Dieting as Suffering

- POSTED ON: Feb 24, 2017


Due to my 11+ years of maintaining a large weight-loss, I consider myself to currently be a “dieting success”. 

For the past 63 years, I’ve spent lots of time thinking about, reading about, and actually participating in a great many Diets that were designed to produce weight-loss.

Every Diet that I’ve ever been on involved my ability to withstand the physical, mental, and/or emotional hardship of living with various eating restrictions.

Although we can successfully put our primary focus on the positive aspects of a particular diet, or dieting in general,  negatives still exist; and, on occasion, these thoughts will fill our minds.  

What does “suffering” mean?  Suffering is bearing, or enduring, pain or distress, which can be either physical, mental or emotional.  Pain is the feeling. Suffering is the effect the pain inflicts.

What is “dieting”?  Dieting is when a person gives their body less food than it needs to survive in the hope that it will eat itself, and thereby become smaller.  Call it a diet, call it a lifestyle change, when a person starves their body hoping that it will eat itself to achieve the result of intentional weight loss,  they are on a diet.

Most people perceive Dieting  …a restriction of one’s food intake…  to be a form of suffering, and weight-loss is considered the reward for enduring that suffering.

Successful dieting depends on the ability to make sacrifices. A sacrifice is something you give up for the sake of a better cause. 

When dieting, a person continually sacrifices by eating less-food-than-their-body-wants-and-needs-to-maintain-its-status-quo, in order to make that body’s physical size smaller, i.e. to lose weight.

When the weight-loss payoff for that sacrifice, which involves suffering, is reduced or disappears, …. people tend to fail in their efforts to restrict their food intake.

Great loves affairs have a honeymoon period and dieting is no exception.  A great many people do very well during the first two or three weeks of a diet.

It doesn’t matter how extreme the effort might be, how much restriction is involved, or how much hunger we might be facing; if the scale is moving, especially if it’s moving quickly, it’s easy to deny that we are suffering.

People who have come off the most extreme diets will often say that their restrictive diet was “great”, and that they just failed to stick with it.

But if their diet really was so great, why couldn’t they stick with it?  Why wasn’t the promise of “thin” (aka: “healthy”) enough to keep them restricting their food intake? 

In almost every case, people who are on an intense diet give it up once the scales slows down.  While the scale is regularly whispering sweet nothings in their ears, it is easy to live in denial of their actual suffering that is involved with that eating behavior.  After all, the numbers on that scale are flying down.  But eventually and inevitably, their weight loss slows down. 

This is the problem with weight loss; it simply doesn’t last forever.  It slows down because the body loses weight, physiologic changes called “metabolic adaptations” occur that are designed to protect us against what the body perceives as some sort of famine. It slows down because, as we lose weight, there’s literally less of us to burn calories. 

Weight loss also slows down because, in the diet’s early honeymoon-like days, dieters are usually more vigilant and strict.  Eventually, if the scale slows down too much, stops, or …worse…starts going back up, suddenly all of that suffering becomes too much for them to endure.  After all, why suffer if there’s no payoff?

I see a great deal of truth in what obesity specialist, Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, M.D. says in his book “The Diet Fix”.

Dr. Freedhoff says, "If you don't like the life you're living while you're losing, eventually you're going to find yourself going back to the life you were living before you lost."  Doing this will cause your body to re-gain the weight-loss.

About weighing and scale addiction, Dr. Freedhoff says that physiologically, plateaus do not exist.

He acknowledges that there are periods of time when the scale doesn’t immediately and accurately reflect a person’s fat loss; but then he says ….”Unless it’s a temporary trick of the scale, . . . if you're not losing, either you're burning fewer calories than you think; you're eating more than you think; or some combination thereof.“

He says although there's really no such thing as a “Plateau”, there IS such a thing as a "FLOOR". If you've truly stopped losing weight, there are really only two questions you need to ask yourself. 

1. Could I happily eat any less?

2. Could I happily exercise any more?

If the answer is "yes" then you can tighten things up, but If the answer to both is "no", there's nothing left for you to do.  The number of your BMI is not an issue. You’ve Arrived.  You’re There.

This is because IF you can't happily eat any less and you can't happily exercise any more -- then it's unlikely that doing this will ever become part of your permanent behavior.  If your new eating behavior is only temporary, eventually your former eating behavior will return…along with your lost weight.

Eating isn’t really only about health or weight management.  Food isn’t just fuel.  If it were, we would all swallow our calorie pills, followed by our vitamin pills, and be whatever weight we wanted, because we would easily take in more calories, or less calories, depending on what body size we wanted. 

Food really isn't ONLY about fuel or sustenance.  It also exists for pleasure; to comfort; to celebrate; to bolster; and to support. 

Some people are able to endure a great deal of suffering in order to reach a weight-goal that they greatly desire.

However, long term weight management has to somehow become more than just the entrenchment of suffering. 

Individuals who want to succeed at maintaining long-term weight loss must find some long-term method of eating that allows them to be be able to eat less food in a way, that for them, doesn’t qualify as suffering.

I’m  continually searching for that way.


NOTE:  Bumped up for new viewers. Originally posted on 2/1/2016

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Existing Comments:

On Jan 31, 2016 kitty wrote:
First - I enjoy the pictures you use especially the woman with her head in her hands. Where do you find these? It depicts the life of a woman so well. Second- I've followed you for years now and haven't noticed if you ever tried weight lifting? I find it changes my body not my weight to an acceptable size. After many years of not lifting weights I am back at the nearby planet fitness(a judgement free zone). Using the weight machines seems to be tightening up my nearly 60 year old body.

On Jan 31, 2016 Dr. Collins wrote:
             Thanks kitty. Some of these pictures, I just run across here & there, and save them in a special file for later use. Some of them, I search through Google Images to find just the one that i feel is appropriate for my text. After I've found a picture, I do the process in photoshop to crop it, change the sizing, and make it into a .jpg. I did spend several years doing minor strength-training - including "shovel gloving", but it provided me with little or no effect, and ......since I really didn't like doing it,...... wasn't a sustainable behavior for me.

On Feb 01, 2016 Kae wrote:
I like how you make your point here about being happy with your diet; it gave me a lot of thought :) I have adjusted my diet to reflect the information I gleaned from the body weight calculator you reviewed/use and I hope that it holds true because I truly am happy eating within the 1400-1500 calorie range. I'm okay with lower calorie days but have found that I really can only commit to a couple of weeks of really low calories (1200 or less for me). That said I don't know that I wouldn't be happy eating 1300 calories lol

On Mar 09, 2017 gnelson651 wrote:
I am responding a few weeks later on this subject because I have given it some careful thought. I have come to realize that my real suffering was caused by my obesity through chronic back pain, sleep apnea, gout,low HDL, colitis, ED and lack of energy. I have been dieting now for four months and have lost 26 lbs but still have 14 lbs to lose to get to my BMI. I feel so much better now that I am eating the right foods, exercising more and getting enough sleep. While I sometimes have carvings for steaks, hamburgers, cokes and other fattening foods, I reflect back to my previous unhealthy state and I am thankful that I started this journey. It has been a blessing and not a curse to have started restoring my physical, mental and spiritual health by a change in lifestyle. I will not go back to the unhealthy choices I made all those years of suffering in poor health. Thank you for your blog. I am currently on "The Simple Diet" and I took your review of this diet as one of the recommendations to pursue this particular diet.

On Mar 09, 2017 Dr. Collins wrote:
             gnelson, thank you for your comment. I'm happy to hear that your current diet is working for you. I think that "The Simple Diet" is a well-thought-out and workable plan. I experimented with it several times, although I found that ... just like on every other diet... For ME, it had to be modified quite bit, as I had to cut back on the portion sizes to get the calories low enough for my personal calorie budget for weight-loss/maintenance. However, I do enjoy using my own "meal substitute" foods such as plain greek yogurt, and protein powder (though I like to mix protein powder with a bit of s/f syrup and microwave it into little cakes/cookies as a substitute for putting it into liquid shakes .... See my Recipe section for some suggestions) , and now I only I eat half of a frozen dinner at a time. At present, I am involved in an experiment I call "Freedom in Maintenance", and have been posting photos of my daily food here at DietHobby's Photo Gallery section.... Found under the Header RESOURCES. The Simple Diet was one that I liked and had success with, so I'll probably choose to work with it again at some future time. ..... Good News to hear that losing 26 pounds has greatly improved your health to such an extent.

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