The very next day after I submitted last month’s Jill article, in which I complained about feeling like a lone salmon, swimming in a sea of diet messages, trying to convey the innate wisdom of the body, I received my monthly issue of Psychotherapy Networker. The cover read Diets and Our Demons. Does Anything Really Work? To my delight, the whole magazine was filled with research- based articles about, eating, dieting, body image, and how our struggles with our lives often get played out in our relationship with food. Suddenly I felt was swimming with a sisterhood of salmon.

“The most frequently cited statistic (regarding the effectiveness of diets) according to Judith Matz, LCSW, in her article Recipe for Life, “is that 95 percent of dieters will regain the lost pounds”. Personally and collectively, we know the truth of this. How many diets have we tried – and failed? How much money have we spent on frozen foods, supplements, books, programs, memberships, and equipment that promise to change our bodies, only to find that weeks, months, or a few years later, we’re right back where we started. And then we feel bad about ourselves. We interpret our “failure” as lack of will power or self-control. Yet again we have failed to follow the plan. Yet again our bodies have betrayed us. What we do not realize is that we have waged a battle between mind and body. Our minds are telling us that this diet will give us the body we want. But our bodies are fighting the intentional decrease of calories with an increase in the desire to eat.

According to Matz (and I agree), diets “promote a loss of internal signals for hunger and fullness that are necessary for normal eating”. When we deny hunger, when we don’t feed our bodies enough, we negate their innate wisdom of when to eat and what to eat. “There’s growing evidence”, says Matz, “that diets make us fat!”

Another compelling argument is that genetics plays a major role in determining our size and shape. (Some research states 40%.) Matz says that studies show that the weight of adopted children more closely resembles that of their biological parents than their adoptive ones. Other research indicates that when identical twins were raised separately, their body mass index was nearly identical, supporting the influence of genetic inheritance, rather than environment. Even metabolism plays a role in determining our weight. Resting metabolism accounts for 70% of the calories we burn and according to some of the recent literature, about 40-80% of resting metabolism may be inherited.

So if diets don’t work (and possibly can make us fatter), what does? The “attuned” or “intuitive” eating movement started in the 1980’s with proponents such as Geneen Roth (Breaking Free from Compulsive Eating), Susie Orbach (Fat is a Feminist Issue) and Carol Munter and Jane Hirschman (Overcoming Overeating and When Women Stop Hating Their Bodies) telling us that even after decades of dieting we could relearn how to eat in a normal way, following our natural hunger and satiety rhythms. We were born knowing how to eat, they told us in the 80’s and many researchers are saying the same thing today.

But every time we ignore hunger, every time we become shaky, weak, irritable, light-headed, we have waited too long to eat. And you know we do this – with the idea that if we skip this meal and maybe the next, we’ll reduce our caloric intake, lose weight, and achieve the body we see splashed across the media. Unfortunately, what actually happens is we throw our bodies into metabolic crisis and we end up eating more as a result. And every time this happens we find it more and more difficult to accept ourselves in the bodies we’re in. How sad! And to paraphrase Dr. Phil, is this workin’ for us?

More on attuned eating and body acceptance next month.

Author's Bio: 

Ilene Leshinsky is a licensed clinical social worker with over 15 years of counseling experience. In her Plattsburgh-based private practice, she works with women of all ages who want more joy and fulfillment in their lives. Ilene’s BodySense program is open to women of all ages who are in conflict with weight, eating, and body image. She can be reached at 518-570-6164,, or