Why Diets Don’t Work

Why Diets Don’t Work

“If all it took was a good ‘sensible’ calorie-restricted meal plan to lose weight, we’d be a nation of thin people”
– Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

At the beginning of my 1:1 nutrition or emotional eating consultations, I typically like to explain my approach as each practitioner is different and I like to give my client an idea of what they’re in for. Usually when I tell them I’m anti-dieting, I get some funny looks. I mean, what kind of holistic nutritionist doesn’t prescribe a specific diet to their client? When people speak of dieting, we are typically referring to weight loss, but the anti-diet approach is also embedded in my recommendations for those that aren’t striving for weight loss. It simply means that I believe in a balanced approach towards food that involves more intuitive eating and eating whole foods, or what I like to refer to as “real ass food.”

Before we move any further though, I think we should dive deep into what this all-too-familiar but ever-so-dreaded word “diet” really means, because it can mean two very different things:

  1. a food and drink regularly provided or consumed; a diet of fruits and vegetables, a vegetarian diet
  2. a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight; going on a diet

The type of diet I am so “anti” of are those that are described in #2 – the restriction, the rules, the starvation (in some cases). The “diet” I described in #1 simply refers to what a person consumes (i.e. “What’s your diet like? aka What’s your food consumption like?)

The reason why this holistic nutritionist is so anti-dieting is plain and simple – diets do not work. If you’ve read my story, you’ll know I’m all too familiar with diets and from that experience alone, I can tell you that diets don’t work. In fact, if you asked anyone who has been on a diet if it has ever actually worked (as in, you might have lost weight but you either gained it back or haven’t been able to sustain the diet) I’m almost positive that most would say it hasn’t – and yet, we continue to turn to these diets as our saving grace and convince ourselves that “this is it”; this is the diet that is going to change everything.

That’s what dieting does – it gives us hope. The idea that we can transform into a better version of ourselves which could ultimately take away other worries in our life. I get it – the thought of that is exhilarating! The reality is that it’s a false hope.

The fact is that even the mere thought of dieting has a counterproductive approach to reaching weight loss goals. The panic alone is enough for us to get a taste of what the upcoming deprivation/restriction will feel like and as a result, we might indulge in one last “cheat day” (and let’s get real, it’s never the last), overeat or binge.

“The mere perception of eating a forbidden food is enough to trigger overeating”
– Evelyn Tribole & Elyse Resch

Mind games aside, there are actually a number of physiological reasons why dieting doesn’t work (listen up, science buffs!)

Physiological Reasons Why Dieting Doesn’t Work

If only people realized that going on a diet could actually contribute to gaining weight, they might second guess their approach. Wait, what? Who said that? Yup – dieting can actually make you gain weight instead of lose weight. Listen up!

  • Slows Down Metabolism – When we diet, our body learns how to become more efficient at using calories by lowering the body’s need for energy. You might lose weight by consuming too little calories, but your slower metabolism will make it more difficult to maintain that weight after the dieting period is over.
  • Degrades Muscle Quality – When someone deprives or restricts themselves of the required amount of the basic amount of energy they need to survive, the body will begin to cannibalize itself and turn to its own tissues and muscle as an energy source. That 10lb weight loss you experienced in a week could very well be muscle loss and remember, muscle helps us to burn fat so we want more of that on our side.
  • Increases The Likelihood Of Cravings or Binging – When we restrict food, cravings increase which encourages us to eat more. You can only use your “will power”, resist cravings, cope with low energy and a slowest metabolism for so long. Eventually your body is going to be screaming at you for nourishment and it will do so in the form of overeating, binging or emotional eating. Unfortunately, it’s not just a “one and done” type of binge either. In fact, after my eating disorder, my binging continued on and off for several years straight!
  • Causes Hunger Cues To Disappear – You might think this is a good thing, but it actually comes with very adverse effects. Dieters allow a calorie count or what they think is the right amount of food to dictate their hunger levels, rather than the feeling of being full. When it comes back to the post-dieting phase, it may be challenging to know how to address your hunger cues properly as a result of suppressing them for so long, which can lead to overeating or emotional eating.

How To Break Up With Dieting & Still Reach Your Health Goals

I understand the purpose of dieting can extend beyond the need to lose weight to look good. In some cases, you might need to lose weight to support another health condition you’re enduring. But I promise you, you can reach your goals without dieting and suffering from the negative side effects that come from it.

In my 1:1 consulting, instead of dieting, I teach women how to reconnect with themselves, their bodies and real whole foods. By getting the emotional and physical needs taken care of in a truly healthy manner, we can work together to get you on a consistent path to your health goals.

In the meantime, you can start exploring the ideas I’ve shared below to help you break up with dieting:

  • Honour Your Hunger – Instead of letting a caloric count or someone else tell you when and what you should eat (again, this is coming from a holistic nutritionist herself!), tune into your body and listen to what it’s trying to tell you. When hunger strikes, honour it – feed and nourish your body. Remember, only you truly know “you”. No diet plan can possibly know what’s best for your unique biology.
  • Ditch The Scale – If weight loss is the end goal, ditch the scale. Stop letting it be the dictator of your progress. Instead, tune into how you feel. How do your pants fit? How do you feel naked? How does your body feel when you moved? Don’t let the scale tell you any of that because in actuality, both a “good’ or “bad” number on the scale has the ability to make you feel poorly about yourself and turn to overeating or emotional eating.
  • Let Go Of The Idea Of Failure – What happens the minute you touch your lips to a glass of wine, a cookie or ice cream in the middle of your diet? “That’s it! Throw in the towel. I’ve already messed up for the day so might as well continue. I’ll start fresh Monday.” Cue: The binge fest. Right? But if we let go of the idea of failure altogether, we can simply enjoy the single bite or whole cookie without the guilt and continue on our healthy ways.
  • Commit To A Way Of Eating You Could Sustain For Life – Recently a friend was telling me about a diet they started and how life-changing it was and how they had already lost a lot of weight from it. They raved about it as if they had just found the most sacred hidden treasure that no one yet knows about, after having tried almost every diet under the sun with no success. Without raining on her parade and telling her that this diet is likely going to be like all of the other ones, I asked her “Is it sustainable?” That’s what’s important here. If the way of which you are living or eating right now isn’t sustainable for long-term or for life, it’s likely not a realistic plan for you. Instead, experiment with various ways of eating, document the foods that make you feel awesome and the ones that don’t and use that as your guide. As it’s often said, “There are 7 billion diets for 7 billion people” – your needs will differ from the next person’s and there is no one-size-fits-all diet for all of us.

Before we part ways, I do just want to say that you’re not crazy, silly or a failure for wanting to diet. We’re instructed by doctors, society, our best friends, our parents and advertising to change the way we look and ultimately be slim. But we need to start realizing that this is not the long-term solution. It’s a $20 billion dollar-wide industry that is feeding off of people’s insecurities and ingrained nature for the quick-fix. But it’s not the solution. Far from it.

Thank you to the brilliant brains, Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch of Intuitive Eating for providing their life-changing insights and inspiration behind this post. 

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