Why Diets Don’t Work
Why Restrictive Diets Don’t Work (most of the time)
So before I start, I am going to explain what I mean by the word “diet”. Traditionally, the word “diet” meant the types of foods we tend to consume on a regular basis. Nowadays, however, it is usually paired with the idea of rules and restrictions. When someone states they are going on a diet, they are referring to setting up some rules in the hopes of weight loss. It’s ironic that the main predictor of weight gain is dieting to begin with! Why is that? It seems a bit counter-intuitive. Well the reason is because 90 – 95% of diets fail. This is mainly due to the unrealistic rules and expectations set by the diet. They are rules we are at first, determined to follow promising ourselves that this time it will be different. Yet when hit diet rock bottom, we tend to blame ourselves. If we have a nice car and take it in for regular service and do everything it is we are supposed to do to keep it going, we don’t blame ourselves if the car stops working do we? Yet with a 5 – 10% success rate with diets we still tend to blame ourselves. It’s not your fault. That’s how diets are marketed. And I get it! I was there! Diets entice us with the results our society tells we need in order to be worthy. They seem easy at first but once we begin experiencing dieting backlash, it becomes a struggle to maintain that diet.
The following are a few examples of what dieting backlash looks like:
- Cravings for “forbidden foods”
- Have you ever been told that you can’t have something and then that’s all you crave? Sometimes depriving ourselves like that works against us. Some people may overeat other foods in search of that same satisfaction they would find with a handful of chips. Once we do have the opportunity to have a taste we feel we have lost all control and can’t seem to stop eating! … that’s not your fault. That was the diet setting you up.
- Going on a food binge when ending the diet and then feeling guilty about it
- As a continuation from the point above, if we get to that out-of-control place after being deprived that’s where the binge may happen when we think “what the heck! I already blew it anyways!” Post-dieting binges actually occur in about 1/2 of all of the people who end a diet. This can be particularly intense with very restricting diets, such as very low carbohydrate diet. Again, this is not your fault! It is actually a biological response that your body will set off when it is deprived of nutrition. Our body is smart and when it notices that something is missing, it will influence you correct it.
- Social withdrawal
- It is exhausting putting forth that effort to turn away from forbidden foods when friends and family are enjoying them. Sometimes it can just become easier to stay away from those social situations altogether.
- Increased risk of eating disorders
- A history of dieting is one of the strongest predictors for eating disorders. That can be scary considering that eating disorders are the psychiatric illness with the highest mortality rate.
- Erosion of trust with yourself and food
- Every diet trains us not to trust our body. We are given rules and tools to dictate what, when, and how much to eat. We were born with the ability to listen to our body when it needs to be nourished. However, when it’s voice is drowned out by diet culture, it is hardly ever heard.
- Increased risk of cardiovascular disease
- The weight loss and weight gain over and over again increases your risk for heart disease more than if you were overweight to start with.
I am aware that some diets do work for some people but they are a small number of people. As you can see, restrictive diets have a tendency to do more harm than good so when looking at the bigger picture of health, they are not worth pursuing. When thinking of changing your eating habits ask yourself if you can see yourself sticking to this habit for the rest of your life. If there is a bit of hesitation, it may not be the diet for you. The best diet is something you can stick to for the rest of your life and still enjoy your life! There is no point agonizing over every little bit of food when it is going to suck the joy out of your life. You need to find out what works for you as everyone is different.
Andrea Kennedy RD CDE