Last night I watched a replay of a well regarded Australian current affairs program (Four Corners), which presented an ‘expose’ on the booming (in)fertility industry in my home country. This is an area close to my heart and a scientific field in which I worked for close to a decade. The industry was painted as one that preys on those who can’t conceive, an industry that milks couples for all they’re worth and deceitfully fails to provide patients with adequate knowledge of the likelihood of success.
It is an industry, apparently, that is based on and makes their money from, failure. That is, the clinics count on your repeat business (ie. failure to become pregnant) and provide countless expensive add-on treatment options, in their relentless materialistic endeavours. I am not saying that elements of the program were not true or false but it did make me reflect on the motivations of people I worked with in the industry (who genuinely want to help people have a family I might add) but also on the parallels with another industry I’m familiar with, the diet or weight-loss industry.
For the weight-loss industry too, success is somewhat based on the clients failing. Think about it: they rely on your repeat business. Their business needs you to keep coming back and to buy their add-on products (eg. supplements, pre-prepared meals, water bottles, mantra bands, tote bags!). They need you to want to lose weight and then to keep coming back again when you’ve put it back on!
Dieting by definition, is to restrict intake or nutritional groups of food for the purpose of losing weight. And there are countless commercially available programs which will happily take your money for the 4 weeks, 30 days, 8 weeks or however long the program lasts for, while you ‘lose weight’. But then what? What happens over the ensuing 6 months? A year? Two years? Without the adapted behaviour, learnt strategies or evidence-based knowledge, clients are left back where they started in terms of their weight, or worse, even heavier. Assessing the value of different commercially available programs is complicated and often doesn’t account for the high drop-out rates or adequately assess the long-term efficacy of such programs. One study that did do this showed the likely best-case scenario was around 3% weight-loss 2 years after program completion, with high costs and a high likelihood of regaining most of the lost weight in the year or two after the program.
For many people, a sole focus is on a target number that society or themselves or their peers put upon them. And they have often been sold a diet on the promise of quickly losing weight, a number, over and over again. The problem is food deprivation can only be sustained for a short time and researchers suggest that developing strategies to address our anticipated feelings towards food choices is equally important.
In my work as a nutritionist it is important to focus beyond the number, to what it is the person is really seeking to achieve.
I believe the answers go well beyond a target number or a diet. It is about creating an environment where eating is enjoyable, liberating and generates positive feelings. It is about eating the foods that we like, in a way that we want to keep eating for the long term, and in a way that provides our bodies with the nutrients they need to function in the most optimal way, for our own physiology.
This is my opinion with regards to dieting. And it is reflected in how I work as a professional; helping my clients work towards their long-term ‘happy place’ and helping them develop knowledge as well as strategies (both physical and mental) to reach for this.