Why do we still do it?
Most people have tried a diet at some point during their life. Truthfully, you have probably tried more than one. The results are all usually the same. You might lose weight initially, but as time passes, it is increasingly challenging to maintain the diet and eventually you stop following the diet. This means that you will most likely regain a good portion, if not all, of the weight that you lost. So, why don’t diets work? Why do we keep doing them? Is there a better way to lose weight and maintain it?
When we think of the word diet, it is usually in the terms of a temporary and restrictive program of eating in order to lose weight. This thought of dieting as a weight loss program is where our thinking becomes faulty because we don’t understand how our body reacts to the process of dieting both mentally and physically. Mentally, our brain is designed to take in food and build energy reserves when food is available and resist efforts to burn those reserves. This is due to the fact food scarcity has been a problem for centuries in human history much longer than food abundance. Your brain has a predetermined “ideal” weight for your body based on food availability and lifestyle, not your health. When you deprive yourself of certain foods, your brain becomes hyper-focused on those foods. This awareness of deprivation causes you to not enjoy eating which is one of the reasons why it is difficult to maintain a diet. Physically, the hormones that control your body’s sensations of fullness and hunger are affected. The sensation of hunger increases and the sensation of fullness decreases as you diet and your body loses weight. Also, your metabolism changes when dieting. Your body thinks it is starving and finds a way to function on fewer calories to promote “survival.” Typically, fad diets also do not provide your body with the correct nutrients that it needs to function and teach you nothing about eating healthy, so when you stop using the diet, you go back to your old habits. When a diet isn’t working, we don’t blame the diet for being an ineffective solution but we blame ourselves. This causes a significant emotional reaction to dieting and our views of oneself. The reason diets do not work in the long term is because your body is fighting you every step of the way.
The process of dieting, not dieting and dieting again is known as “yo-yo dieting” or “diet-binge cycle” and is just as ineffective as dieting alone. Since the early 1960s, it has been known that most dieters will regain the weight they lose, with about a third gaining it back within one year and almost all people gain it back within 3 – 5 years. Also, all the research since then has not found any diet to be a “success,” when defining it as successful if you are able to maintain long-term weight loss. Unfortunately, there are no “magic” weight loss pills or powders and those that claim to be can actually pose a serious health risk. So, why is dieting still a thing if it doesn’t work?
We can thank our current societal views of what the ideal body is supposed to look like. For men, they need to not only physically fit, but ripped to the point they have muscles bulging everywhere. For women, they are thin, petite and have curves in the right places. While some of us might be able to attain the “perfect” body, the majority of us will not. This striving to be perfect has helped to fuel an industry of companies that promote diets and dieting. An industry that roughly makes $60 billion a year on people trying different diets. Instead of trying to look like what other people are saying is the “perfect” body, we should focus on being healthy no matter how our body looks. How do you do this?
It is going to sound simple, but it is definitely the most effective at long-term weight loss maintenance. It is to get rid of the diet and the diet mindset of restricting food and it being a temporary thing that is going to permanently fix your weight. We have to view it as a lifestyle change and make it sustainable for the long-term. This involves developing a plan that promotes healthy foods, pleasurable eating and regular exercise. In order to initiate the process, it is essential to become aware of your eating habits. During this time period of self-evaluation, becoming informed about healthy foods can help with the transition to a better lifestyle. This doesn’t mean that you give up the food that you like, even if it isn’t the healthiest, but by being aware, you might eat a smaller portion and maybe not consume it as frequently. All of this can lead to eating being more pleasurable. By not completely cutting out food that you like and learning about new foods that you might love, eating can be enjoyable again. Also, by eating healthier, your body will feel better and function better; which leads to the next point of regular exercise. You don’t have to become a marathon runner or exercise obsessively. Just increasing your activity level from where it is currently at to something more can huge health benefits. Most research shows that the majority of people only need to lose about 10% of their current body weight to have significant health benefits, such as lower blood pressure, better blood sugar control and decrease the risk of heart disease/diabetes. The other major factor in contributing to a lifestyle change that promotes healthy eating and weight loss is being present when eating. This means don’t have your TV on and put down the phone or other electronics. By doing this, you take mindless eating out of the equation and are better able to recognize the signals from your body when you are full, which will decrease the chance of you overeating. This awareness of what your body is telling you is also important in paying attention to when you are hungry and not eating unless you are. Both of these will help to retrain your brain on its weight regulation system. All of these changes combined together will help you to achieve your weight loss goals while maintaining realistic expectations of yourself. Also by not completely cutting out foods that you enjoy, you will be more likely to continue this lifestyle change going forward.
Dieting is not a solution to anyone’s concerns about their weight. In order to make changes, the essential element is to make a lifestyle change that will be easy to sustain. By cutting back on certain foods, trying healthy foods, eating all foods in moderation and paying attention while you’re eating will make losing weight less challenging and more rewarding. Increasing your activity level and finding fun ways to get some exercise will also provide significant benefit in not only losing weight, but can help decrease the severity of other health problems. Being at your “perfect” weight—more importantly, healthy—is not only attainable, but you can have fun and enjoy the journey too.