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From Dieter to Diet Survivor

by Judith Matz, LCSW

Just as the month of January brings the typical frenzy of diet ads that bombard us from the airwaves, magazine covers, and the Internet, there has also been a report making its rounds in the media that claims fewer women are dieting this year. According to research by NPD, a global information company that tracks Americans’ dieting habits, 23 percent of women said they were dieting today as compared to 34% in 1992.[1]

I’d like to think this is good news given the dismal failure rate of diets and the potential harm caused by dieting, including: weight cycling that often leads to higher than pre-diet weights[2], higher risk for health problems such as cardiovascular disease compared to non-dieting counterparts[3], higher risk of eating disorders, depression and shame.[4] However, I can’t find any criteria contained in their press release to define dieting; this is essential if we’re really going to get accurate information about trends. There may be a growing collective consciousness that diets don’t work, but that doesn’t mean people have stopped practicing behaviors that they believe will promote weight loss. For example, I frequently have the following conversation:

New acquaintance (NA): So, what kind of work do you do?
Me: I’m a therapist who specializes in eating and weight struggles.
NA: You must be really busy. There are so many people who need to lose weight.
Me: Well actually, I take a different approach. I help people to stop dieting and to feel stronger in the body that they have.
NA: Oh, I know. You shouldn’t diet. You just have to eat healthy and then you’ll lose weight.

Now let me be clear: I have nothing against choosing healthful foods! But for so many people, “eating healthy” or having a “healthy lifestyle,” is code for the pursuit of weight loss without using the “D” word. Diet companies are certainly aware of this shift and have changed their marketing. A visit to the Weight Watcher’s website states: “Weight watchers works because it’s not a diet. You’ll learn how to eat right and live healthy. You can choose between two convenient options and learn how to lose weight and keep it off.”[5]

Here is my definition of dieting: Any time food is manipulated for the purpose of weight loss, it is a diet.

It’s important to acknowledge how difficult it is to break the diet mentality given the fat-phobic culture we live in. Sometimes it operates at such a subtle level that people aren’t even aware it’s there. For example, one of my clients became adept at eating when she was physically hungry and eating foods that felt like a good match to her. But she kept finding herself eating well past fullness, and she ended up feeling physically uncomfortable. As we explored her situation, she realized that at some level, she was telling herself it would be better to stop before she felt full because she believed it would lead to weight loss. The minute she had that thought, she felt deprived, which then compelled her to eat more than she needed!  Once she became aware of her subconscious diet mentality—and reminded herself that she deserved to eat as she much as she needed to feel comfortable—she was able to listen more accurately to her cues for fullness.

As challenging as it can be, it’s worth the effort to move from a diet mentality to attuned eating (also known as intuitive eating), in which you honor you body’s internal cues for hunger at satiation as you decide when, what and how much to eat. Here are some of the wonderful shifts that take place as people truly let go of dieting behaviors:

diet v attuned

No matter how much any of us embrace the Health At Every Size® approach, it’s hard not to feel the diet fervor in these first weeks of the New Year. When I was invited to write this guest blog, one of the questions posed to me was how I deal with the all of the diet and body rhetoric at this time of year. My simple answer is that I tune it out. I don’t watch much TV or read the women’s magazines, and I don’t read blogs or visit websites that promote dieting. Because I work in my own private practice, I’m not subject to the diet conversation that often happens in the workplace. I also try to put something out in the world each January that will be an antidote to the weight loss madness; this year I wrote a press release entitled, Body Confidence is the New Weight Loss Resolution.

I decided to ask the women in my Diet Survivors Group℠ how they cope with all of the diet ads and conversations during January. I expected them to reveal some of the vulnerability typical for ex-dieters during this season, but I was pleasantly surprised:

M: “I feel sorry for people who buy into those ads.”
L: “Those ads are stupid. Doesn’t everyone now by now that just about everyone will gain back the weight?”
R: “I’m not interested so I don’t pay attention.”
J: “I look at it like any advertisement – just a product they’re trying to sell.”

Then, just yesterday, a former client sent me an email after receiving our Diet Survivors Group winter newsletter:

“I hear your voice in my head regularly. I recently had a mini-binge and realized it was because everyone around me was going on a diet. I remembered one of our sessions where this happened last year. That conversation we had came back to me and I am now tuning out and avoiding all of these conversations. And I am so happy that I will never go on a diet again!”

It’s always a thrill to hear that someone has quit dieting. If this truly is a trend, I’m pleased to know that real change is occurring. At the same time, according to the NPD study, almost one in four women still diets today. Unfortunately, that’s still too many.

[1] The NPD Group reports dieting is at an all time low-Dieting Season has begun, but it’s not what it used to be! [Online]. The NPD Group. Available: [2013, January 7].

[2] Gaesser, G. (2002). Big fat lies: The truth about your weight and your health. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze Books, p. 144.

[3] Ibid. pp. 144-150.

[4] Matz, J. and Frankel, E. (2006). The diet survivor’s handbook: 60 lessons in eating, acceptance and self-care. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, pp. 13-19

[5] Expect Amazing. [Online]. Weight Available: [2013, January 17].


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