Why diets DO NOT work
“I only need to lose another 5kg and then I’ll be happy.”
“I can’t eat that, that’s BAD.”
“I will lose weight if I eat 1200 calories a day, I read it on Google.”
“Oh well, I’ll start again Monday.”
“I ate something ‘bad’, so I’m just going to eat anything in sight for the rest of the day.”
Do these sound familiar? You’re not alone. In fact, so many people are stuck in the ‘diet’ mind-set within our society that you are actually the odd one out if you just eat as you please and listen to your body. This is crazy!!
So why don’t diets work? There are so many reasons, but very briefly, here are a few:
1. As soon as you deprive yourself of certain foods, especially those you love, you will only want them more. It is basically reverse psychology. The diet/binge cycle below is a powerful image that speaks for itself. I don’t really need to explain why depriving yourself will only end in failure. Interestingly enough, by allowing yourself to have something if you feel like it and stop when you have had enough, you will likely feel more satisfied, eat less of that certain food, and crave it less than if you were depriving yourself of it.
2. Physiologically your body will do everything in its power to stop you losing weight, it is basic survival. When our body is restricted of adequate energy, it does not know you are simply trying to lose a couple of kilos, all our body understands is there is lack of nutrition. Therefore, the body will slow down its metabolism to minimise energy expenditure, and can do so quite significantly. So even though you may be consuming less energy, your body also responds by using less energy to make sure it has enough to continue running vital bodily functions, for example, keeping your heart beating, digesting food, replenishing cells, building new muscle tissue, and powering your brain, to name a few. Secondly, some of your hormones will start adjusting. One of these hormones is called Leptin. Leptin is made within fat cells of the body, therefore, when you begin to lose fat tissue, your Leptin levels also decrease. The side effect of this is that your body compensates by increasing hunger (think of the binge/overeat phase of the diet cycle) and also reduces the metabolism.
3. How many diets do we see advertised every day, or home exercise equipment that has some obnoxious advertisement screaming at you that you will lose ‘seven kilos in seven days or your money back guaranteed!’ Society has made so many of us feel like we are not good enough and this is now exacerbated by social media – you know what I’m talking about...those flawless Instagram models, making us all feel less than fantastic about ourselves. That company trying to sell you that juice detox WANTS you to feel miserable and overweight so that through pure desperation you pay the $500 for the detox diet plan. Yes, you might lose 3 kg in the first week, but keep in mind most of that is just ‘water weight’ which you will gain back as soon as you eat and drink normally again. After that, you will gain the 3 kg back, plus potentially more due to feeling so hungry and deprived, be $500 down, and continue around that toxic diet cycle. People who go on restrictive diets or diets whereby they lose weight rapidly often end up re-gaining the weight, plus more. A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition (1) showed that five years after a group of participants lost 10% of their body weight, merely 19% of participants had managed to keep the weight off. This is the most optimistic statistic I have seen, as most studies I have read often have 5-10% of participants maintaining their weight loss after two or more years after weight loss.
4. Dieting for specific people who make you feel uncomfortable about your body is awful. Many of us have people in our lives that can be very critical of others weight or size, or even worse, make comments about your own shape or size. I find it so hard to sit around a group critiquing people's shape, weight, or appearance. No thanks, I will not listen to 'fat shaming' or any other type of negative body talk. This isn’t just in terms of comments stating you have gained weight, but also comments saying “you look good, have you lost weight?” These comments are actually just as harmful psychologically. Subconsciously it is telling that person that they didn’t look as good at the size they were, but they look better now because they have lost weight (as society tells us to) and also feeds into their mind that the more weight they lose, the better the will continue to look! Pretty toxic. On a side note, there is nothing worse than going out for a special dinner and having people go on and on about how they shouldn't be eating something, or 'oh, this cake is so naughty!' That's another topic entirely..
A classic example to intertwine the points above:
Suzie has always been trying to lose weight; she has poor self-esteem and believes her life would be better and happier if she lost 10 kg. She is imaged focused and would like to be more the size of her smaller framed friends. So, like every Monday for the last 10 years she starts a new diet, promising herself this time will be different and will end in success. Monday rolls around and Suzie tells herself she is not going to eat more than 1200 calories each day, alongside having no chocolate, baking, or anything with potato because potato is a carbohydrate and Suzie heard from a friend that carbohydrates are the enemy and make you gain weight. She is also having two special diet drinks a day which she paid a small fortune for as they apparently help ‘burn fat’ (even though there is no scientific evidence to back the companies statement). Suzie believes that if the drinks cost that much money they must be a miracle remedy! Truth is, Suzie absolutely loves these foods, especially having crackers and cheese over a wine or three with her friends. She makes it through a couple of days of feeling deprived, hangry and moody before she is invited to a friend’s birthday event. She doesn’t really want to go as she is unsure how she will cope with food temptations and scared she may lose control when all her friends are eating and drinking. At the event, she has one cracker as this was all she was allowing herself, but the one cracker soon turns into five as she is SOOOO uncontrollably hungry, and the one glass of wine turns into four. By the end of the night Suzie is feeling really down as she has completely gone over her 1200 calories that day and feels like she has already failed her fresh start when she only just started. She completely gives up and eats and drinks everything available at the party for the rest of the night. Suzie’s mind-set is fueling her deprived food rampage as she continues to tell herself she will start again tomorrow and she may as well make the most of now as there will be no more after tonight! A week later, Suzie steps on the scale, no weight loss, but a gain of 0.2 kg! Suzie feels incredibly deflated and frustrated at herself for her lack of willpower and inability to reach society’s ideals of beauty. What is she doing wrong? Why has she not lost 5 kg?! Upset, frustrated, and miserable, Suzie starts her Monday in a down mood thinking, ‘maybe next week.’ Sadly for Suzie, this cycle has gone on for years and her weight has remained within the same few kilograms the entire time, whilst wasting her money and dampening the more precious moments of life – like the birthday night for her friend.
From my understanding, I can only imagine many of you reading this can empathise with Suzie and maybe even relate to being in Suzie’s shoes at some point.
So how can you get out of the diet cycle:
- Seek advice and help from a Registered Dietitian, NOT off social media.
- Enjoy all foods, in moderation.
- Be mindful at all meal times, make time for your food.
- Delete any accounts off social media that make you feel like you should be dieting.
- Surround yourself with friends and family who accept you for who you are and are positive influences about food, eating, and body image.
Food for thought: If diets (i.e. restriction and deprivation) worked, then why is the diet industry worth billions, yet everyone is always starting a new one?
I will leave you this this powerful quote:
Don’t miss out on 95% of your life trying to weigh 5% less.
1. Shai I, Stampfer MJ. Weight-loss diets – can you keep it off? Am J Clin Nutr [internet]. 2008 [cited 23 September 2018]; 1185-1186. Available from: https://academic.oup.com/ajcn/article/88/5/1185/4649082