29 May 2024

Society's obsession with weight-loss diets not healthy, says UOW expert

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Woman in white dress.

Dietician and nutritionist Melissa Eaton says society’s obsession with diets is not helpful to overall good health. Photo: UOW.

Healthy eating habits are better for a person’s overall health than just focusing on the latest diet to lose weight, according to a University of Wollongong nutritionist.

Melissa Eaton said society’s relentless focus on weight loss often perpetuated harmful body ideals and fostered a culture where individuals felt pressured to prioritise thinness over holistic well-being.

“We live in a society that glorifies dieting; even the healthcare system is very focused on weight and weight loss. It’s just not as simple or black and white as lose weight and then you’ll improve your health,” she said.

“Social media is rife with misinformation and blanket, one-size-fits-all diet advice. There are personal trainers and fitness coaches promoting weight-loss plans.

“It’s a conversation that we’re surrounded by all the time and it’s not helpful.”

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Ms Eaton recently published a paper in Appetite journal, which found that a focus on healthful eating behaviours was significantly related to a broad range of positive health outcomes.

The nutrition and dietetics PhD candidate said the paper, A systematic review of observational studies exploring the relationship between health and non-weight-centric eating behaviours, reviewed more than 86 existing pieces of research including about 95,000 individuals, and came out in favour of eating behaviours that don’t centre around body weight.

“I’ve undertaken a systematic review of the research that has been published about eating behaviours that don’t focus on a person’s weight or weight loss,” Ms Eaton said.

“I identified three key eating behaviours – intuitive eating, mindful eating and eating competence – that do not focus on body weight or weight loss as a goal.

“This way of eating was related to a broad range of positive health outcomes, including mental health and wellbeing, and health promoting behaviours.”

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The research found that higher levels of those three key eating behaviours were significantly related to a lower body mass index (BMI), better diet quality and greater physical activity.

Ms Eaton said the relationship between health and weight was complex.

“Larger bodied people likely experience more pressure to lose weight and go on a restrictive diet, and if somebody is limiting food, that is in contradiction with these eating behaviours – pressuring someone into restricting their food is likely to be counterproductive to their health in the long run,” she said.

“Simply shifting to a health-first or health-centric approach, rather than a weight-centric approach can have positive outcomes for people.

“Taking the focus away from weight and instead working towards a health goal like eating more fruits and vegetables, or lowering cholesterol can be more productive than setting a goal of losing weight.”

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