Oprah: Science Says It Won’t Be Different This Time

Dear Oprah Science

Oprah got me. She seduced me. Her words, the rhythm, the soothing tones.

I felt the surge of empowerment and everlasting change.

But just as I was being swept up by her promises, I woke up out of my reverie.  Before I knew it, I was throwing my remote across the room, *thankfully* just missing the TV.

I rewound the Oprah Weight Watcher commercial and listened to her words and now I am pissed. You should be too. She is selling us a fantasy.

Each weight loss quest gives us hope. We feel ⎯ this time for sure.  As we make our rigid food lists of “eat this not that“, our minds may feel clearer. Safer. The start of a diet engages our minds in a seductive fantasy of a new day involving happiness, acceptance, and peace.

Fantasy.

Oprah speaks about fellow fat women as the target for her campaign because, paraphrasing here: fat women cannot be enough and true to themselves until there is less of them. I disagree: you are enough today, just as you are and at your current weight.

Here’s a dose of reality.

Like this post? Read my reaction to Oprah Winfrey buying into Weight Watchers.

Some are not meant to live in a body with a body mass index (BMI) of 20 to 25

Your body prefers that you weigh a certain amount. It may or may not fit within that narrow BMI weight range. Fighting your genetics and set point sets you up to eat for weight loss, NOT health. Eating for health includes variety, moderation and balance, as well as following hunger and fullness cues. Many Weight Watcher dropouts share they were told NOT to follow hunger cues;  rather, follow the points.Weight Watchers would have you believe that their point system isn’t a diet, just a way of life.  Yet, if it isn’t a diet, then why do they need any points? Why the need to check weight at all? Pursuing weight loss and ignoring hunger cues means you’re  eating for weight loss, not eating for health.

Dieting predicts weight gain

In her weight loss commercial, Oprah mentions “trying and failing, trying again, and again, and again”. I know that many can relate to this; yet why will this time be different? Researchers have long known that diets don’t work, and it’s only a matter of time how quickly the weight comes back on. Reviewing research, we find those who focus on weight loss dieting weigh more. Crazy, right?!?

Considering this information, Oprah didn’t fail. Nor did you. The diet did. Would you buy a product or service that fails over and over? Let’s not let the diet industry get away with this. Here’s fabulous content from Evelyn Tribole RD, explaining why dieting predicts weight gain.

No diet keeps weight off more than a year or two

There’s no research to date that shows any diet, no matter how wildly popular it is, actually keeps the weight off for more than one year. Not one. Most scholarly journals publishing articles on dieting stop at one year or earlier. Articles that look further out than a year have incredibly high dropout rates.

You can live without dieting. Here’s how and why.

Not dieting will make you healthier

Taking time away from diets will help your body stop weight cycling. The yo-yo effect negatively impacts insulin levels, inflammation, and blood pressure. Selecting foods with their sole purpose of losing weight can hurt your health over time instead of improving it. Even if your weight is higher than your body prefers (which it may not be!), ending the yo-yo dieting and weight cycling will be the best investment in your health.

Stop dieting to stop bingeing

Lastly, stepping away from weight loss pursuits will give you the opportunity to feel less craving to binge. Do you feel chaos around food when not dieting? Don’t blame yourself or the food — blame the dieting. Within my clinical work with bingeing behavior, my clients stop bingeing only after they stop dieting.

This January, our eyeballs will be saturated with Before-and-After pictures. They will be amazing. Some unbelievable. Before you let yourself get seduced, remember that it is just a fantasy. Those pictures make it seem like anyone can lose weight permanently when that is possible for just 3% of those who diet.

Remember to ask, what happens after after?

Will you stop the diet cycle? If not now, when?

Dear Oprah

DearOprahDear Oprah,

Why did you invest in that diet company? I just heard the news about you buying 10% stock. You have given me so much that has brought me meaning and self acceptance. I’m finding a disconnect between the value you’ve brought to me and your public and the message you’re now sending with this investment.

In this moment, I want to give you the one thing I have:

Compassion for body hate.

Ever since you started Super Soul Sunday, I have felt more connected to my religion, my family, and myself. Your experts, facilitated by your poignant questions, deliver sound bites like no other. I will keep both Thich Nhat Hanh (video link here) and Brené Brown (video link here) episodes on my DVR for eternity. These episodes felt like they were written just for me and my struggles with suffering and vulnerability. I am forever grateful.

I value connection and reconnection and I think you do too. Valuing connection provides passion for my work. I help reconnect men and women to their body’s innate wisdom for eating decisions. This provides health, self-respect, and positive body image.

The alternative eating advice focuses on diets and all its money-making yet powerful chaos. These diet plans are the great disconnectors and source of disease and body hate.

Why did you invest in that diet company?

I appreciate your business skills and can see where investing in this business appears to be a wise money making move. The diet industry does make $60 billion from us each year. This venture will help you make more money.

But will it help us connect to our spirit? our family? ourselves?

I learned you chose this investment because your friend has been “successful” with using its weight loss system. A quick Google search let me know she started the system September 14, 2015; that’s 38 days from when I am writing this post.

Although her weight is down, please consider an alternative measure of success that looks at least two years out. Diets promise weight loss. Yet I challenge you to find one weight loss study with a low drop-out rate and weight maintenance lasting for more than two years. Most research stops by one year, because after that, weight starts to be regained. Instead of calling it the “weight loss industry”, we need to rename it the “weight cycling industry”. My frustration: we give this industry our hard-earned money and it doesn’t even work.

Do you know how many people are able to keep the weight off after following a diet? Looking at the 2 to 5 year mark, it is 3 to 5%.

Many people think this particular weight-loss company is not a diet. It’s a part of their tagline, so it’s true, right? Here’s a definition of a weight-loss diet that research has already proven does not work long term: a product that focuses on weight loss or tells you to eat according to their rules instead of according to your hunger and fullness.

No matter how we spin it, this weight-loss company counts points based on an arbitrary system that one must follow instead of hunger and fullness in order to succeed. Yes, hunger and fullness are discussed. Yet, not trusted.

Do you remember its hunger monster from years ago?

This diet company was teaching body mistrust and disconnection. Hunger was set up as a maneuverable enemy. Silly, really, because hunger is just a biological process communicating a physiological need. It would be like tricking yourself to not need to urinate. (You know that doesn’t work!) You can’t trick hunger.

When you try to deprive yourself, the body finds ways to communicate the missed opportunity. You end up thinking, obsessing, and dreaming about food and, often times, bingeing.

And bingeing leads to weight gain.

You know something the diet company didn’t tell you? The more one diets, the higher his or her weight. Dieting predicts weight gain. Here’s a quick video by Evelyn Tribole, RD, with research behind these statements.

A beautiful part of hunger: it doesn’t lie. When you experience physical hunger, your body needs food. Hunger speaks for primal needs, not frivolous wants. Don’t run from, meddle with, or try to trick hunger. It doesn’t go away, only subsides for a bit.

Manipulating hunger is the main reason a person experiences a binge. Every binge starts with not eating enough earlier in the day.

When this happens, it isn’t the food’s fault. It is just your body trying to save you.

Oprah, I am concerned how your investment will further perpetuate a culture stuck in self distrust and body hate.

You have immense influence on generations, and choosing to invest in The Body Positive or The Association of Size Diversity and Health or The Binge Eating Disorder Association would promote health and connection. It wouldn’t bring the income, yet it would pay you so much more.

I think it would connect you to body respect and self trust.

You have been frank about your struggles with food and body image. I worry about your connection with this company for many reasons:

  • Since we know it doesn’t work for more than 3-5% of members long term, what will you experience when this diet doesn’t work for you? I think this will further promote body shame. And shame never promotes health.
  • Because of your eating disorder history, dieting will set up your brain to go further into this eating disorder thoughts and behaviors. Someone with an eating disorder history going on a diet is like someone with an anaphylactic allergy to peanuts eating a Peanut Butter & Jelly sandwich — deadly.
  • Dieting will only disconnect you from your health. Remember, diets are a weight cycling industry not a weight loss industry. We know weight cycling hurts insulin levels, blood pressure, mood, and quality of life. You have brought me more quality to my life and I want the same for you, Oprah!
  • Dieting distracts us from what is most important: family, friends and faith. Further, it distracts us from our true gifts. You positively affect so many and dieting is holding you back. Imagine the incredible change you could promote without the dieting distraction?

I think I have said my piece. Or peace. I want food peace for you, Oprah, and everyone on this amazing planet.

This food peace won’t bring money, yet it will bring about two more valuable investments: freedom and health.

Whitney Way Thores's dietitian Julie Duffy Dillon.
Whitney Way Thores’s dietitian Julie Duffy Dillon.