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Why Diets Don't Work [Part II]

by: Linda Goodrich


In my last article I talked about the negative physical and mental side effects of diets. If you haven't read it yet you might want to. If you go to the library where past articles are archived, you will find it. In any case, I will summarize the previous article. It was woven from questions about the practice of dieting, and how they inevitably lead us into multiple destructive patterns of disordered eating. When we look at these patterns, we can't help but wonder why anyone would agree to become entrapped in such self-defeating practices? Is it the promise of beauty, youth, love and happiness? Is it just the distraction they offer? Is it an escape from the struggle of facing the more difficult conflicts that life presents to us all?

Women and men who struggle with the anguish of compulsive eating know full well the difficulty of dealing with underlying painful issues. It is perhaps, in the short run, so much easier and perhaps simpler to focus on the illusory promise of dieting. Ah, the beauty myth, the fountain of youth and everlasting love and happiness. These are just some of the illusions that excite us at the beginning of each new diet. And, then we have the body shaping! A more recent addition to the "change your body, change your life" philosophy. Enter the promise of eternal youth. If it wears out, replace it. Stay younger and more youthful, more agile forever. Is it no wonder we are driven to diet, body shape, and deprive ourselves in order to gain even a crumb of the promise diets offer? Even if it means giving up the very basic life-giving nurturing act of feeding ourselves? Could it be the promise of all of the above that entraps us?

The irony is that real beauty, youthfulness, and love can be reached only through an honest self-awareness and self-acceptance. The ability to be in touch with one's feelings and to communicate these openly creates a truly integrated and whole person. Then the beauty that is inherent in all of us can come shining through. It is when we try to be something we are not, when we dissemble, that there cannot be real beauty, peace of mind, love or happiness.


In a time when women have been through so many struggles to emancipate, and done the revolution of the 60's, the 70's, and now the 90's, why do we continue to suffer from low self-esteem, a sense of worthlessness, bouts of depression, dieting and disordered eating? And why are so many women burdened with the same issues? This basic sense of ill ease with our bodies and our selves seems to be epidemic, still! And furthermore why is this ill ease almost always associated with body hatred, a sense of being too fat, too big, and unacceptable as we are, and an endless pervading sense of low self-worth?

Why do we still feel that we have failed to measure up? Size and shape standards arbitrarily set by the media and fashion industries seem to lead us into a maze of searching behaviors. The search is on, let's seek perfection! In an endless attempt to become a perfect--albeit unrealistic--size and shape, women become involved with a wide range of insidious and dangerous disordered eating and body shaping practices. The more commonly accepted name for this condition, is what we call DIETING.

I would like to establish a new definition of dieting to include the following: The insidious and extremely dangerous practice of food restriction, deprivation of nurturing, and the development of compulsive exercise including the utilization of surgical and cosmetic body sculpting. In time, additional symptoms include self-induced vomiting, the abuse of diuretics and laxatives, and the taking of medically prescribed medications that speed the metabolism and/or eradicate the appetite. The following side effects present with continued use: depression, low self esteem and low self worth, feelings of being unacceptable and unworthy, hating one's body, self-deprecation, and in many cases hopelessness and suicidal ruminations. In extreme cases, we see the foregoing of career goals, the wasting of inherent skills and talents potentially utilized to increase the value of one's life, and the resultant diminution of the value of community, and the dysfunction of the family unit.

It is this progressive paralysis of female value-creation in one's family and community that is the cruelest effect of dieting. Seems too harsh, you say? I don't think so.


Starting early in life, often in pre-puberty, many young girls are put on their first diet. This is done usually by Mother, along with the help of Doctor. Routinely, many are given highly addictive and deadly amphetamines. More recently and equally as deadly, women have been given the Phen-fen combination diet pills. As time goes by, in an attempt to provide greatly needed nutrition, the young dieter will binge out of the diet, eating anything and everything within range. If nourishment is not immediately available, she will drive or walk to the nearest fast food place to replenish her desperately depleted nutritional status. This searching behavior--seeking food--can and often does end in bingeing. You know the rest: the purge behavior, more stringent dieting, compulsive exercise, self-induced vomiting, laxative and diuretic use, and more deadly "medically approved" diet pills.

Compulsive overeating and dieting (bingeing and purging) has become an accepted "normal" behavior. Similar to the misuse of abortion as a birth control method, women tend to use vomiting, laxative use, diuretics, and prescription metabolism-altering drugs (such as thyroid medications) as diets. When attempts at purging fail to reduce the weight gain, girls will build upon this pattern with further restrictive diets and more frequent and larger binges. Many times this behavior is covert and purposefully hidden from view of friends and family. Oftentimes, further purging of "unwanted pounds" takes on a new twist. With the need to reduce the weight, a new compulsive behavior takes its place: Exercise! The burgeoning gym culture has now evolved into a lifestyle imperative for most women and men. In an attempt to purge those unwanted pounds and calories, newer and more punitive methods of working it off have evolved. Just tune into a late night TV channel and see all the equipment for sale that promises "Buns of Steel" and "Washboard Abs"!

Thus the physically and mentally destructive lifestyle called Dieting takes hold on the thousands of talented, voluptuous, nurturing, caring, intelligent, creative women. Most women continue this destructive pattern for many years after an initial introduction by mothers already entangled by the pattern themselves. This early indoctrination set up by the maternal parent and/or medical practitioner assures continuance into adulthood. Children will have learned to behave in this way until or unless some life-altering event comes along to stimulate a change.

The havoc this wreaks upon the physical, emotional and mental health of young women is rapidly becoming an unrecognized epidemic whose consequences pose a serious public health concern. I have personally seen eating disorders among children at the kindergarten age!


For women to say, "No more diets!" "No more self-contempt!" "No more efforts to make myself over in his (or anyone else's) image!" is nothing short of revolutionary. If women were to challenge the established expectations set up for them, it would in fact start a major revolution unparalleled to date---perhaps more earth shattering than the sexual revolution of the 60's and the feminist revolution of the 70's! A quote from "When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies" by Jane Hirschmann, and Carol Munter gives us just a little glimpse of the enormous difficulty involved in breaking the dieting cycle.

    Body hatred is: "You wake up in the morning�go to the bathroom to shower, turn on the water and take off your nightgown. As you are about to get into the shower, you see yourself in the full-length mirror. Yuck! you say. I feel so fat. I am disgusting, I have no business leaving my house, I feel so fat, I want to die, I'm a pig, and I look gross." This "cocoon of obsessive self-hatred" is the nemesis of 90% of women all over the world.

    They say that compulsive eating is any eating done when not hungry. It is feeling out of control and afraid around food, feeling submerged to a point of depression by bingeing or dieting, spending a good deal of time ruminating and worrying about food and fatness, screening the latest diet for vital information, and feeling awful about your body.

Where do the roots of this self-hatred come from? Why do we allow ourselves to stay wrapped up in this cocoon of negative self-talk? What do we need to do to make sense of this phenomenon? Perhaps we can start to change by changing our behavior. JUST STOP. Stop dieting. Stop weighing. Stop measuring our bodies and our selves, and every bit of food that goes into our mouths. Stop hating our bodies. Stop wearing "thinning" clothes. Stop eating poisonous artificial sweeteners, diet sodas, fake fat substitutes. Stop depriving ourselves of foods we love. Stop covering up. Stop being nice, and start saying how we really feel.


For most of us learning to share feelings and feel safe with other women or men can take a long time. Letting down our masks is a scary thing for most people. After all, most of us were taught how to dissemble and not to show our feelings. We learned to guard against being transparent with others. We were shown by our parent's behavior as well as by their words.

I know my experience. I was taught to distrust people who were not of the same cultural/religious background as mine. My relatives thought that we needed to act as if we were still in the ghettos of Eastern Europe, even though we were in America. Religious freedom was a concept, not yet a reality to my family. So I grew up fearing most people who were not Jewish as I was taught. People who were not just like us. I remember one of my aunts telling me that people will seem as though they like you, but when they find out that you are Jewish, they will shun you. So keep it a secret! She never did tell me what to do instead. She just instilled fear in me--fear of people who were not Jewish. And the funny thing, I didn't feel comfortable with most of the Jewish people I met in Brooklyn, so that limited my range of friendships. Until I left home, got married, became a parent, and divorced my Jewish husband. Then I began to discover about people, and how it doesn't matter what ethnic roots people have, that is not the determining factor in whether you can trust someone or not.


You can form groups with other like-minded women and men and share the issues of weight and size acceptance, self-esteem and compulsive eating, food and eating, and learn to become honest. Along with your resolve to stop dieting--these acts can change your life.

From these dialogues can eventually emerge new sets of cultural values for the members in such groups who participate. When groups such as these meet together and share like-minded dialogue they can work through to new solutions. The potential for new sets of values to emerge and to become new lifestyle alternatives for the future exists within each unique group. When these groups can encourage real self-disclosure and self-acceptance rather than support the useless searching after old "disorder-producing" illusory icons that have no basis in reality, then women will have truly emancipated themselves. Women will have truly faced and utilized their inherent potential for creating new cultures.

When we allow ourselves to accept that diets only work to destroy our natural human potential, and when we discover the tools that can build a new consciousness, we will create a truly anti-dieting culture. Systems and practices that build new self-affirming and compassionate lifestyles will develop as groups of women free themselves from the trap of body hatred, dieting, and self-loathing.

If you like my articles and would like to give me feedback, you can reach me at goodrich@pacbell.net. I look forward to hearing from you. My next article will be entitled "Food Is Nurturing"

Until then, enjoy the journey!

You can read Linda's previous articles at the
Grand Style Women's Club

Linda Goodrich is an R.N. and a licensed Public Health Nurse. She counsels people individually and facilitates The Breakthough Workshop, a 10 week series designed to help women and men end the struggle with dieting and compulsive eating. You can email her at goodrich@pacbell.net

©1999 Linda Goodrich. Reprinted with Permission.

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