The way we feel about how we look can fluctuate over time, as can our body shape or clothing sizes. While it’s normal for our bodies to change over time, some may choose to go on a diet in order to feel healthier or lose weight.
At Within Health, we surveyed more than 900 Americans to find out about their experience and history with dieting, and if they feel their diet has ever crossed the line into disordered eating.
“If any diet program (think Noom, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Keto, intermittent fasting, Whole 30, and so forth) worked, the diet industry would go out of business” says Katie Piel, Primary Therapist at Within Health. “Only 3% of people who diet keep the weight off long term and many of those people engage in eating and exercise behaviors that would be clinically concerning if compared to the behaviors of someone with a diagnosed eating disorder” she adds.
Dieting: discipline or dangerous?
Our survey finds almost half (44%) of Americans are currently on a diet, and 80% have been on some sort of diet in the past. Peil says: “A conservative statistic asserts that 20-25% of people who diet will go on to develop full-blown eating disorders, according to NEDA; and more will develop chronic dieting and a disordered relationship with food.”
Most (56%) dieting report being on that diet for 3 months or less. The most popular diet amongst Americans right now is intermittent fasting, followed by a low-carb diet, clean eating, vegetarianism, and then the keto diet.
The most popular diets people have tried are similar - 41% have tried the low carb diet, 37% practiced intermittent fasting, 25% attempted clean eating, 24% tried keto, and 23% vegetarianism.
“Dieting is also a major predictor of weight gain” Piel adds. “Most people who lose a significant amount of body weight will gain the weight back "plus tax," because the body perceives weight loss as starvation and will drive its set-point higher to protect against perceived famine.”
Why Americans are dieting in 2022
The top reason Americans have tried a diet is to improve their health (58%). Other reasons include to improve their looks (44%), have more energy (36%), gain confidence (31%), and reduce the risk of diseases (25%).
While we are advocates for health at every size, 27% of Americans have been told to diet by their doctor and 1 in 3 feel healthier since doing so.
Dieting can be inconsistent and hard to keep up, especially since most are designed to dangerously restrict calories for an unrealistic amount of time. In fact, 32% diet during certain times of year, like summer. Piel says: “Weight cycling (losing and regaining a significant amount of weight a number of times) has a greater negative impact on health than being your set-point (a range of roughly 15-20 lbs that fluctuates naturally over the lifespan).”
Other reasons Americans may feel like they need to go on a diet come from the outside. 31% have felt pressured to diet by social media, 23% learned about a diet from an influencer, 28% felt pressured by a family member, and 14% felt pressured by a friend.
When diets turn damaging
Dieting can easily turn unhealthy and dangerous. Almost one quarter (23%) of Americans are currently experiencing body dysmorphia. 29% say they’ve experienced body dysmorphia in the past. More women are and have experienced body dysmorphia than men.
Almost half (44%) of those who’ve been on a diet have experienced at least one symptom of disordered eating in the past. The most common symptoms they experienced were lack of energy (43%), sleep issues (37%), feelings of depression (34%), low self-esteem (31%), and digestion issues (25%).
One in five Americans think they’ve taken a diet too far before. One in five (20%) of those have experienced body dysmorphia. Additionally, one in three women think they’ve taken a diet too far before, compared to just 11% of men.
Dieting during the holidays
The holidays can be an especially hard time of year for those who struggle with their body image. Almost one third (31%) of Americans feel pressured to diet during the holidays, and 23% find it difficult to enjoy the holidays because of a focus on their weight.
When it comes to New Year’s Resolutions, 52% of Americans have had a goal to lose weight in the past. More than one quarter (26%) plan for their 2023 resolution to be to lose weight.
Cities searching diets & weight loss the most
The city with the highest percentage of residents Googling weight loss and dieting is Kansas City, Missouri. The city ranked second is Albuquerque, New Mexico and then El Paso, Texas. Another Texas city made it into the top ten - San Antonio.
Fresno, California and Jacksonville, Florida are on opposite sides of the country, but rank #4 and #5 respectively for those Googling diets and weight loss in the U.S. Indianapolis, Indiana, San Jose, California, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Tucson, Arizona also made the top ten ranking.
You may choose to diet for many reasons, but it’s important to remember to check in with yourself and ask yourself if you’re taking it too far. If you are experiencing symptoms of disordered eating, check in with a specialist or doctor to ensure you’re not taking your diet into dangerous territory.
We analyzed search volume for the keywords ‘diet’ and ‘weight loss’ for the top 35 most populous cities in the United States. We then standardized the search volume per 100,000 people in each city. We analyzed this keyword volume data from August 2021 until August 2022.
In October 2022, we surveyed 901 Americans about their dieting habits and history. Respondents were 49% male, 49% female, and 2% transgender or non-binary. Respondents ranged in age from 18 to 89 years old, with the average age being 38 years old.
Disclaimer about "overeating": Within Health hesitatingly uses the word "overeating" because it is the term currently associated with this condition in society, however, we believe it inherently overlooks the various psychological aspects of this condition which are often interconnected with internalized diet culture, and a restrictive mindset about food. For the remainder of this piece, we will therefore be putting "overeating" in quotations to recognize that the diagnosis itself pathologizes behavior that is potentially hardwired and adaptive to a restrictive mindset.