Stories about weight loss are too good to be true

By Body Image Staff

This week I saw a story on CNN way down at the bottom of their webpage. It was titled “Intermittent fasting and a new passion helped him lose 95 pounds.” After a day it was at the middle of the page. By day two it was top story beating out all the political nonsense of the day. The promise of magical transformations in body, mind and spirit from weight loss is society’s siren song. And that’s terrifying.

Here’s the truth – most people who go on diets, no matter what diet it is, will lose some weight. You can go on a Twinkie diet and lose weight. But what’s also true is most individuals, as much as 95%, will put the weight back on plus more. In addition, their health will worsen, self-esteem shatter, and mental health plummet. And directly related to the work we do at The Body Image Therapy Center, those who choose extreme diet strategies such as intermittent fasting, are up to 18 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than the general population. Of note, eating disorders are the deadliest of all mental illnesses. Dieting, in my mind, is like playing Russian Roulette.

I’m not a dietitian, and don’t want to get into the specifics of intermittent fasting. But let’s dig into the article a little bit regarding food behaviors in general. Jared Sklar, the gentlemen the article is about, was not eating in a way that left him feeling good physically or mentally. He was also not exercising. In addition, his work dominated his life. These are all things that a person can improve. Great idea! Good thing to write about too!

Jared starts exercising and finds additional motivation by having his girlfriend join him. Good start. He wants to “fuel his body to bring up his energy levels.” Also good! But then his thinking and behaviors get really funky. He decided that changing his diet to better fuel his body would take too long and would not be “sustainable,” and instead decided restricting the hours he’s “allowed to eat” from noon to 8 p.m. is more reasonable. Did he really think about “fueling his body?” It sounds like he wanted to lose weight, that’s it. He even says it in the article, “I like time restricted feeding because it allows you to naturally reduce your food intake without counting calories.” Does this sound like fuel? What happens when you’re hungry and your body is saying “feed me?” That’s why we have hunger signals! Having a pizza to him now is “cheating,” as is eating anytime outside of his restriction schedule. Not normal! And in fact is right in line with the thinking and language used by our patients diagnosed with eating disorders.

Sadly, a completely mis-informed dietitian and contributor to CNN made comments supporting his restriction plan, making it sound not only eminently easy but safe too. Made me wonder if she wrote a book on intermittent fasting and was trying sell a few copies.

What I do like about the article is that both Jared and his girlfriend were much more mindful about exercise. They found what one of them likes is not a fit for the other. Jared really enjoyed cycling while she enjoyed high-intensity interval training. Do what you love and makes you feel good. I can get behind that, as long as it’s not compulsive!

Throughout the article, disordered thinking about food, exercise, health, weight, and relationships are normalized. Jared lost weight, so he is championed by the readers, his story is pushed higher up the relevance scale on CNN’s website to generate more advertising dollars, and more folks line up to try yet another diet and step closer to ill health both physically and mentally.

Next time you see an article like this, ask some important questions:

  • Did this person do something that promotes sustained physical and mental health?
  • What evidence was used to support this?
  • Are there any warnings of potential negative outcomes from doing what is described in the article?
  • Does it seem like they’re selling a magical solution?
  • Is there a follow-up to the story where perhaps the person didn’t sustain the miracle transformation?

Remember, these stories of weight loss and happiness are too good to be true. If they weren’t, the weight loss industry would already be out of business.