Why Diets Don't Work
A lot of women I encounter assume that if I'm anti-diet, that means I'm anti-nutrition. That I don't believe in the pursuit healthy eating and I believe if you simply eat whatever you want, whenever you want (which they often believe looks something like pizza + ice cream + oreos breakfast lunch and dinner, pleaseandthankyou) your body will work itself out. Not so fast, mama. If you've scrolled through the recipes on my blog at all, you'll know real food and healthy living are a passion of mine that I love to share-- but I simply don't believe dieting is the way to find your balance. I DO believe in intuitive eating, but I also know after working with clients for the better part of a decade, and in an intuitive eating approach the last year plus, that not dieting doesn't mean you'll ONLY eat pizza, ice cream and oreos (insert your favorite fun foods, here). It IS possible to enjoy a healthy mama life WITHOUT restriction-- but what comes first is ditching the diet once and for all. Because it's been proven over and over again that diets don't work. Here's why. Dieting is engrained in our society as the normal approach for 'getting healthy'. If you feel like you've been going a bit overboard on sweets, cut it all out (or worse, eat it all Friday-Sunday and cut it all out on Monday). If the holidays have had you out of your normal eating routine, better jump into the latest diet on New Year's day. Pants too tight? Better go on a cleanse to loosen them up. Want to get fit? Surely I'll need to track my macros to make that happen. Diets come in and out of popularity as often as high-rise jeans. One minute they're mom jeans and the next they're all the rage. We change our tune, calling them 'high-waisted' or 'wellness plans' instead of a diet. We go along with the trends, hopping from the Slim Fast and Cabbage Soup of the 90's to the Atkins and the South Beach of the early 2000's to the Whole30 and Keto of 2018-19. But a diet by any other name is still a diet: any plan or program that promises change from restriction.
We villainize nutrients. First, it was fat. Then, when that was largely disproven, we put fat on a pedestal and sent carbs to the diet dungeon. Balance has become obsolete, because let's be real: balance isn't trendy. There's nothing sultry about learning what works for you. Diets are enticing, promising you lasting healthy, happiness and boundless energy if only you track this, cut that out and oops- you can't eat that, either.
But the problem is, like with any trend (umm, corsets anyone?!) there are problems associated-- and they simply don't last. But instead of accepting, like that confining our bodies with fabric-covered metal and tightly woven ribbon cuts off our breathing, squeezes our internal organs and makes it hard to move, let alone sit-- we consider ourselves the failure when the latest trend fails, and we move onto the next one.
Aren't we smarter than that? I mean, we've walked on the moon (more than once!), we've probed mars, you're reading this on either your computer, tablet or smartphone-- we're a HIGHLY intelligent species yet somehow we continue to get sucked into the lie that there is another diet out there that will change it all, when the research says anything but.
We know that somewhere around 80-95% of so-called successful diets result in complete weight regain within 2-5 years.
A 2006 study on adolescents with a 5-year follow up showed the adolescents that dieted increased in body mass over their peers five years later; studies have also shown that focusing on weight does not improve health outcomes.
In fact, dieting itself predicts future weight gain through changes in metabolism and enzymatic processes as well as increasing binges and cravings, but weight aside, chronic dieting has been shown in many cases to be more detrimental to health than remaining overweight.
Chronic dieting contributes to…
Increased risk of premature death and heart disease. The Framingham heart study which lasted for more than 30 years shows regardless of initial weight, those whose weight has cycled have a higher overall death rate and twice the normal risk of dying of heart disease. Other studies have shown similar results.
It changes body fat storage-- especially towards the abdominal area which, physiologically speaking is the most dangerous area because it is the area that surrounds our major organs. Even when fat is lost, so is muscle-- metabolically active tissue- and fat is eventually regained. The Biggest Loser study, a 6-year follow up of Biggest Loser Candidates showed not only weight regain post-loss, but lowered resting metabolic rate and increased cardiac risk. But why? Our bodies (and our brains) are hard wired to react to dieting-- even those that are less extreme, because our bodies WANT to be nourished. It's a survival mechanism. Our bodies are incredibly intelligent, and they associate deprivation with starvation. Our appetite hormones increase; and our bodies compensate for what they think is starvation by slowing our metabolism (making regain easier and weight loss harder in the future). These 'compensatory mechanisms, in which our body fights to regain lost weight, last for up to a year post weight loss, putting us at war with our bodies.
Not surprisingly, dieting causes higher instances of depression and low self esteem, because every time a diet ‘fails’, we consider OURSELVES to be a failure.
The Diet Cycle
What dieting and restriction causes is what Intuitive Eating refers to as 'diet backlash'. Every time a diet fails, we deem ourselves the failure and punish ourselves-- usually by veering completely in the opposite direction and overindulging, or even bingeing, on the foods we deemed 'unhealthy' or 'bad'. We're back to where we started... and the cycle continues. Again, and again.
This restrict-binge-guilt-restrict cycle keeps us on the diet rollercoaster, up and down and spinning, without any real results.
In neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt’s TED talk, Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work, she says, “If diets worked, we’d all be thin already. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?”
“If diets worked, we’d all be thin already. Why do we keep doing the same thing and expecting different results?” Sandra Aamodt
Our society doesn't have a weight problem; it has a dieting problem.
So how, instead to we begin to ditch the diets once and for all, and find OUR beautiful balance? The not-so-sexy but SO much more satisfying life that means ending the guilt in favor of enjoying ALL foods- and yes, that does include pizza and ice cream and oreos (if you like those foods) but ALSO including nourishing foods that feel good, too (probably a little more often than pizza and ice cream).
There doesn't need to be an either-or. The all-or-nothing mentality perpetuates the diet cycle, but finding your beautiful balance ends the notion of dieting for health and instead helps YOU finally feel good and find peace, and freedom, with food. No diet necessary.
Want to get started ditching diets once and for all? Download your free 'Ditch the Diet Dogma Worksheet' by clicking the link below.
Are you ready to find true freedom with food and discover your beautiful balance? Learn more about my course, Uncomplicated Eating to release the stress around food and find the freedom with food you deserve.
D. BERDANIER, CAROLYN & K. McINTOSH, MICHAEL. (1991). Weight Loss—Weight Regain A Vicious Cycle. Nutrition Today. 26. 6-12. 10.1097/00017285-199109000-00002.
A. Olson, Kristoff & Patel, Ravi & Ahmad, Faraz & Ning, Hongyan & Bogle, Brittany & Goldberger, Jeffrey & M. Lloyd-Jones, Donald. (2019). Sudden Cardiac Death Risk Distribution in the United States Population (From NHANES, 2005-2012). The American Journal of Cardiology. 123. 10.1016/j.amjcard.2019.01.020.
Neumark-Sztainer, Dianne et al.Journal of the American Dietetic Association , Volume 106 , Issue 4 , 559 - 568 Obesity, Disordered Eating, and Eating Disorders in a Longitudinal Study of Adolescents: How Do Dieters Fare 5 Years Later?
K H Pietiläinen, S E Saarni, J Kaprio & A Rissanen International Journal of Obesity volume 36, pages 456–464 (2012) Does dieting make you fat? A twin study