8 Reasons Dieting Doesn't Work

The common definition of dieting is “to restrict oneself to small amounts or special kinds of food in order to lose weight.” But the unfortunate news is that while dieting can result in short-term weight loss, most of the time it doesn’t result in any long-term health benefits.  In fact, dieting usually causes people to store more fat on their bodies when their diet’s over than what they started out with!  If you’re not convinced that dieting isn’t the best option for losing weight, read my point-by-point argument:

1) Dieting is DE-motivating and Negative: After all, nobody reads or hears the word “diet” or “dieting” and has happy thoughts. By it’s very definition dieting is about restriction; the emphasis is on the “cant’s” and “do-nots.”  Starting with such a negative focus creates a de-motivating association with living healthy. Abundant health depends on having a positive and sustainable outlook towards food.  We already have enough stressors and downers in our lives — the last thing we need is to add dieting to the list. Besides, stress can cause an increase in cortisol, which causes the body to store extra fat. In other words, worrying about weight-loss can actually cause weight-gain!

2) The Brain is Highly Efficient at Regulating Weight: Did you know that the brain is hardwired to protect your body from starving by closely regulating your weight?  The brain is getting constant feedback from and sending messages to the rest of the body through hormones like leptin and ghrelin. These hormones powerfully influence feelings of hunger and satiety.  They also interact with your body’s overall metabolism; if your brain gets the idea that your body isn’t getting the normal nutrition it’s used to, then it will actually signal your body to go into starvation/preservation mode.  When your body goes into starvation body, your metabolism slows down (which means it burns fewer calories) and will automatically store extra calories as fat the next time you eat a decent meal.  

The lesson: The body is very good at maintaining stasis. Even if someone has a lot of extra body fat, dieting will cause the body to try and preserve that fat and even add more to it once the diet is over.  This is the reason why so many people have stories of losing x amount of pounds and then later gaining it all back again.  

3) Dieting Promotes Unhealthy Cycles of Ups and Downs: Dieting results in unhealthy cycles that have physical and mental consequences.  One feels elated when losing weight but then extremely depressed when the pounds are put back on again.  The feelings of depression can cause stress, hormone imbalance, and increased weight gain. When fat is regained, people are often motivated to take extreme dieting measures, which lead to the same vicious cycle. Eventually  people come to a breaking point by either giving into obesity or making a real lifestyle change.  Sadly, it’s often not realized that a lifestyle change is the key until a life threatening consequence arises, such as diabetes, stroke, or high blood pressure.

4) Dieting Involves Sacrificing Important Nutrients for Health: Many diets call for extreme amounts of various macronutrients, such as high-protein or very low carbohydrates.  The problem is that if someone doesn’t feel energized or mentally focused (which can occur on low-carbohydrate diets), he or she probably isn’t gong to be able to continue dieting for very long. Another common diet is the low-fat diet, but many people don’t realize that fats are essential for proper hormone function and cellular regeneration.  Fats are needed for absorbing fat-soluble vitamins (A,D,E,K) and form the building block of cellular membranes.  In the long run, it doesn’t make sense to give up foods that the body needs for optimum health. 

5) Dieting is Expensive: One of the reasons dieting is so popular is because there’s a lot of money to be made in the weight-loss industry. Because there’s so much money in it, large corporations hold nothing back when it comes to using aggressive marketing campaigns to convince people of the importance and effectiveness of their name brand diets. Then there are celebrity diets — eager to make a profit from their latest dieting books, big claims are made, and people rush to learn the latest “weight-loss secrets.” The pre-made “diet” foods and reading materials that are part of most of these programs aren’t cheap either!  Industry experts know that most people are willing to pay a large price to lose those extra pounds “quickly and effectively.”

6) Dieting is Dangerous: Depending on how extreme the diet, some weight-loss programs put the body at risk for hormonal, electrolyte, energy, fluid, and micronutrient imbalances. These imbalances can cause weakness, increased blood pressure, insomnia, digestive damage, and cellular aging.  It’s far healthier to have excess body fat than put the body’s overall health at risk using dieting drugs, extreme “cleanses,” starvation methods, or unprescribed hormones.

7) Dieting Reinforces a Negative Self-Image: Dieting with an emphasis on weight-loss is often motivated by a desire to be thin, not for health reasons, but in hopes of improving one’s image. When dieting is used to obtain some elusive “model image” it can quickly become a depressing and vain pursuit that reinforces one’s own negative self-perception.  When “skinniness” is used as the gauge to determine good health, it becomes difficult to determine when one is “skinny” enough.  After all, there is always someone in the media, some model or actor, that is skinnier.  Moreover, our self-perceptions aren’t always accurate, especially when they’re influenced by a previously existing, negative self-worth.  Things get even more challenging when we’re not able to meet our dieting goals.  Overall, dieting, especially with an emphasis on weight-loss, generally does very little to improve self-image, and even less to improve one’s health.

8) The Healthiest People in the World DO NOT Diet: Since the research shows the dieting doesn’t provide weight-loss results and doesn’t improve health, where should we get our cues for healthy eating? Logically, a good place to start is with the eating habits of the healthiest people in the world.  The evidence suggests that the healthiest people tend to be from pre-industrial cultures or are people who eat mostly whole-foods. The healthiest people don’t diet at all; they don’t restrict themselves from eating in order to lose weight.  Instead they eat intuitively by listening to their bodies, and they live a lifestyle of healthy eating.  The things they make available for themselves to eat, day in and day, are nutritious and satisfying.  

It makes sense the people who eat a balanced diet of whole foods are healthy and tend to have minimal excess body-fat. After all, since the brain is hardwired to preserve and protect the body, the only way to maintain  a healthy percentage of body-fat is by consistently giving the body what it needs. When the body get’s the nutrients it needs in the right balance — healthy fats, protein, good carbs, vitamins, minerals — then the brain will signal the body and let it know that it’s had enough to eat.  Also, when the brain knows that the body will consistently get what  it needs, then it won’t go into starvation mode.  Instead, the brain will allow the body to access its fat stores for extra energy as needed

The Take Away: If you feel like you need to lose some extra body-fat ask yourself a few questions: What is your motivation?  Are you willing to make a lifestyle change?  If you’re not willing or you don’t feel educated enough to make a lifestyle change, read and study until your convinced  that eating whole foods (vegetables, fruits, meat, eggs, nuts, whole dairy) is the most delicious and healthy way to live.  It may take time to make a total  change, but it’s essential to make a commitment towards eating the best way possible for the rest of your life.

Ideally, losing excess fat is achieved by leading an active lifestyle (including incorporating exercise) and eating whole foods.  A sustainable rate of weight-loos is about 1-2 pounds per week.  But, in all reality, weight can be a poor indicator of health. Instead, focus on healthy living and the rest will take care of itself.

References: “Why Your Brain Doesn’t Want to Lose Weight,” By Sandra Aamodt on Ted.com; The Schwarzbien Principle, By Dr. Schwarzbien.

Originally posted 2013-09-12 16:46:36.

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