Weight-loss the never-ending goal that screws up your weight for good!

Bananas wrapped in measuring tape to suggest dieting 06
Bananas wrapped in measuring tape to suggest dieting

Did you know 6th of May is International no-diet day?

And did you know that dieting will screw up your chances at maintaining a regular weight? No-diet day should be 365 days a year!

As a mother of two girls I pay attention to how I talk about eating and weight. My girls are in their late teens now, but it occurred to me early on, that I could easily do some damage if I equalled eating with potential weight gain, if I became critical of people and weight, if I viewed food only from the spectrum of healthy versus unhealthy (here read more about how to talk to girls about weight). The society we live in is so nutrient obsessed and weight biased, it can make our relationship with food rather complicated. I work with fussy eaters as well as their families because it is critical to understand the parents’ relationship with food, eating and body shape.

Weight-loss the never-ending goal that screws up your weight for good!

I have never been a dieter, so when I first came to Australia 20 years ago, I was surprised by the amount of advertising that women, in particular, are subjected to when it comes to reaching that ‘ideal weight’. With weight loss as a never-ending goal we can get food delivered to our door, use powdered shakes and pop pills. The weigh loss industry is Australia is now worth around $650 million and grows 1.2% per year!

A while ago, I met with Vivian*, who has 2 girls, aged 2 and 6, and a boy aged 8. Vivian told me about her numerous attempts at dieting and how she often complains about her weight in front of her kids. Recently her older daughter agreed: “yes mummy, you are fat”. This absolutely shook her to the core.

Vivian realised she had been shaping her children’s views on weight, dieting and eating the same way her own mother had. As she put it “I have taken my children into a minefield, how do I get them out of it?”

Failing at Dieting? Not so Fast

Like Vivian do you blame yourself for having failed at dieting? Well not so fast: research shows your body and brain are going to fight against prolonged weight loss. Before you know it, you may plateau, develop significant cravings, feel hungrier, regain your weight and more[1]! 95% of people fail at dieting! When taking two groups, one non-dieting and one having done just done a diet, researchers found that the second group had double the weight gain over 2 years (than the non-dieting group). Does the diet industry take any responsibility? No! You are meant to feel the guilt and the failure all by yourself until you buy into the next diet fad!

A change of lifestyle and additional physical activity are more likely to produce long-lasting results, whilst keeping you and your family sane. To assist Vivian, I helped tweak her family eating culture and encouraged her to learn from her children.

Make changes, Ask yourself the right questions and Adjust accordingly

If you are facing a similar situation, be inspired by your children to make 6 useful changes to the way you eat, view eating and move. Ask yourself the right questions and adjust what you do so everyone in the family can benefit.

1- Observe Your Child’s Appetite and Relearn Self-Regulation…

Babies are masters of self-regulation; for instance a breastfeeding baby will let you know when it is hungry and will only take what it needs. When children are coerced, encouraged or rewarded for eating they loose their ability to self-regulate their food intake.
Questions to ask yourself are: “Do I know when I am hungry and full?” “Do I ever confuse hunger with desire?” “Does stress impact how I eat?” “Do I eat sufficient and varied meals to feel satisfied?”

2- Apply an Eating Structure for Everyone in the Family, Including You!

As your child is growing, you organise meal and snack times because “grazing” makes it very difficult to sense hunger, satiety and satisfaction. Creating structure is about having sit-down meals and snacks separated by sufficient intervals to feel hunger.
Ask yourself “Am I sitting at the table to eat?” “Am I hungry?” “Am I full?” “Why am I snacking shortly after lunch?” “Was my meal too light or incomplete?”

3- Make Eating Guilt-Free.

Children don’t feel guilty about what they eat unless we teach them to. Do not see meals as junk versus healthy, think wholefoods, conviviality and pleasure instead! Satisfy your sweet tooth during your sit-down meals to reduce temptation and overloading throughout the day.
You can ask yourself “do I feel guilty when I eat this?” “Does forbidding this food make it a lot more attractive?”

4- Copy your Child’s Slow Eating

You may have noticed your child taking what feels like forever to eat when they are learning to chew. Chewing not only enhances the pleasure of eating, but also is also associated with a lower prevalence of overweight and abdominal obesity.
Think: “Am I enjoying this bite?” “Did I just gulp this food?” “Could I just take the time I need to eat, without rushing?”

5- Be Fully Present as You Eat

Children are very much using their senses as they eat, unless we distract them. However distraction is notorious for disabling our self-regulating capacity. You can ask yourself “Am I fully present as I share this mealtime with my family?” “Am I coming to the table without my mobile phone or other screens?”

6- Be Active With Your Kids

Kids have high levels of energy and they need to spend it. As you take those trips to activities or head to the park, no need to sit around, walk, run, stay up as much as they do.
Evaluate: “what was my physical activity today?” “can I do more tomorrow?”

*Name was changed to protect privacy.


[1] Am Psychol. 2007 Apr;62(3):220-33.
Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer.
Mann T1, Tomiyama AJ, Westling E, Lew AM, Samuels B, Chatman J.
GeorgeA Bray
J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2002 May;87(5):2391-4.
Low dose leptin administration reverses effects of sustained weight-reduction on energy expenditure and circulating concentrations of thyroid hormones.
Rosenbaum M1, Murphy EM, Heymsfield SB, Matthews DE, Leibel RL.
N Engl J Med. 2002 May 23;346(21):1623-30.
Plasma ghrelin levels after diet-induced weight loss or gastric bypass surgery.
Cummings DE1, Weigle DS, Frayo RS, Breen PA, Ma MK, Dellinger EP, Purnell JQ.
Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 May;38(5):636-42. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2013.138. Epub 2013 Jul 30.
Altered gastric vagal mechanosensitivity in diet-induced obesity persists on return to normal chow and is accompanied by increased food intake.
Kentish SJ1, O’Donnell TA2, Frisby CL2, Li H1, Wittert GA1, Page AJ3.