We’ve all been there at one point in our lives where we try some sort of new diet with the very best intentions to lose weight, drop those stubborn last few pounds and get in shape. So how come that even with these best intentions, diets still fail? Why don’t these diets actually work the way they say they will, is it just that you don’t have enough willpower or is it more than that? Dieting doesn’t work for a variety of reasons and it’s about time we change our mentality on why this happens rather than simply blame ourselves for being weak or unmotivated. Let’s look at why diets fail and what we can do instead.
In this post, I want to break it down for you and show you why diets fail.
- Diets don’t teach us anything about food itself
- Diets contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food
- Dieting leads to restrictive eating which then leads to weight gain
- Dieting and diets are NOT a long term solution
- Dieting is stressful
Diets don’t teach us anything about food itself
Dieting is usually based on quantity first and foremost and as such relies on calorie counting, weighing food (and yourself) or complicated ways to ensure you are getting specific amounts of macros at every meal. This then puts a distinct focus on how much of a food you can eat and enforces the idea that portion control is your problem rather than something bigger (I’ll get to that later). The other problem with this line of thinking is that it doesn’t teach you anything about food, about the quality of the food you are eating or to be really basic and simple, how nourishing the food is for your body, mind and soul. Focusing on the quality of the food is just as important as this teaches you to notice how your food came to be on your plate. This is extremely important in developing a healthy relationship with food (point #2). If you plan on eating meat, most would choose to support more ethical and humane farmers who provide that to you rather than factory farmed meat. Not only is this better for the welfare of the animal but this is also better for you, as factory farmed meat has been shown to contain less omega 3’s than its pasture raised counterpart, due in large part to the diet they eat! Once you start to develop a deeper appreciation for your food, you in turn develop a deeper appreciation for how it nourishes you rather than just focusing on the macros or calories it contains.
Diets contribute to an unhealthy relationship with food
Most diets are restrictive in some way, meaning that they want you to avoid all carbs, fat or they ask you to restrict your calories with no real focus on why 100 calories from a bag of chips or a handful of almonds is in fact very different. They also tend to focus on demonizing certain foods as “good” or “bad” and this is what causes so many people to develop an unhealthy relationship to food. Think back to the 1980’s for a minute, one GIANT category of food was completely demonized… fat! All fat was bad and to be avoided like the plague. Enter fat-free everything and the beginning of the creation of what I like to call pseudo-foods such as margarine which could be found everywhere. This was supposed to make us healthier but in fact it did the opposite. Sadly, still to this day, people still fear fat and this fear has created an unhealthy relationship, where people would rather choose fake foods over real foods just because of the amount of calories or fat they contain. Further, this messed up relationship with food causes serious stress which creates a new host of problems (see point #5). As I stated already above, food is more than just the sum of its parts and to define it as “good” or “bad” and label it makes us in turn feel bad if we eat something we “weren’t supposed to” and thus starts the vicious shame cycle.
Dieting leads to restrictive eating which then leads to weight gain
Without a doubt, one of the biggest draws of dieting is the promise of weight loss due to restricting your eating in some way. What they fail to also tell you is that dieting may actually lead to weight gain after all! So if you are restricting your calories and/or how much you are eating, how in the world does this lead to weight gain?! The reason this happens so often is that when you restrict your food intake (usually quite drastically) you end up going into starvation mode, your metabolism then slows down and this then leads to binge eating caused by intense food cravings. When this happens, you then feel like a failure and somehow you don’t have enough willpower or you need to work harder which is unrealistic and in fact untrue. I can remember doing this to myself as a teen when I would severely restrict my food intake and then binge later on because I couldn’t take it. I would feel like a loser, shame myself and swear that I would do better next Monday when I would attempt to do it all over again. Although I know my example is anecdotal in nature, I also have spoken to enough women about this same issue and they have gone through similar experiences. Unfortunately, this can lead to an even worse scenario, where you end up with an eating disorder.
Dieting and diets are NOT a long term solution
This shouldn’t be surprising given all that I have provided above about why dieting is not a long term solution. Eventually you may “slip up” in your diet and then call the whole thing off, go back to eating the way you used to and then find your way back to the diet yet again, this is yo-yo dieting. Its not a long term solution because it is hard to maintain and because in some way you feel deprived and this leads to indulging or bingeing. This could be because your hormones are imbalanced, your blood sugar is all over the place or another issue that is not being addressed with constant dieting. Diets don’t take into account your overall health and well-being and are not designed to be something you can follow throughout your lifetime. If you want to make lifelong changes, you need to start small and make lifestyle changes in addition to just what is on your plate.
Dieting is stressful
As if we need even more stress in our lives, enter restrictive diets to complicate things even more. The constant worrying we place on ourselves when we are trying to follow some ridiculous rules related to our food intake causes stress. I have previously written about the impact that dieting has on our stress levels, here, but I will reiterate it again for you.
A study conducted with 121 female participants who were randomly assigned to one of four dietary interventions for three weeks found that restricting calories increased the total output of cortisol (also known as the stress hormone) and monitoring calories increased perceived stress. This increase in cortisol and stress levels may lead to both overeating, emotional eating, and weight gain. According to Elissa Epel, PhD, who is an assistant professor in the department of psychiatry at the University of California at San Francisco, an increase in cortisol can lead to us wanting to eat more due to an increase in appetite over time. This is our body’s way of protecting itself from starvation. In addition, when people are stressed it is common for them to eat “emotionally” which often leads to unhealthy food choices and overeating. On top of weight gain/loss, excess stress and an increase in cortisol may lead to other diseases and other negative health outcomes.
And this is why diets fail!
For all of the above reasons plus many more that I probably haven’t even touched upon, dieting simply doesn’t work. If you want to really make changes to your weight or your health, you need to focus on the whole picture, not just one aspect of it, namely calories in vs. calories out, portion control or food restriction.
Diets are quick fix solutions with potentially long term problems and for that reason it is not a sustainable or viable option. This is also why I choose to focus on long term health solutions for my clients that are rooted in educating them so they make better choices without ever feeling like they are on a diet because they are not!
Think about it this way- you wouldn’t expect to be a professional athlete in just 3, 10 or 21 days so why do you expect your health to improve in such a short time? Put the work in to make small changes and I promise this will lead to lasting, real change for your body, health and your mind!
Ready to work together? I have a new program launching soon that is focused solely on ditching the diet mentality and teaching you how to feel (and look) great naked! You can sign up for my newsletter now so you can be the first to know when it launches, just enter your details on the form from my homepage.
Have you dieted in the past and how did this impact your relationship with food?