Thursday, May 7, 2009

Diet is "die" with a "t"

The phone rang shortly after dinner on Monday night. A friend was calling to wish us a happy Star Wars Day and to share the blessings of the force with us. I had no idea the May 4th was Star Wars Day prior to his call.

In the same vein, I wasn’t aware that May 6th was International No Diet Day until I saw it mentioned on a poster at the public library. Author and psychotherapist Esther Kane was scheduled to read and discuss a chapter from her book “It’s Not About the Food: A Woman’s Guide to Making Peace with Food and Our Bodies.” As dieting is food-related, I figured I’d attend and see if I could gather fuel for the blog. I’m glad I went.

In honour of INDD Esther chose to read the chapter titled “Why Diets Don’t Work”. While much of her work focuses on helping people with eating disorders - Esther herself has recovered from disordered eating - the information she shared would be useful to anyone. In fact, after listening to Esther I realized I have had moments that bordered on disordered eating. I was staggered.

Though I’ve never binged, purged, starved myself or been a yo-yo dieter, (I’ve only been on one diet. I joined Weight Watchers last year after a serious finger wagging from my physician.) I have had times when I feel that I fixate on healthy eating. This can be a type of disordered eating called “orthorexia nervosa”. Fortunately my bouts of healthy-food hyper-awareness (usually right after a finger-wagging episode) have been brief, and I’ve never become obsessive. Others aren’t so lucky. When taken to extreme, excessive focus on eating healthy foods “can overtake one's life and can turn into a habit that is decidedly not healthy.” People with this condition can be overly zealous, rigid and self-righteous in their adherence to a healthy diet. Often this leads to isolation as they can no longer dine “correctly” with family and friends. Self-criticism and self-loathing when they eat “incorrect” foods are also common. Extreme cases can lead to malnutrition and death. My episodes of healthy-food fixation were minor in comparison. I consider them to be a part of finding balance in my diet, yet I’m glad I now know that such moments may lead to more serious problems.

In her reading, Esther also shared some frightening dieting statistics. The one that haunts me is the fact that “50% of young girls in Canada begin dieting before age nine.” I’m still having trouble getting my head around that. I know North Americans have all kinds of issues with food and dieting, but I had no idea that these issues were so pervasive. Children dieting! We're scarier than I thought.

To a lesser extent, I was also surprised to learn that, 9 times out of 10, dieting leads to disordered eating. That is probably because I have always equated “eating disorder” with anorexia and bulimia. Now that I understand that yo-yo dieting is also a type of eating disorder that statistic makes sense.

I know it sounds like the whole reading was doom and gloom. It wasn’t. Esther’s talk included helpful exercises from her book. Mind you, my pie chart was a bit heavy on the pie. We were supposed to draw a circle and segment off how much of our day was spent thinking about food, weight and appearance. Considering I had spent my day doing groundwork for future blog articles, catching up on my food-blog reading, organizing my grocery list, getting groceries and preparing meals, my chart was pretty much all food! Rather embarrassing, but funny too.

Ultimately, Esther wants us to make peace with food and our bodies. (It says so on the cover of her book.) Last night she reminded us that food is not something to be afraid of. Food is nourishing and comforting. It is about community and sharing. When we diet, the only people who profit are those in the diet industry. (As an aside, I ended my Weight Watchers membership last week. They’ve already started sending me letters telling me why I need to come back. I now wonder who really needs whom.) She’s also confident that if we use our common sense, access our inner wisdom and practice being kind to ourselves things will get easier. With chapters about mindful eating, relaxation, meditation, and transforming self-hatred into self-love, I’m certain that readers will discover the tools they need to find balance within themselves and with food. I can’t wait to read the rest of the book.


  1. Thanks Laurie for writing such an eloquent blog post about my talk at the library. It was a delightful evening indeed and great discussion took place after the reading.

    Yes, the statistics are alarming and this is why I do the work that I do- it's a very serious issue that seems to be increasing steadily both among women and men.

    After my talk, I read your blog with great delight and much relish (couldn't resist the food metaphor!)

    And to any of you out there interested in learning more about Orthorexia, check out my recent interview in Homemaker's:

    I was also interviewed for the Globe and Mail yesterday on the same topic so look out for that in days to come.

    Keep up the great work Laurie and to everyone else: try growing your own food- it really is worth it. My garden has just been planted and we wait with childlike anticipation for the results.

    Big hugs to you and yours,

    Esther Kane

  2. Thanks for your kind words Esther. Food metaphors are always welcome here.

    I read the Homemaker's article with great interest. I'm glad you are getting the opportunity to further educate people about disordered eating. I think it's important that people know that there's more to eating disorders than bulimia and anorexia. Educating the public is the only way to ensure that everyone who needs help gets it.


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