Why Diets Don’t Work
Updated: Nov 1
Another year, another opportunity to make a resolution. If you’re like the majority of us, you may have made a New Year’s Resolution to get healthier or lose weight. But here’s why you shouldn’t go on a diet this year.
It’s January, which means we are all getting inundated with dieting “inspiration” posts, ads and articles. Many people will resolve to lose those extra 10 pounds, or take part in a detox (no processed food, vegan, raw, paleo for a month?…Who could keep up), or cut out sugar once and for all. Or maybe you’re thinking of starting the Whole 30 diet, giving up dairy or going gluten-free? While most people start out the year motivated, the majority of these dieting resolutions quickly fails. This year, instead of blaming your lack of willpower or self-control, realize that dieting itself is the problem.
Start by adding goodness to your life rather than removing, dieting, limiting or restricting.
Let Me Tell You Why Diets Don’t Work
Our bodies are smarter than we think. Dieting is a type of forced starvation and our bodies are wired for survival. When you start to restrict the types and amounts of food your body switches into survival mode, which can mean uncontrollable cravings, overeating and binges. Think about it – as soon as you tell yourself you can’t have something, what is it you think about? That’s right, the exact food you are trying not to eat. The more you try not to eat, say, chocolate or candy, the more likely you are to overeat it once you get access to it, since you don’t know when you’ll be able to eat it again. This has been extensively studied and can be explained in part using the science of food habituation. Habituation means that the more you are exposed to something, whether that be food, noise, or a certain smell, the less you notice or care about it. For example, after living in Toronto for most of life I’m completely habituated to loud noises and don’t even register that sound anymore.
Why You Need to Give Yourself Permission to Eat Anything
I always considered chocolate my “trigger food” so I never kept it in my house. I felt like I had no control and would just eat it all. Then my sister started working at this gourmet chocolate shop (hellooo, a chocolate shop) and brought all kinds of treats home everyday. At first, I did go overboard (I mean come on!). But eventually, once I realized that there would always be chocolate around, I got used to it being there and it became less special. Now I can keep all sorts of chocolates and desserts in my house and not think twice about it. Since I know that those foods will always be there, and I have given myself permission to eat them whenever I want. I was able to identify when I really craved and wanted a treat verses eating for the sake of eating. I am a no longer a chocoholic, well with the exception of my pre-period week then all bets are off!
The Guilt-Deprivation Cycle
There’s another piece to the puzzle of why diets don’t work: the guilt-deprivation cycle. When we diet or restrict certain foods or food groups, you’ll eventually feel deprived. This will lead to cravings, followed by overeating which causes you to feel out of control, ashamed and guilty. To regain control, you start dieting and restricting again, trying to be “good” – which eventually leads to deprivation, overeating, followed again by guilt. And the cycle continues.
What to Do Instead of Dieting
Instead of starting yet another diet this year, learn to become an mindful eater and build a better relationship with food and your body. mindful eaters eat based on internal signals like hunger, fullness and satisfaction. They let go of the misconception that certain foods are good or bad, and eat what they want without feeling guilty or ashamed. They accept that once they normalize their eating patterns, by eating according to hunger and fullness cues, their body will settle at its natural set point weight.
Are you interested in changing your relationship with food?
I work with clients virtually around the world, helping people who are frustrated with dieting change their relationship with food, become more mindful eaters and say goodbye to diets once and for all. Learn more about my nutrition counselling services and lifestyle coaching programs to see how you can find balance and develop long-term healthy eating habits.