anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating disorder. She practices from an intuitive eating model and enjoys working with individuals to improve body image. She is a passionate Health at Every Size © advocate and anti-diet dietitian. Alex provides eating disorder nutrition counselling in College Park and Columbia, MD. Alex's College Park office is within walking distance from the University of Maryland.

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