Mental Health Awareness Week is flying the flag for kindness this week. So, it’s the perfect time to think about how we’re interpreting this for ourselves, particularly when it comes to our quest to lose weight or change our body shape.

Dieting often takes us on a merry-go-round of emotions, initially euphoria when our efforts to restrict pay off and we see the number on the scales reduce, but at some point, to be followed perhaps by frustration and despair when despite our continued efforts, things seem to conspire against us and weight goes back on. Frequently we hear chatter about the before and after, but no one ever seems to talk about the after after?

My approach to working with clients looking for weight loss has significantly changed over the years. I’ve worked in weight management for nearly 20 years. I’ve set up specialist weight management services, treated thousands of patients and worked with a variety of health care professionals with a shared common goal; to help people feel happier and healthier.

But the evidence continues to mount that for some, any therapy that keeps them within the ‘diet’ headspace in fact does not achieve either of these things.

Research shows that those trapped in a cycle of chronic dieting are more likely to suffer from depression and are also more likely to show unhealthy dieting behaviours which can further exacerbate their distress. One in four chronic dieters will develop an eating disorder. Chronic dieting also increases bone loss and cortisol production and is a strong predictor of weight gain over time – quite a cruel paradox.

Add this to the evidence that people in bigger bodies do not necessarily have worse health outcomes or health risk and that the quality of someone’s diet is a far bigger predictor of health than their size, then we really do have a duty to address things differently.

They’ll be more on the blog over the next few months which delves into intuitive eating; the self-care eating framework that puts you as the boss and gives you the confidence and skills to move away from the diet mentality.

For now, let’s keep it simple. If you’re beating yourself up for falling off the wagon again, if you’re frustrated at your progress and what your body seems capable of achieving and lurching from one diet to another, just take a breath. There is another way, with some unbiased research to truly support it.

The first step has to be one of kindness; with permission to honour our bodies, to re-tune in with what it is telling us. Dieting does many things, one of which is to make us lose trust in the food decisions we make, or the signals our body is giving us. Before we can begin to rebuild this trust, normalise our eating behaviours and find peace with food, the first step has to be one of kindness, to our body and to ourselves. Can you start with this?