Dieting is the thing that people do when they want to lose weight, and it’s something that we all are familiar with in one form or another.
But have you ever stopped to think about what dieting actually results in? The fact is diets often fail because of rebound eating and binge eating, leading to weight gain, food cravings and more.
In this blog post I will be discussing 6 reasons why diets don’t work.
Please note: I’m talking about long term here! Of course diets ‘work’ in the short term when you lose weight. But long term the diet fails, weight comes back and your self-esteem goes down.
If you struggle with food, please consider checking out an Overeating Anonymous meeting near you.
Why do diets not work long term?
1 – Food Cravings
Diets don’t work because of food cravings!
The most common cause of food cravings is when you are trying to lose weight and you aren’t eating enough food. Aka, you’re on a diet.
When you don’t eat enough, your body doesn’t get the nutrients and minerals that it needs to function well.
So, the brain will send signals to crave more food energy when you’re on a diet. Foods that have lots of energy include:
- Fatty foods
- Sugar-laden foods
Withdrawal symptoms from dieting can also cause food cravings. Because starving yourself can make you feel unwell and low in energy, which leads to eating more junk food for comfort.
Dieters often say they are hungry all day long, so their bodies actually might be craving healthy fats like nuts or plant-based oils as well!
Ever wonder why sugar becomes so appealing when you’re on a diet and trying to lose weight?
Sugar gives your body quick energy! This is exactly what your body needs when it’s not getting enough food to eat.
What Does Work?
Instead of dieting, it’s better to pursue a healthy lifestyle. Diets, rules and all these things simply don’t work. They just make you want to eat!
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Some small changes you can make that will help are: eating a well-balanced diet, practicing mindful eating, and being active (but see my other point below about over-exercising, because you don’t want that either!).
It’s also important to know what works for your body type and how to maintain your current weight. If the scale is going up or down too fast then it might be time to reevaluate things!
Yes, that’s right. You don’t want to lose weight too quickly because that’s a sign you’re eating too little.
And if you eat too little on a diet then you are going to get a bad case of the food cravings!
2 – Evolution
One of the reasons diets don’t work is because our bodies have evolved to never let us die from starvation. For example, humans store fat on their thighs and bellies as a survival mechanism.
But we humans have evolved other ways to prevent starvation too. The number one most powerful way we have evolved is something I call the ‘gut overriding the brain’.
When your gut overrides your brain, you cannot think. Your stomach is in charge. That’s why any type of restrictive diet won’t work! It’s not your fault. It’s evolution!
Back in ancient days when people were starving to death, this survival mechanism made people turn off their brains. Then people would not be picky about what they ate and would eat until their bellies were completely full.
But these days, we’re not in danger of starving to death when there’s food everywhere! Yet those adaptations from evolution still linger on and mess up dieting efforts.
(I do realize not everybody has the same Western comforts and many people are starving :/ Yet I also know the readers of my blog are probably in the former situation)
In modern day terms this is when people experience what “rebound eating”. This is where you overeat after being on a restrictive diet and cancel out any weight loss.
Did you know rebound eating is actually something you CANNOT control? Because evolution makes you lose control when your body is in trouble.
Before an episode of rebound eating, your body thinks it’s starving to death.
The body slows down metabolism in response and starts storing calories as fat. And your body also tells your brain to eat like crazy!
What Does Work?
You must avoid triggering situations where your gut can override your brain.
The best way to stop your stomach from controlling your brain is to never let more than 5 hours go by without eating.
If you go too long without eating then your evolutionary stomach mechanism will shut down your brain and make you eat.
The time periods between eating should be regular intervals – for example, you can eat every two-three hours.
This keeps blood sugar levels stable, which prevents hunger from spiking. This also helps prevent overeating as a result of feeling hungry.
The biggest obstacle here is weight loss obsession. If you’re obsessed with weight loss then you’ll skip certain foods – which seems like a good idea but actually just leads to bingeing.
3 – Limited Willpower
Sometimes people try to do something that is too hard for them, and they end up giving up.
This leads to the idea of not being able to lose weight because you don’t have enough willpower – which isn’t true!
What’s actually happening here is that your body has an evolutionary mechanism called ‘adaptive thermogenesis’. This where your body slows down when you’re trying really hard.
This happens as a way to conserve energy from physical activity so that we can survive longer periods without food if necessary.
The result? Weight gain instead of weight loss!
What Does Work?
If you find yourself white knuckling then just stop. Rethink everything.
Don’t go on another diet!
Diets don’t work because they’re not sustainable. They may help you lose a few pounds, but then what?
Binge eating is an epidemic and people who are restricting themselves will find ways to sneak their favorite food in.
The best thing that we can do for ourselves when it comes to weight loss is make changes gradually (and permanently!). It’s much easier to maintain this way than going back and forth between two extremes all the time.
Plus, there’s science behind why that happens! Remember adaptive thermogenesis from earlier?
Yes – our bodies have evolved over many thousands of years. If we try too hard at something like losing weight or exercising, our natural response mechanisms kick in and make us self-sabotage.
Better instead to do small changes make you feel good and satisfied 🙂
4 – Imaginary Food Scarcity Caused By Diet Rules
You know how evolution makes it so you’ll eat a ton of food when your body thinks you’re starving to death?
Well, if your mind is obsessed with weight loss, it can easily think there isn’t enough food. Then this can trigger the same phenomenon to happen. Even if you have plenty of fat stored on your body already!
Here’s how it works:
- You have a diet rule like in Keto where you can hardly have any carbs. Other certain foods that people restrict include gluten or fat.
- Since you can’t have any carbs, your mind starts to hyper focus on carbs because humans want what we can’t have.
- The more you can’t have carbs, the more you want carbs.
- Carbs seen as scarce and rare.
- Your body mistakenly thinks it’s starving.
- Your stomach shuts down your brain and makes you go eat the rare food to stop starving (even though you aren’t technically starving!).
Now, this can also be a problem for people who are trying hard to lose weight, as they may have food scarcity in their mind.
This triggers the starvation response mechanism in the brain. Then this makes it feel impossible to avoid overeating or binge eating!
So don’t do this please 🙂
What Does Work
When you say to yourself things like, ‘I won’t have any chocolate’ or ‘I need to achieve weight loss first before I love myself’, what you are actually doing is creating food scarcity.
Instead of cutting out certain types of food from your diet, choose the path of moderation instead.
Or, one could try and change their diet through a process called ‘flexitarianism’.
This is where you eat mostly plant-based foods, but have some meat or fish every now and then. Or sugary treats too! It’s the best of both worlds! Plus it doesn’t mean you’re giving up on your favorite treats altogether 🙂
The key to sustainable health is not about willpower. Instead it’s more to do with understanding what makes us overeat in the first place, like emotional hunger (stress eating) or physical hunger (hunger signals).
The most effective way we know how to get rid of food cravings is by changing our mindset from artificial diet scarcity to abundance.
To switch your mindset requires work however. In my opinion the best way to switch your mindset is a strategy called CBT. For more info on CBT read here.
5 – Diet Rules Create Rebellion
I have a homework assignment for you. Just kidding. But don’t you remember when you were a kid and some adult told you to do your homework?
While some kids were obedient and studious, there were plenty of kids who would rebel and NOT do their homework simply because someone TOLD them to.
Same thing with health. Your doctor tells you to be healthy. But then your inner rebel says NO simply because an external authority figure told you to do something!
If you constantly feel torn between what you ‘should’ do versus what you ‘want’ to do, then most likely you are trying to follow some rules. This is also then creating a sense of rebellion within you.
What Does Work
What’s the answer?
Acknowledge that there is a reason you want to do something and then be open about it.
For instance, if someone says that you “should” eat more broccoli because of some health benefit like lowering cholesterol or fighting cancer, your inner rebellious voice says NO!
If instead they said, “Hey look at this great recipe for broccoli soup”, now that would be an invitation to have more foods with benefits. And not just limiting yourself to what society thinks are good choices.
Unfortunately, some of these inner rebellious voices can be deeply internalized. You’ll need to work with a qualified professional to help you integrate these voices and know how to change them in a positive manner.
But no matter how entrenched these voices, there’s always a way.
Remember, no one can say you are not allowed to eat what you want because it’s considered bad for your health or that this food will make you gain weight or have cravings.
That is just too limiting in today’s world, where nearly everything has been proven to be “bad” for us at some point. Even the most innocuous of foods like potatoes! Who knew?
I mean look at all these reasons why diets don’t work… Is it any wonder people struggle with weight loss long term when they’re fighting their own bodies on top of every outside influence telling them no-no-no?!
6 – Disconnection (Makes Dieting Pointless)
Diets are rules that someone else tells you. But whenever somebody tells you to do something it’s not YOU telling yourself to do something!
Diets come from outside. But wisdom to create a healing relationship with food comes from within.
So when you have a diet, it’s like somebody else is in charge of your life. And a diet therefore can leave you feeling disconnected from who YOU are and what YOUR body needs to be healthy on the inside.
I get so many emails from people asking about how they can lose weight long term. Or if they should go back on the keto diet because their friend lost weight with the diet – but I always tell them no!
Why? For one thing, diets don’t work and second (and more importantly), we’re all different!
What Does Work
If you know me, then I always recommend Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) journaling.
CBT journaling is a discipline where you journal your thoughts and feelings BEFORE you eat.
This approach can help you discover and get in tune with what’s going on underneath your skin! The more awareness you have, then you’ll naturally understand yourself better.
Another method of connection and internal wisdom is Intuitive Eating.
For years I taught Intuitive Eating and I love this process to heal your relationship with food. Intuitive Eating is all about listening to your body.
How hungry are you? How do you feel physically, emotionally and mentally?
Intuitive Eating is asking yourself these questions before making a decision on what or how much to eat. It’s not restrictive and it helps with the weight loss journey because it allows for more of our instincts that got repressed by dieting!
Of course, you can combine journaling and Intuitive Eating together, which is what I recommend 🙂