Think back to when you went on a diet. Maybe it was last week, maybe it was a few years ago. Maybe you’re thinking about starting one right now. Whatever type of diet it was, ask yourself, did it work? Was the diet sustainable and maintainable after it ended? Did it teach you how to eat foods and develop habits that weren’t restrictive and empowering? Did you feel satisfied and nourished, full and satiated? Probably not, and this is exactly why we’re talking about why limited-food diets don’t work and what to do instead to achieve your weight loss goals.
What Is A Diet?
A diet (the kind we’re discussing in this article) is a “temporary and highly restrictive program of eating to lose weight”. When you follow a diet you have boundaries, rules, and restrictions that you adhere to and follow in order to obtain a specific result.
People use diets most often when they are unsure of what to do to lose the weight they’ve gained. People may turn to diets because eating habits and patterns are out of control and/or they might need to drop weight for some specific goal, such as fitting in a bathing suit or their wedding dress.
Long-Term Weight Loss And Dieting
Ultimately our bodies aren’t meant to be calorically restricted or on a diet for a long period of time. Dieting shuts down or shhh’s the natural intuition of our hunger cues, overruling when we’re hungry and when we’re not.
When we follow diets, we’re told when to eat, how much, and what. But what if we want something else, or aren’t hungry right at that moment? Uh-oh! We HAVE to eat what is programmed, so instead of listening to our bodies, we listen to the diet and start to overrule the self-trust and natural intuition we have.
If you’re looking for long-term weight loss, then a diet isn’t in your best interest. Let’s get into some of the more concrete reasons why diets don’t work.
6 Reasons Why Limited-Food Diets Don’t Work
Diets Cause Unsustainable Weight Loss
If you’re not digging into the reasons why you’re overweight or the habits that you have, a diet isn’t going to do it either. When you’re wrapped up in focusing on how to do the diet perfectly, you’re not actually looking inward at why you over- or under-eat in the first place, which ultimately got you where you are. The blame isn’t on carbs, it’s on your learned behaviors from diet culture. [R] So why don’t limited-food diets work for weight loss? Because they produce unsustainable results.
Think about a time that you dieted, you lost the weight, you felt great, the diet ended, you went back to your normal life and the next thing you know you’re back to your starting weight and feeling more discouraged than ever. “Guess I’ve got to start my diet again,” you think to yourself. Your diet didn’t teach you anything other than how to restrict - it didn’t teach you how to live your life, love your life, and do it at a maintainable weight.
SUMMARY: Diets don't work because weight loss achieved by following a restrictive diet isn't sustainable. Meaning, they fail to teach you how to maintain the weight loss after the goal is achieved or after the diet is over.
Diets Cause You To Gain Weight Over Time
Look, here’s a cold hard fact about why diets don’t work: nearly 60% of people who diet gain more weight back when they finish the diet than they lost in the first place. [R] Talk about defeating! Maybe a diet has worked for you in the past and this is great, we’re not trying to downplay you here.
Why diets don’t work? Every person has a genetically determined ‘set point’ for their adult weight. [R] Unfortunately, for the majority of people, diets do not work and when people go on diet after diet the rate of weight loss actually slows down or stops entirely. You then think to yourself “There must be something wrong with me, I must cut back more” or fall into the mindset of “Why should I even try, nothing is going to happen”, which leads to over- or under-eating. In doing so, diets cause you to gain weight over time, rather than teaching you how to maintain the weight once it's lost, supporting the natural set-point of your body.
SUMMARY: The best way to find your body's set point is by letting go of control over food and your body, and by instead tuning into your body's natural cues for what, when, and how much to eat.
Diets Make Food Harder To Resist
If you’ve restricted food and don’t eat along with your natural hunger cues, such as when you’re hungry or when you’re full, there are specific hormones that fire off designed to make you eat. [R] When you repeatedly tell yourself ’no’, cravings for specific foods get stronger, and even turn the food into a ‘forbidden fruit’ creating an addiction-like mentality towards it. Restrictive diets create cravings and when you resist food you end up craving it more.
Eating foods we enjoy releases dopamine, the ‘happy hormone’ in the brain responsible for the pleasure and reward feelings. [R] This is why diets don’t work. When we resist this release over and over from following a strict diet, cravings get stronger and the desire to release that pleasure hormone grows greater. Ever sabotage your diet by eating a full tub of ice cream, an entire family-size bag of chips, or a double-cheese burger from your local burger joint? This is why.
Yo-yo dieting and long-term dieting impair these dopaminergic pathways that regulate the systems responsible for regulating reward sensitivity, conditioning, and control. [R] Constant overeating and underrating impair these functions, creating strong grips, desires, and cravings for the foods we repeatedly tell ourselves we cannot have while following restrictive diets.
SUMMARY: Instead of restriction, we recommend moderation. You can have your diet, and weight loss, as well as have your cake and eat it too, believe it or not.
Diets Damage Your Relationship With Food
Instead of figuring out a maintainable lifestyle for you, with the foods you enjoy and what healthy looks like for you and your body, diets redefine what food is, and what it does, and overrule your natural intuitions. [R] Instead of learning how to nourish yourself, you learn how to deprive yourself, in a constant yo-yo back and forth focused on weight loss rather than overall health, driven by constant dissatisfaction with your body. [R] This is referred to as ‘food insecurity’, an uncertainty, lack of, or inability to regularly eat healthy food in a safe and socially acceptable manner, as related to body size and aesthetic goals. [R]
Currently, in the United States, 35% of adults and 17% of youth are obese, and 14% of households are food insecure.[R, R] Food insecurities can cause poor diets, poor relationships with foods, unhealthy weights, and have negative effects on overall health, which are often the largest reasons why people turn to diets in the first place and why diets don’t work — because they never learned how to intuitively eat for their body and their goals. [R] Ultimately, diets redefine and damage your relationship with food.
SUMMARY: If you've learned how to diet and not how to eat for your body and your lifestyle, you're not alone. Focus on nourishing your body and how you feel in order to achieve more long-lasting, sustainable weight loss results.
Calorie Restrictive Diets Create Systemic Stress
Low-calorie and calorie-restrictive diets create a stress response in the body. This stress response elevates cortisol levels, the stress hormone, incorrect insulin, and leptin due to chronic stress. [R] This contributes to the desire to ‘fall off the wagon’ and ruin the entire diet by over-consuming food that isn’t on the diet or that doesn’t fall into the day’s calorie total.
Ultimately, this leads to increased food intake and visceral fat accumulation. When the body is under chronic, systemic stress, unsuccessful attempts at diets and food restriction become more predominant and surge the reward value of cravings and foods that you may regularly eat.
SUMMARY: Another reason why diets don't work is that calorie-restrictive diets create an unnecessary amount of chronic and systemic stress within the body contributing to the constant push-pull of yo-yo dieting.
"We’re taught we need small bodies for big lives but fear of fullness will only keep us empty"
Diets Fuel Diet Culture
Diet culture harms people of all sizes. Diet culture is fed to us through just about every media outlet; from the news to social media, magazines to festivals we are exposed to it all the time. Diets fuel diet culture, which is the belief or ideal system that focuses on and values weight, shape, size, all over well-being, health, and individuality. [R]
While you’ve learned a handful of reasons why diets don’t work, diet culture manipulates the information to say that diets are about health and not about diminishing health in the name of weight loss. “Lose weight by any means necessary” rings a bell to you. It should.
The thin ideal that is present in our society causes a profound amount of body-image disturbance, negatively impacting our natural eating pathology, needs, and desires. [R] Ever wonder why you keep buying into a new diet, diet book, or diet product? It’s because they don’t work - you’re being sold products that are designed to fail you.
If you’re still wondering why diets don’t work, take it from us, the best way to improve your life, your happiness, and your body isn’t by dieting. It is by developing new habits that are manageable and sustainable for you and your lifestyle, not the ‘you’ and ‘the lifestyle’ that someone else tells you that you should have.
SUMMARY: If you’ve failed a diet, it’s not about you. There isn’t something wrong with you, you’re not broken, or doomed, or ruined.
What To Do Instead Of Dieting
By now, you know diets don’t work. You’ve gotten some answers to open-ended questions you’ve had over the years about why you gained weight back, why specific diets haven’t worked for you, and why they’re not going to work for you moving forward regardless of how many times you try. But what do you do? You still want to lose weight and keep it off for good, but you’re not sure where to start, how to have a relationship with food, or what ‘health’ even looks like for you.
Focus On The Inside And The Outside Will Follow
Here is a hard truth: if you’re not good enough now, you’ll never be. Dieting is not a gateway to self-acceptance. It’s actually one of the best ways to not accept, embrace, or empower yourself. Look, your worth isn’t dependent on eating ‘good or bad’ foods, and your self-worth doesn’t improve or decrease at different weights. Your life and your plans shouldn’t depend on what the scale says and chances are, if you base your life around your weight and goal weight, you’ll never be happy, truly enjoying your life while you’re in-between.
Instead of focusing so much on the outside of our bodies and our appearances, we encourage you to focus on the inside. What makes you happy? What makes you satisfied, empowered, or accomplished? How can you maximize those behaviors to enable yourself to be more active, more fulfilled, and to create a more enjoyable life?
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Reduce The Negative Self Talk
Negative self-talk is like poison dripping from a pipe, eroding your health and your weight loss efforts. Every time you say something negative in your mind, your body hears it. These voices often come from others, whether family, friends, social media, or our diet-culture-obsessed society. We internalize them, adopt them, tricking ourselves into believing that they are our truths, creating false standards by which we feel measured.
Shame and self-criticism impact weight management behaviors in a highly negative way. Weight stigma can become associated with feelings of inferiority, shame, and self-criticism [R–R]. Shame and self-criticism are associated with depression [R], body image dissatisfaction [R, R], binge eating [R], and obesity [R]. If left unaddressed, this poison can fill us up and become our reality, the only vision we see and hear on a daily basis.
The only way to reduce negative self-talk is to call ourselves to be more aware of it - why are we doing it? Where did it come from? And how can we cognitively reframe these thoughts to help us, instead of hinder? Accepting responsibility for your actions rather than falling victim to the moment and beating yourself down, is the behavior that gets you further away from your goals than you were when you started.
RELATED ARTICLE: How to Accept Your Body When You Hate It - A Self-Help Guide
“Shoutout to everyone relearning who they are after a lifetime of believing that losing weight was all that they had to offer to the world”
Stop Focusing On Losing Weight
Establishing healthy habits that fuel whole-body health, regardless of whether they lead to a change in weight, is the key to gaining life instead of losing weight. Instead of following fad diets, workouts, and trends, how about taking a couple of your habits and figuring out how you can improve them, one by one?
When you stop focusing on losing weight, and instead, focus on gaining life, you can find health and happiness at every size, regardless of where you’re headed. There’s so much more than just fitting some societal standard when you focus on what truly makes you healthy and happy, from the inside out.
RELATED ARTICLE: 3 Reasons Why You've Hit A Weight Loss Plateau
Move Your Body Regularly
Nobody ever went for a walk, did a workout, or played with their kids and said afterward, “Man I feel terrible!”. The body benefits from movement, and if you don’t move, your body is going to be sad and it’s going to show. So easy fix? MOVE! You don’t need some elaborate plan, a new gym membership, and 6 pairs of expensive leggings. You don’t need six-pack abs to be able to lift a bunch of weight. You just need to get your heart rate up, break a sweat, laugh a little and move around. Aim for 30 minutes of increased heart rate and sweating movement, 2-3x a week, and make it a priority.
RELATED ARTICLE: 5 Reasons Why You Can't Lose Weight
Give Up Dieting For Good
Instead of following some restrictive eating patterns, take a look at the food you eat on a daily basis. How can you make a better decision? If you eat bagels, instead of eating a plain bagel, change it out for a whole wheat bagel. If you drink soda, swap it for a diet soda or carbonated water. If you buy lunch every day, why not prep a simple meal and bring it to work every day? If you don’t eat vegetables, why not make a fruit and veggie smoothie for breakfast instead of a cinnamon roll from the local bakery?
In doing so, you’ll begin to establish a lifestyle that works for you and your goals, rather than following a diet that was made for someone else. You’ll also notice yourself feeling better with little improvements to what you already do. You don’t need an overhaul, you need constant, steady improvement.
Get A Nutrition And Lifestyle Coach
If you don’t know where to begin, instead of floundering, we recommend working with a nutrition and lifestyle coach. If you’re looking to reclaim your health, fuel your lifestyle, learn how to have a relationship with food, and how get healthy from the inside out, the amount of information you can gain from a 1:1 coaching experience is irreplaceable. Sure, the internet is full of information, but is it meant for you and your lifestyle? Nah, probably not.
By working with a coach you will receive guidance to make nutrition and food decisions from a place of self-trust and intuition, with your individual goals and aptitude in mind. By going through your current lifestyle, foods, habits, and mentalities, your plan will not only set you up for the greatest chance of success for your short-term goals, but it will also enable you for long-term planning and maintenance. Whether you’re looking to lose weight, get healthy, or do all of it, coaching may be the most logical and impactful thing you’ve ever done for yourself.
RELATED ARTICLE: 7 Excuses For Not Eating Healthy
Why Limited-Food Diets Don’t Work In Conclusion
Weight management consists of two different phases: achieving the weight loss and maintaining the weight loss. [R] This is why diets don't work. The strategies that work for initiating weight loss may not be effective for keeping the weight off and vice versa. Hence, when choosing a weight-loss diet, no diet can be suitable for everyone. Ultimately, weight-loss diets should be individualized, not cookie-cutter programs, books, and templates with a blanketed approach ‘designed for anyone and everyone’.
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