This might seem a harsh statement but dieting really does more harm than good. It can be hard to accept this when we are desperate to achieve weight loss. Often we feel that we need to diet to stay motivated, to kick-start our healthy eating plan, or to start seeing results. The reality is, however, that with only 5 per cent of individuals being able to maintain the lost weight from dieting it appears that diets do not work in the long term. In fact, most individuals regain the weight plus extra kilos following dieting due to a change in their appetite, metabolism and body fat levels. So how does dieting fail?
Why Dieting Will Always Fail You
The key to achieving a healthy weight for your frame is to never diet. We are biologically programmed to not diet as this is seen as a major threat by our body to our own survival. After all, from our body’s perspective, famine is something to be feared at all costs. Dieting essentially sets our body into thinking that it is currently experiencing a terrible period of famine. As a result, internal body mechanisms are put into motion to prevent the weight from easily coming off in the first place and then to quickly cause us to regain the weight once we have stopped dieting.
In fact, studies reveal that during dieting our hunger centre is activated so that we have insatiable appetites and our body turns a blind eye as to how much body fat it feels comfortable carrying. Normally the amount of body fat we are carrying is tightly regulated and our hunger is kept under control through hormones known as leptin and ghrelin. These hormones keep in check our level of body fat stores as a way of safeguarding our survival. When we have periods of dieting these hormones can get thrown out of balance and send signals to our body to increase our body fat stores to protect us from the next ‘famine’. This means that when you have returned to normal eating you will gain even more weight than when you started.
The Yo-Yo Dieting Mindset
This brings me to another major reason diets do not work in that we are forced to eat a certain way that is not ‘normal’ for us. When we start a new diet we may be deprived of our favourite foods or the diet may be unrealistic to maintain and not flexible. For example, not wanting to be excluded from enjoying social events we succumb to eating our favourite foods and then feel like we have failed our diet. This can start a cycle of yo-yo dieting, which goes something like:
- Devote to sticking to a set diet plan
- Succeed in doing this for a period of time
- Start seeing results and getting compliments from others
- Feel like a success
- Start feeling deprived and/or hungry
- Succumb to temptation and eat our favourite foods
- Overeat or binge eat
- Feel shame and guilt
- Devote to stick to the diet again tomorrow or on Monday
- Fail again at sticking to the diet soon after
- Feel like a failure
This can be a dangerous cycle and lead to ever-increasing weight gain and low self-esteem.
Further to the psychological pulls of dieting there are real physiological disruptions caused by dieting that essentially put into motion metabolic and biological blockades to stop you losing weight and to make you gain it back again. In essence, dieting activates ‘thrifty genes’ that induce weight gain, both by increasing your hunger drive and decreasing your metabolism, and dieting triggers other weight-gain mechanisms, many of which will be beyond your conscious control.
The fundamental drive behind these occurrences is because your body sees weight loss as a threat to survival; after all, having body fat protects you from dying from starvation, it cushions your organs, and keeps you fertile. In essence, having body fat is a sign of having enough to eat and thus being in an advantageous situation. Of course we know that being well-fed does not mean well-nourished. As previously discussed in other chapters, foods have changed so much in recent times due to processing that many of the nutrients that signal satiety have been stripped from our foods. This means that we can be eating enough basic calories but nourishment from our food is lacking; essentially our body will continue to crave more and more food and weight, then, continues to rise.
Aside from balancing your food intake to include foods that contain nourishment, it is important that we learn how to eat in a way that is not depriving or condemning our bodies. Thus, a better approach is to not diet but develop a low-sacrifice healthy way of eating (explained further below). This will lead to results in the long-term to our waistlines and confidence levels.
Holistic Medical Doctor, Author ‘Healthy Habits, 52 Ways to Better Health‘