Thanks to the continuous assault on women’s body image (and more recently men’s) dieting is a fact of life now. Chances are you can remember when you started doing it to shed a few extra kilos to look like the women in the music videos, or shrink your waist by a few centimetres to look even better in that dress, or “better yet” go down a size or two.

What you’re about to read might shock you. A University of Colorado study found that 50% of women (in America) are on a diet at any given time[1]. Even more shocking is that up to 90% of teenagers diet regularly, and ‘up to 50% of younger kids have tried a diet at some point’. It found that since of 1990, ‘the average dieting age for girls was 8 years old’, down from 14 in the 70s’.

Health and wellbeing consultant and founder of Wellness by Blair Jess Blair says while the issue has been around for a while, it has skyrocketed with the rise of technology, round the clock access to media and 24/7 images of ever-shrinking body size and the obsession with achieving unrealistic beauty and body standards.

“It is shocking that girls as young as 8 have been dieting since the 90’s and while there is a growing trend towards body positivity and acceptance of bigger-than-size-6 models, it is a still big problem,” says Jess. “With iphones and ipads and non-stop access to pop culture and the music, movie and modeling industries, children are more exposed to messaged intended for adults than ever before in history,” she warns.

In her line of work, Jess says many of her adult clients experience prolonged stress and unhappiness due to real or perceived weight-related issues. Many women and increasingly men, do not feel like they can live up to their potential because controlling their weight or dress size feels too hard to manage.

“There are countless diets that pop up all over the internet and celebrities are a big part of that. Often people will listen to a movie star talk about how they lost a between 5 to 10 kilos for a red carpet event using a crash diet, and then adopt the same approach to lose the same amount of fat,” Jess says. “But not only it isn’t sustainable, it’s unhealthy, dangerous and detrimental to a balanced physical and emotional state.”

Jess adopts a holistic approach to her work which is centered around practicing balance in all areas including diet, exercise, rest and mindfulness. “The word diet itself is negative. It immediately takes you to a place of deprivation and sacrifice. But being healthy or living a balanced life should not feel like that. Taking the necessary steps to look and feel your best should will demand discipline but should not feel like overt effort. It’s about empowering yourself with the right information to be able to implement lifestyle changes that you can sustain throughout time,” she says.

According to Jess, instead of depriving yourself of certain foods and drinks, have a plan in place to have everything in moderation. “Avoid turning those niggling cravings into demons that you cave into in the middle of the night. Forget fad and crash diets, they don’t last. You might get quick results as a result of extreme deprivation, but your body will suffer and you will gain everything you lose back faster and more of it because your body is not designed to change like that,” she says.

“Instead, create a lifestyle plan, rather than a diet, which includes nutrient dense foods, occasional treats, moderate exercise, adequate rest and more importantly now than ever before, with the rise and stress factors of modern life such as social media, ‘switching off’ and yoga or some sort of meditation. This could be a long device-free walk on the beach or in a park, sitting on your porch with a cup of tea, or even spending 10 minutes cuddling your pet. The key is, no devices!” Jess says.

[1] The Bodywise Woman by Judy Mahle Lutter.

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