Diets don’t work! You’ve heard this for a while now. However, weight loss companies and diet pushers have changed their tactic a little and have found a way for you to buy into a new type of weight loss strategy. I’m sure all kinds of shiny new diets are popping up right now on your FaceBook or Instagram feed. “Go Low Carb,” “Choose Paleo for weight loss,” “Lose weight with Keto.” The fact of the matter is none of these strategies actually work.
Before we talk about why diets don’t work, we must define what “work” means. For most people a diet that “works” is a diet that you will lose enough weight to reach your “goal weight” (what a is a goal weight is a topic for another time) and stay there for the rest of your life. Oh, and for most people, this diet should be easy to adhere to. Sound about right? Although most diets can help you lose weight, it is almost never enough weight and that weight loss is not sustainable (in fact, one often gains back more weight than they lost). This is true no matter which diet you try. There is absolutely no evidence that a particular kind of diet is more effective than any other. Low carb is no more effective than low fat, etc.
YES, BUT WHY?!
There are many factors that contribute to the unsustainability of diets and the inevitable weight gain. Some are biological and some are psychological.
You can’t fight evolution:
Humans evolved in a feast and famine environment. The survival of our species depended on us to be able to store energy when food was abundant and to be able to efficiently use that energy when food was not. Those individuals who did not store energy effectively in the form of adipose tissue (aka fat under the skin) did not survive. Until fairly recently (maybe the last 50-100 years), food was in short supply. Now we live in what I like to call a “food toxic” environment. Food is abundant and available 24/7, and most of the available food is the most palatable and energy dense kind of food. We are programed to be drawn to this food. Adding to the struggle is that when we decide to restrict calories and lose weight, our physiology registers that we are “starving”* and increases our cravings and slows metabolism. This is why it is so hard to maintain a weight loss. The more you restrict, the more you have to restrict just to maintain. Fat also stores hormones that regulate eating. When you lose fat those hormones are released into the blood stream and signal to your brain to eat more and eat more calorie dense foods.
In addition to physiological changes there are also significant psychological changes that sabotage your food choices and lead to difficulties in losing weight and keeping it off.
Restriction = Depression
There is a large body of evidence that when you restrict calories and make favorite foods taboo that there is a significant decrease in mood and lack of interest in other pleasurable activities. People truly suffer when they can’t enjoy their food. Suffering and depression are associated with increased consumption of highly palatable foods and can often lead to overeating and even binging on those foods. This in turn exacerbates depression and feelings of failure which can trigger the cycle over again.
Stigma and shame cause weight gain.
Shaming yourself after you make an eating mistake can lead to more mistakes and eventually abandoning your diet. When we focus on the negative and label ourselves as “bad or “a failure” that tends to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. This is true in all aspects of our life, not just with our food choices. If you negate all that’s good in your life and focus on the “bad” things you can end up feeling quite depressed. As I said before, a depressed mood often leads to weight gain. Feeling like a failure can quickly lead to what I like to call the “Screw-it Principle.” If you are hopeless about your ability to stick to a diet you are likely to say “screw-it” and abandon your diet.
THE GOOD NEWS:
You may be asking “Andi, why should I even bother if my diet is doomed to fail?” The good news is that although “diets” may be doomed to fail, you are not! If you change your THINKING about food and eating, you CAN lose weight and improve your health significantly.
Diets Don’t Work!!
Just forget about all these fad diets. They don’t work and there is no magic in them. The only way to lose weight is to decrease your calories consumed relative to your output.
Change your definition of success.
It is unlikely (but not impossible) that you will reach your “Goal Weight!” Everyone has a biological weight range and that range shifts over time, mostly due to major life changes (adulthood, childbirth, menopause, etc.). If you try to lose too much weight your body will go into starvation mode (see above). Everyone’s weight range is different. A better goal is to improve your health and/or prevent future health problems from occurring. Any improvement to your diet with result in better health! If you need a number on the scale to shoot for, set a goal of a 10% loss from your current weight.
Be Kind to Yourself!
You make healthy decisions all the time!! Try to focus on those decisions you are happy with and be proud of yourself! If you make an eating mistake, treat it as such then move on! This is very powerful!
Work with a health coach to discover how you are justifying bad food choices.
Look, It’s not about the food! It’s your eating decisions that are getting you into trouble. A trained professional can help you discover how your thoughts are sabotaging your goals. You may be justifying poor food choices and not even realize it. A coach can also provide the much needed support during the challenging process of shifting your thinking.
Making small but significant changes and feeling good about yourself no matter your size is the true measure of success. Today could be the first day to a new you!