Are you unhappy when you look in the mirror? Unable to perform day-to-day activities? Or would just like to fit into a new outfit, and thought you’d really like to lose some weight? If so, it’s natural that your first instinct may be to go on a diet. By diet I mean a highly restrictive food plan that one follows in efforts to lose weight. But more often than not, this quick, reactive approach to weight loss fails, and can actually steer you away from your goals in the long run. So, let’s look at the downfalls of diets, and why it’s best to avoid them.
Why do diets fail?
They trigger a starvation response: When you significantly reduce your food intake or starve yourself, your body may lose some initial muscle tissue or water and drop in weight. But then your body recognises the risk of famine, and protects itself by holding onto its food stores. This is achieved by increasing the concentration of enzymes used to store fat, and reducing metabolic rate. In other words, becoming more efficient at storing fat, and reducing the speed at which food or energy is burned off, often leading to weight gain as soon as you eat normally again.
They cause emotional deprivation: If you can’t eat anything you really want to eat but see others enjoying their food, you’ll most likely feel deprived. This often leads to feelings of depression and frustration, and can cause you to emotionally eat. In most cases, this can create feelings of guilt from going against your diet, leading you to then binge eat and actually gain rather than lose weight.
They aren’t sustainable: Often diets will prevent you from eating food from one or multiple food groups, as well as some of your favourite foods. Are you going to be able to continue eating that way for the rest of your life, and would you even want to? Not very likely – in fact, you’ll probably have craved certain foods for so long that you start to binge.
They are often created with an end date in mind: Diets are a reactive approach to losing weight, meaning people often have a goal weight in mind they would like to reach and decide to diet until they get there. But when the diet ends, you’ll most likely go back to previous eating habits because you had not developed a sustainable healthy eating lifestyle. And it may actually be these habits that lead you to gain weight in the first place.
And why else shouldn’t you diet?
Diets can also be quite dangerous for your physical and mental health:
They can harm your relationship with food: Dieters tend to view everything as a Calorie, rather than as food being a great source of energy. This can lead people to have negative feelings about themselves if they eat ‘something they shouldn’t have’, which can reduce self-esteem, and create feelings of anxiety or guilt around food.
They are the most known precursor of eating challenges: This includes binge eating disorder, anorexia nervosa and bulimia nervosa. It has also been found that females who severely diet are actually 18 times more likely to develop an eating challenge.
They can affect bodily functions: If your diet involves restricting certain food groups, then your body may lack essential nutrients that are required to function effectively. For example, low-carb intake equals low-fibre intake which can lead to constipation, and from there bowel disorders or bowel cancer.
They can lead to social deprivation: Dieting can cause you to refrain from attending social events centered around food, in fear of ‘falling off the wagon’. This can trigger feelings of isolation and even anxiety which can harm your mental wellbeing.
What to do instead of dieting?
Make 1-2 small, healthy changes to your eating each week: Rather than going cold turkey, or drastically altering your eating, this method allows you to move towards a healthy eating lifestyle that can be sustained. For example, try replacing full-fat milk with skim milk, or oven-baking your fries instead of using a deep fryer.
Reduce fat intake: Fat contains the most Calories out of any macronutrient (9 Calories per gram), and is able to be readily stored on our bodies as fat. So, minimise your fatty foods and look for products with less than 10g fat per 100g product.
Eat in moderation: There is no such thing as good or bad food, just the amounts you eat them in. All food provides us with energy – it’s just that some contains more Calories than others, and so should be eaten in moderation to maintain or lose weight. For example, if you love chocolate there’s no need to tell yourself you can never eat it again. Instead, just see it as a treat for a special occasion, and account for it in your Calorie intake.
Exercise more: With sufficient exercise, you can burn enough Calories to place your body in a Calorie deficit and consequently lose weight.
Be patient: If you want to look at losing weight and keeping it off long-term, then it’s going to be a slow process. Your body and mind need time to adjust to the small changes you make, so that you don’t feel deprived in any way or see any reason to revert to your old eating habits.
DID YOU KNOW?
Due to the restrictive, unsustainable nature of dieting programs, most people who diet:
Regain one to two thirds of their weight lost within 1 year
Regain almost all of their weight lost within 5 years