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Why Diets Don’t Work & What To Do Instead

It’s estimated that 1/3 of Americans will go on some type of diet every year, with billions of dollars spent on weight loss products (1).

I mean, their offers seem pretty attractive. If you want to lose weight, just take a pill to help you stop eating the foods that make you gain weight, right?

So you try a few pills, shakes, and waistbands. They didn’t work. Then you try the latest fad diet. After all the success stories you’ve seen, maybe it’ll work for you too. 

You’re doing everything right. You’re avoiding your favorite breads, skipping happy hour, counting your macros, and hitting the elliptical six days a week. But the numbers on the scale aren’t moving… at least, not in the direction you’re wanting.

Diets can work for some, but it rarely results in long term success. Even if you’ve been doing well for a few weeks, you may begin to crave your old favorite foods, eventually caving to the pressure as you destroy that box of Oreos at 1 in the morning.

Guilt sets in, but your determination is rekindled. You do well for a while, but then you get off track again. The cycle continues.

So why aren’t you losing weight despite working out and dieting? Is it true that diets don’t work?

We’re going to delve into the reasons diets don’t work long term, and what you can do instead.

Why Diet

Why do people diet, anyway? For some, it may be a bad diagnosis that sets them on the path towards healthier eating patterns. Others may be athletes trying to improve their physical condition, and others may be simply trying to fit a culture image.

Being overweight can lead to serious health issues such as diabetes (2), heart disease (4), and even premature deaths (7).

Those that diet because they’re overweight are often familiar with the health risks and want to make a change. But human nature often looks for the “quick fix”, and that’s where the fad diets come in. Not many want to make the long-term changes that are necessary for true success.

The Science: When you go on a diet, you usually take in considerably less calories than normal. Your body stores extra energy in fat tissue, so severely restricting your calories over long periods of time causes your body to respond by going into “starvation mode”. This means you actually hang on to your extra energy storage – aka your fat – making it that much harder to lose the weight (10).

Some experts observe roughly 80-95% of people who diet gain it right back (8). Most people who lose weight with a diet will often gain it back within 1-3 years. And while genetics, hormones, and environment may play a role, many still turn to the next new thing in hopes it will help them reach their goals.

One recent study pointed out how a group of 942 patients followed certain diet protocols for 6 months. Even though their blood pressures and cholesterol levels improved, within 12 months their progress had all but disappeared (9).

Physically

Based on studies and many personal testimonies, it seems clear that diets don’t work. But not only do they not work, dieting can have negative effects on your body, like (3):

  • Slow down reaction times
  • Enable dehydration
  • Shorten your endurance
  • Increase stress and anxiety
  • Cause hair thinning
  • Reduce your coordination
  • Decrease muscle strength
  • Bring on feelings of weakness and fatigue

These symptoms tend to happen shortly after starting a new diet regimen and can last throughout the duration of the diet, sometimes even afterwards.

Mentally

Diets are often successful only if you adopt a certain mindset. It involves a strong will to control what you eat and what you don’t. If you only see food at face value, it has the potential to create an unhealthy relationship with food.

Studies also show the negative effects dieting can have on you mentally (3). Those who decide to undertake a restrictive diet could:

  • Have increased anxiety
  • Develop eating disorders
  • Lower your ability to concentrate
  • Bring on feelings of depression

With all the colors, textures, and varieties of food in this word, surely it is meant to be enjoyed. But if food becomes the enemy, perhaps it’s time to take a different approach.

The Solution

So if diets don’t work, what can you do instead? Taking a holistic approach to food, weight loss, and nutrition can make all the difference when it comes to making a lasting impact on your health.

Understanding that food exists for more than just good taste, but to fuel your body to do incredible things. Just imagine what it would be like to go on those long runs, high jumps, boat strokes, mountain climbs, or golf swings. It’s about nourishment.

And nourishment involves more than just food. It involves your physical, mental, emotional, social and spiritual being (5). Incorporating friends and family, trying new dishes, and embracing the wonder of life can help shift your perspective on food and how it affects both your body and your environment.

Ways you can practice mindfulness when it comes to eating are (6):

    • Come hungry, but not starving: Try not to skip meals. If you need a protein snack to hold you over, reach for a handful of nuts, or veggies with hummus. This can help you enjoy your meal, instead of simply trying to fill the void in your stomach.
    • Eat Slowly: Not being in a hurry can greatly benefit your dining experience. Chewing between 20 and 40 minutes can help give your brain time to realize you’re full. This can help prevent you from eating too many calories.
    • Consider Crowding: Instead of focusing on what not to eat, crowd your pantry and plate with more of the “bad” foods you may want to eat.
    • Take a moment to appreciate your food:  A little gratitude goes a long way. Before diving into the meal, briefly pause and give thanks. And don’t forget to thank the cook!
    • Pick a Smaller Plate: Filling up a smaller plate can help make it seem like you’re getting a lot.
    • Round up Your Senses: Take note of the way your meal smells. Notice details in the seasonings, how the food is arranged or falls into place. If you didn’t prepare the meal, try to figure out which seasonings were used.
    • Cook More at Home: Experiment with different culinary dishes from around the world. Try out dried and fresh spices, and host parties to celebrate the discovery of new favorite foods.

  • Aim for Health over Weight: Don’t focus so much on trying to fit into those size 2 jeans. Instead, eat for the increased energy, focus, and overall well being that comes when you choose healthier foods. 
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    Wrap Up

    Dieting may seem like the way to go, but in the long run you’ll likely end up tired, frustrated, and back where you started. While it’s true that being overweight can lead to lots of health problems, taking a “quick fix” approach could cause more harm than good.

    Research shows that not only does dieting not work, the physical and mental side effects can be quite negative.

    Instead of participating in all the latest fad diets, focus more on nourishing your body – physically, mentally, and spiritually. Eating mindfully, experimenting with different spices, and enjoying other’s company can help you reach your long term weight goals.

    Do you know a dieter who might benefit from this information? Be sure to share this with them today!

     References & Disclaimers

    (1) https://www.bmc.org/nutrition-and-weight-management/weight-management

    (2) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4259868/

    (3) https://uhs.berkeley.edu/sites/default/files/bewell_nodieting.pdf

    (4) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3250069/

    (5) https://www.takingcharge.csh.umn.edu/how-does-diet-impact-health

    (6) https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/8-steps-to-mindful-eating

    (7) https://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/overweight-obesity-mortality-risk/

    (8) https://health.clevelandclinic.org/why-people-diet-lose-weight-and-gain-it-all-back/

    (9) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32238384/

    (10) https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/starvation-mode#what-it-implies 

    ✝✝This noted statement is based on independent research and is not necessarily the opinion of the author 

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