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Questions and Answers

Is dieting harmful?

Author: Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore


Dieting happens when we regulate and control what we are consuming; dieting can revolve around the frequency and amount of eating, as well as the types of food and drink we consume. Many people choose to go on diets due to appearance-related reasons, such as eliminating body fat or changing specific aspects of their body and how they show up physically. Restricting entire food groups and lowering our caloric intake can be very dangerous. Choosing to omit certain foods or groups of foods due to religious or ethical reasons is not the same as omitting them for the sole purpose of losing weight or changing one's body shape.

Eating a wide variety of foods is important to our health and still gives us lots of opportunities to make room for making healthy lifestyle changes if that is the goal we are after. Dieting is the number one predictive risk factor for developing an eating disorder and is not sustainable, meaning diets are almost guaranteed to backfire and fail over the long term. When we limit what we consume and have rigid rules around nourishing our body, we are ignoring our intuition about food and not being mindful of what our body needs in order to function at its best. When we follow a set of rules that are meant to be a one-size-fits-all solution, we often lose the ability to trust and listen to what our body needs over time.

When diets backfire, there can be negative thoughts and uncomfortable feelings. We may see ourselves as a failure, judge ourselves harshly, restrict and omit foods even more, continue trying diets that don't work, or even end up with an eating disorder or eating disorder behaviors. When we gain and lose weight, over and over, it causes damage to our health and self-esteem. It can contribute to more negative and self-limiting beliefs and keep us stuck in a cycle of using dieting to cope with a negative body image.

The good news is that we do have control over this matter and can avoid dieting. We can learn how to listen to and honor our body's nutritional needs and recognize that people have different dietary needs. When the focus is placed on nourishing ourselves and giving our body the nutrients it needs in order to function at its best, we take away some of the power of dieting. We can shift the goal from changing our appearance to asking questions about what our body needs in order to feel well and function properly. When we are mindful of this, it can also lead to more self-acceptance and compassion because we are taking care of ourselves. Instead of rigidity and restriction, our focus is more aligned with nourishment and care, which naturally shifts the way we look at food and dieting.


About the author

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Jessie's Legacy, a program of Family Services of the North Shore provides web-based eating disorders prevention resources to support BC youth, families, educators and professionals. Visit us at


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