Dieting Causes Negative Body Image and Self-Esteem
Frew warned that dieting can cause negative body image to intensify. "Body image often plummets and you find yourself increasingly comparing yourself to others or becoming preoccupied with thoughts about your own body," she said.
Harrison added that a leading school of thought in psychology says that emotional well-being is defined by three key factors: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. And diet culture robs us of all of those things: it takes away our autonomy by making us feel like we can't trust ourselves around food and we need a diet or dietitian to tell us what to eat. It takes away our sense of competence by making us feel like we're failures when we can't "stick to" the diet, and of course our bodies aren't designed to be able to endure restriction long-term, so it's really the diet that's the failure.
Diet culture also interferes with our sense of relatedness by preventing us from enjoying food with loved ones, and keeping us from partaking in culturally important foods or food-related celebrations. Without these three key factors, our emotional well-being will suffer.
Meehan explained that when the diet fails — as diets inevitably do — it's common to feel ashamed and as if you have failed. And while we know that it's the diet that fails, not the individual, she said, "research shows that each 'failed' attempt amplifies a sense of hopelessness. This dieting cycle contributes to negative self-esteem and can impact mood, irritability, and interpersonal relationships."