In pursuit of health – why dieting isn’t “healthy”.

One of the more pervasive (and exasperating) ideas I hear in therapy sessions is the notion of pursuing weight loss and dieting in the name of “health.” I am speaking specifically about the vast sea of us that are otherwise perfectly medically healthy, but, for one reason or another (ahem, cultural pressures and social media, ahem), are looking to diets to change our size and make ourselves smaller. We inevitably frame this as “eating healthy” or “getting healthy.” In my experience, it’s rare that health is the outcome of dieting practices.

Health is physical, emotional, and mental. When we place all of the emphasis on the pursuit of “health” purely as it relates to the size and shape of our bodies, we rob ourselves of the significant health benefits of socialization, spontaneity, fun, and flexibility. We corner ourselves into a regimen that robs us of the joy in life.

Health is physical

We can think about health in terms of weight, but we’re probably (definitely) getting an inaccurate picture. Without going into a diatribe on the failures of BMI to indicate health (at all), let me simply suggest that we try to measure our health based on how we feel, rather than by a set of numbers and percentages. Do we have energy? How’s our mood? Digestion? How does food and exercise make us feel?

To illustrate, I once worked with a woman who felt that she should exercise five days a week for one hour (the very arbitrary holy grail of exercise amounts), and that she should be running during that hour, because that’s what exercise means. She hated running (preach, woman), it made her feel sick, and she frequently had issues with her feet and knees as a direct result of her running. Yet, the idea of “quitting” made her feel like a failure, and invoked guilt and hopelessness.

This is not what health looks like. Injuring ourselves in the name of performing something that not all of us like or are meant to do (and if you love running, more power to you – go for it) is not helpful or useful, and is certainly not healthy. That particular woman eventually discovered that she loved yoga and swimming, and is now an avid exerciser, but looks forward to it and moves her body for the pleasure of the movement rather than to fulfill the shoulds.

Health is emotional

As I mentioned in the introduction, focusing on weight and diet has a way of limiting us. In pursuit of making ourselves smaller, we sometimes end up making our lives smaller as well. We miss out on friends and adventures because we don’t want to eat at a particular place or skip a workout. This is totally understandable – diet culture programs us to think this way.

I watched a comedy special once in which the comedian shared that she loved her belly because “this means I have dinner with friends!”. Good health is being able to spend time with friends and enjoy the connectivity that comes from eating together. I suspect this will matter more than the number on the scale in the long run.

Health is mental

One of the most difficult parts of weight loss and diet mentality is how overwhelming it can be. We think about macros at breakfast. We count calories up to a prescribed amount and then stop eating for the day (even if we are still hungry). We force ourselves to exercise when we’re tired, when we’re sick, in a tornado, because the anxiety that comes with not doing these things is worse than the doing of them.

To take care of our health is to accept that stress and anxiety play a major role in disease, and should be mitigated to the best of our ability. Sometimes we need some support to begin to work with the anxiety that accompanies not dieting, and this is 100% normal and okay. I recommend looking for a therapist that specializes in treating issues with eating, that practices from a Body Positive and/or Health at Every Size lens.

The pursuit of health is complex and multifaceted. Dieting doesn’t get us there. Can we reframe health to include all shapes and sizes, and allow for larger, more fulfilling, healthier lives?

Originally posted on my blog, Common Humanity, at Psych To read more, visit


Useful Information

Some frequently asked questions and useful answers.

Online therapy works in the same way as in-office therapy, but is done online, similar to a Skype or FaceTime conversation. Clients are able to have sessions from home, work, or any other convenient location. We meet with clients using a HIPAA-compliant secure platform.

Online therapy allows you to work with us from the comfort of home, or any private location of your choosing. For some, the screen provides an added layer of comfort that makes the challenging work of being vulnerable in therapy a little easier.

Online therapy also creates the unique opportunity for you to work with us without the constraints of proximity! The practice was born in Keene, New Hampshire, but has since grown to service clients anywhere in Massachusetts, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Vermont, New Jersey, Florida, and New Hampshire.

Online therapy is a great option for clients that travel for work, for college students that go home during the summertime and do not want a break in their sessions, and for anyone with a challenging or inconsistent day-to-day schedule. It is an excellent choice for clients seeking a therapist with a particular specialty that they are unable to find support for locally. Some of our clients report that online therapy makes the vulnerability element of therapy a bit less intimidating.

No. For some clients with more complex symptoms or safety concerns, having a local therapist that is readily available is important in case of crisis or the need for a higher level of care. Online therapy is also a challenge for clients that do not have access to a private, quiet space to be “in session” for the hour, or for those that do not have adequate internet connectivity.

There are several reasons why we don’t accept insurance. The most important are:

Confidentiality. Insurance companies require that your information be shared with them in order to pay for services. We prefer that clients’ information is kept as confidential as possible.

The pressure to diagnose. Insurance companies require that clients are given a mental health diagnosis in order to pay for therapy. We have found that many clients benefit from therapy, but do not meet criteria for a diagnosis. Not using insurance allows clients to access therapy without being given a mental health diagnosis.

Flexibility and freedom. Insurance companies dictate the length and number of sessions they will authorize, as well as when a client is no longer eligible for the benefits of therapy. Because we do not work with insurance panels, you and we can collaborate to determine your individual needs regarding session length, frequency of sessions, and when to terminate therapy.

While we do not accept insurance, many clients choose to submit receipts to their insurance companies to receive reimbursement via out-of-network benefits. We are happy to provide these receipts for you! Please check with your insurance company for details on your benefits.



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