Do You Have a Defective Body or Just a Defective Diet?

By Jean Antonello, RN, BSN, obesity and eating disorders specialist and author of The Great Big Diet Lie, How to Become Naturally Thin® by Eating More, Breaking Out of Food Jail and Naturally Thin® Kids,

If you’re on a typical diet to lose weight, your body is working hard to adapt to the limited food supply you are providing. There are five ways your body adapts to your under eating:

  1. appetite increases, at least intermittently, to promote make-up eating
  2. metabolism decreases to conserve calories to protect from starvation
  3. cravings for sweets and high fat foods to promote fat storage
  4. preoccupation with food to insure eating as a survival priority
  5. avoidance of exercise to conserve calories to protect from starvation

Since people with these symptoms don’t understand what’s happening, they usually interpret these adaptations as evidence that they have defective bodies. They don’t understand why their appetites are so big, or why they crave rich, nutrient-poor foods, or why they often feel cold and unmotivated, or why they obsess about food all say long. Some people just figure they have a bad body—one that’s determined to make them fat or keep them fat for no good reason. Others learn that there’s something wrong with their psyches to explain their symptoms. Neither group has any idea of their bodies’ real struggles or the part they themselves play in causing these symptoms.

These five symptoms are not built-in defects but the body’s mechanisms for getting the fat it needs. Did you notice that these five adaptive responses perfectly parallel some classic symptoms of eating disorders? It’s no coincidence.

Self-Check for Signs You Have a Defective Diet

___ 1. My hands and feet are often cold.
___ 2. I feel chilled when others are comfortable.
___ 3. Although I eat less than others, I gain weight easily.
___ 4. The only way to maintain my weight is to carefully restrict my food intake.
___ 5. Once I let up even a little on my willpower, I usually overeat.
___ 6. I avoid situations where food is free and abundant.
___ 7. Nights are the worst for me—I lose control then.
___ 8. My body’s “full” and/or “hungry” signals are out of order.
___ 9. I often overeat when I eat out.
___ 10. I buy sweets for others but eat them myself.
___ 11. My sweet tooth is famous.
___ 12. I have an intimate relationship with chocolate (or chips, or ice cream, etc.).
___ 13. I can eat low-fat foods just so long, and then I go berserk on fatty foods.
___ 14. At times it’s hard to concentrate—to get food off my mind.
___ 15. No one would ever know, but I think about food almost all day long.
___ 16. I hate food—it haunts me.
___ 17. Even going for a walk feels like too much at times.
___ 18. My motivation seems to have deteriorated.
___ 19. I hate sports/exercises that I once enjoyed.
___ 20. Exercise is never fun anymore, it’s work.

Dieters with moderately disturbed eating patterns often gain weight under the influence of the five adaptive responses. As a matter of fact, the diet industry is established and maintained for the purpose of helping people overcome weight problems, which result from these responses—by teaching under eating techniques. But, these symptoms are caused by under eating! So diet companies have more prospective customers now than ever before because they are promoting the problem they are promising to fix. Dieters lose weight and gain it back in a cyclic pattern because of these facts, and many gradually gain back more weight than they are able to diet off. By the time they are in their late thirties or early forties, these double-decade diet veterans are not only battle-weary, they are usually also heavier than ever.

If under eating (traditional eat-less dieting) is the environmental stress that provokes adaptive weight gain, the logical way to eliminate this need for extra fat, and the body’s adaptive responses that produce it, is to eliminate under eating. This means that we have to learn to stop going hungry. We have to stop trying to limit our eating and start learning to eat. Ironically, this is very difficult for people with eating fears, which includes almost all dieters everywhere.

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