February 4, 2016

The Problems with the Paleo Diet (and Dieting in General).


The Tragedy of Dieting

Most diets will fail you. It is hard to get clear statistics, but it generally believed that around 95% of people on diets will not be able to sustain the diets for very long and many will gain back even more weight than when they begin dieting. A 95% failure rate is a depressing statistic, especially after all of the effort, denial, and thought you put into dieting in the first place. Dieting can sometimes read like a tragedy, beginning with deprivation and ending with weight gain.

As a Houston therapist that works with people struggling with disordered eating and body image issues, I hear a lot of diet stories. I have one client, Danielle who told me about her mom taking her to the weight loss clinic at age 10. Danielle was the only child of a single mother, so she spent a lot of time with older women. Women who were always on this diet or that. Danielle was also a people pleaser. When her mom dieted, she wanted to support her, and make her mom happy, so Danielle dieted as well. The message imparted to Danielle from her mom and from society was very clear. Thin is good, anything else is unacceptable.

From Diet to Disordered Eating

In this scenario, food quickly became viewed as a problem. Food was something you abstained from. Your ability to abstain earned you status as attractive and disciplined. For a people pleaser, this need for positive feedback about her body became an addictive need.

But for Danielle, there was an inner struggle. Food was bad, the forbidden fruit, but it also provided her comfort. Mom worked hard and was often absent from the home. At those times, Danielle would snack constantly. The snacking distracted her from her loneliness and provided a kind of comfort. She would put on weight, and then regret the results and start a new diet. She was on a roller coaster of gaining and losing weight that she found very difficult to control. I think you can connect the dots here and see how this cycle ultimately led Danielle to a more dangerous struggle with bulimia that eventually brought her in to see me.

Debunking the Paleo Diet

One of the diets that many clients like Danielle used in their quest to lose weight is the Paleolithic  diet. The Paleo diet is a diet based solely on foods that are similar to those that were available to our early paleolithic human ancestors. This includes lean meats, fish, vegetables and eggs. It excludes dairy, legumes, grains, sugar, alcohol or coffee.

If you want to learn more about debunking the supposed scientific basis for the Paleo diet, I recommend this Ted Talk by Christina Warinner.

There are some positive aspects to the diet; however, like most diets, it does not allow for the broad range of nutritional choices that are best for our bodies. And it superimposes some narrow criteria for what is okay. Most of my clients already struggle with a very black and white way of looking at food as either good or bad. Conversely, they look at themselves as either good or bad depending on what they eat. In my work with clients, I instead spend a lot of time talking about intuitive and mindful eating. Moderation is almost always the best and most sustainable approach to good nutrition. Moderation in eating reads more like a romantic comedy, beginning with real need and ending in warm satisfaction. Avoid the dieting. Avoid the tragedy.

To read more about mindful eating, check out some of my previous blog posts here and here.

If you are struggling with the pain in your life,  professional counseling can help. You can call our Houston therapist at 713 - 591 -3612, or visit the Wilson Counseling website at www.wilsoncounseling.org  to find out more.

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