Interested in Weight Loss? We CAN’T Help You. Here’s Why

Learn more about the non-diet approach at Eating Disorder Therapy LA - Health at Every Size (HAES)
Yale Rudd Center for Food Policy & Obesity

Learn More About Our Non-Diet Approach

At Eating Disorder Therapy LA, we treat eating disorders (including Anorexia Nervosa, Bulimia Nervosa, Binge Eating Disorder, and Other Specified Feeding and Eating Disorder or OSFED) across the weight spectrum. We often get inquiries from clients interested in help for binge eating or emotional eating, with their primary goal being to lose weight.

We always tell them that while we believe we can help them with their disordered eating, if weight loss is their real goal, we cannot help them. By contrast, we are willing to help with, and in fact are rather insistent upon, weight gain for our patients who are below their body’s healthy weight.

Many prospective clients seeking help with weight loss have completed a diet regimen (or often, in their minds, “failed” one) and are suffering from binge eating. They want to eliminate the binge eating and concurrently lose weight. While we are expert at helping clients to stop binge eating and learn to regulate eating, we will not consent to “help someone” lose weight.

Here’s why:

  1. We don’t think anyone really has the answer to help someone lose weight. The research shows that diets don’t work. We are not so grandiose as to believe that We are any different.

    • Traci Mann’s 2007 review of 31 weight loss studies showed that on average, 41% of dieters regained even more weight than they lost on the diet. In an interview about the study, Dr. Mann said, “You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”
    • Harriet Brown, the author of Body Of Truth – a detailed analysis of the war on obesity and the diet industry – wrote in an article about the book, “In reality, 97 percent of dieters regain everything they lost and then some within three years. Obesity research fails to reflect this truth because it rarely follows people for more than 18 months. This makes most weight-loss studies disingenuous at best and downright deceptive at worst.”
  2. Dieting and weight suppression may be the major drivers of binge eating and ironically, can cause weight gain.

    • Research on “weight suppression,” which is the difference between someone’s current weight and their highest adult weight, shows it is linked to both anorexia and bulimia. Drexel University psychologist Dr. Michael Lowe, Ph.D. is one of the leading researchers on weight suppression. His research shows that the greater the weight suppression, the more severe and difficult to treat was the eating disorder. His research also shows that the more weight-suppressed a person is, the more likely they are to regain weight in the future. To me, this suggests that some bodies are naturally larger and will resist all attempts to reduce in size. Attempting to fight the body’s predestined weight may contribute to binge eating behaviors and even higher future weights.
    • Evelyn Tribole, coauthor of Intuitive Eating in a review of dieting wrote: “Dieting increases your chances of gaining even more weight in the future, not to mention increase your risk of eating disorders, and body dissatisfaction. “
  3. Weight cycling – the repeated cycle of losses from dieting followed by the usual weight gains after going off the diet – creates its own health issues, in particular, additional stress on the cardiovascular system.

  4. Weight loss can trigger both anorexia and bulimia. Research from the Mayo clinic shows that 35% of the young people who visited the clinic with anorexia started out in the “obese” or “overweight” weight range.

  5. Dieting is incompatible with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), the treatment we provide for adult eating disorders.

    While CBT is very effective for eliminating binge eating, it relies on a non-restrictive approach to eating. The goal of CBT is to disrupt the diet-binge cycle through a pattern of regular eating and relaxation of dietary rules. Patients are encouraged to end restrictive dieting and behaviorally challenge dietary rules through behavioral experiments and exposure to forbidden foods as part of treatment.

  6. Counterintuitively, when overweight binge eaters successfully complete CBT treatment for binge eating, they do not lose appreciable amounts of weight.

    Even adding a behavioral weight loss program following completion of CBT for binge eating does not lead to additional significant weight loss. However, it is possible that long-term abstinence from binge eating may prevent future weight gain especially as compared to untreated binge eaters.

Our first responsibility as practitioners is to do no harm. Even if weight loss is a client’s stated goal for treatment, and even if their doctor is advising it, we fear that “helping” someone to diet may increase their binge eating and disordered eating. This may in turn cause greater weight gain or weight cycling – a far worse alternative than remaining at the current weight.

Here is how EDTLA can still help in the absence of weight loss:

  • We provide CBT-E for bulimia, binge eating disorder and subclinical disordered eating. I trained with one of the original developers of cognitive behavioral therapy for eating disorders. Clinical trials show 65.5% of CBT-E participants meet criteria for remission from their eating disorder. Relief from cycles of binge eating usually leads to benefits such as freedom from obsessing about food, greater productivity, decreased anxiety about food decisions, and improved self-esteem. Commonly, patients experience decreased guilt and shame around eating and food. Relationships improve as clients become more able to fully participate in meals with loved ones and friends. It also commonly leads to the expansion of other enjoyable areas of one’s life outside of dieting and body image.
  • We work with clients on challenging weight stigma (both their own internalized and in the larger community). We also work on improving body image.
  • My associates and I follow a Health at Every Size® approach. At Eating Disorder Therapy LA, we recognize and celebrate that bodies come in all shapes and sizes. We focus on creating and maintaining healthy behaviors including flexible eating and enjoyable exercise.

Many clients arrive in therapy feeling that they cannot feel better unless they lose weight. However, the majority of those who go through a full course of treatment make significant improvements in their eating behaviors and are surprised at how much better they are able to feel even without weight loss.

Suggested Reading and Viewing:

Bacon, Linda, Health at Every Size

Brown, Harriet, Body of Truth

Mann, Traci, Secrets from the Eating Lab

Saguay, Abigail, What’s Wrong with Fat

The Problem with Poodle Science (video by the Association of Size Diversity and Health)

Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work (TED talk by Sandra Aamodt)

Warning Dieting Causes Weight GAIN (video by Evelyn Tribole MS RD)

Why do dieters regain weight?

Additional References:

Berner, L.A., Shaw, J.A., Witt, A.A. & Lowe, M.R. (2013). Weight suppression and body mass index in the prediction of symptomatology and treatment response in anorexia nervosa. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 122, 694–708.

Mann, T., Tomiyama, A., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B., Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3):220-33.

Lebow, J., Sim., L., and Kransdorf, L. (2015). Prevalence of a History of Overweight and Obesity in Adolescents With Restrictive Eating Disorders. Journal of Adolescent Health 56, 19-24.

Additional HAES articles

Various articles that are found on the ASDAH website:

“Attitudes Toward Disordered Eating and Weight: Important Considerations for Therapists and Health Professionals”, Matz, J & Frankel, E

“Obesity and Anorexia: How Can They Coexist?”, Bulik, C. and Perrin, E.

“Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later?”, Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne, et. al

“Shared Risk and Protective Factors for Overweight and Disordered Eating in Adolescents”, Neumark-Sztainer, D., et al

“Multiple Disadvantaged Statuses and Health: The Role of Multiple Forms of Discrimination”, Grollman, E.A.

“The Problem with the Phrase Women and Minorities: Intersectionality–an Important Theoretical Framework for Public Health”, Bowleg, L.

Children/Teens

“Dieting and Unhealthy Weight Control Behaviors During Adolescence: Associations With 10-Year Changes in Body Mass Index”, Neumark-Sztainer, D., Wall, M., Story, M., Standish, A.

“Helping Without Harming – Kids, Eating, Weight and Health”, Robison, Jon; Cool, Carmen; Jackson, Elizabeth and Satter, Ellyn

“Overweight and Obese Children Eat Less Than Their Healthy Weight Peers”, Hoyle, Brian

“Weight Status as a Predictor of Being Bullied in Third Through Sixth Grades”, Lumeng, J.C., Forrest, P., Appugliese, D.P., Kaciroti, N., Corwyn, R.F., and Bradley, R.H.