5 Reasons to Reconsider that Next Diet
Written by Willow Padbury, RD, Certified Intuitive Eating Counselor
Maybe you’ve heard that “diets don’t work”. Maybe you even have personal experience to back it up where despite short-term “success” dieting didn’t actually help to keep weight off long-term. Yet, you can’t help but think “maybe this one will be different”, and “it can’t hurt to try". Or can it?
Unfortunately, it can. Not only is another diet very unlikely to result in long-term weight loss, it can also set you further and further away from achieving your health and wellness goals. Let’s take a look at some of the reasons why:
1) Dieting teaches you to ignore your body’s innate hunger and fullness signals.
Hunger and fullness cues are there for a reason (shocking right?). This is our body’s natural way of regulating energy intake, yet most diets teach us to ignore these bodily cues. For example, hunger cues are ignored if you don’t have enough calories/points left in the day - supress that hunger! And other days you eat even when not hungry, because if there are points or calories left over you're NOT going to let those go to waste (especially if you’ve felt deprived on other days). Eventually, when the diet fails you, you’re left more out of touch with hunger and fullness signals than when you started. You're more likely to continue searching for external sources to tell you when and how much to eat than to use your internal cues.
2) Dieting encourages black and white thinking and erratic eating behaviours.
Good/bad, healthy/unhealthy, on the wagon/off the wagon... many diets encourage this type of black and white thinking. However, nutrition science is complex, and food simply cannot be generalized into dichotomous categories of healthy or unhealthy. You may have noticed while some diets demonize one food, other diets may consider it a staple—talk about confusing! This black and white thinking can lead to erratic eating behaviours. When a dieter strays away and breaks the food rules, in comes the “what-the-hell effect” where even thinking you have blown your diet is enough to trigger a binge or consumption of more food (1). “I already blew my diet by eating the pizza, I might as well eat the last slice of pizza, get the wine and top if off with dessert too. I’ll start the diet again tomorrow.” Every time you get “back on that wagon”, this same restricted and over consumption cycle (i.e erratic eating behaviour) continues.
3) Dieting can take a toll on your psychological health and well-being.
Documented side effects of dieting include body dissatisfaction, food and body preoccupation, reduced self-esteem, distraction from other personal health goals, poor self-efficacy, weight stigmatization and discrimination, and increased risk of eating disorders (2). Not exactly the life full of confidence and happiness that dieting promises.
4) Dieting prioritizes weight > health.
Diets are never held accountable when they fail. If you don’t lose weight, you are to blame for doing something wrong. Not only is this incredibly shaming, but it can lead to further dietary restrictions, over exercising, and obsessing over nutrition. In other words, diets end up encouraging us to stop healthy habits and adopt unhealthy habits simply for the pursuit of weight loss. When are we going to let go of the mentality that weight dictates our health? This way of thinking is outdated and unhelpful.
5) Dieting can lead to weight gain… wait, what??
Although diets sometimes “work” in the short-term, research shows that dieting is a predictor of weight gain, and that the vast majority of people regain the weight they lost within 2-5 years. Definitely not the outcome people are hoping for when they go on a diet. In addition, a large body of research has connected this weight loss and regain (aka weight cycling) to higher risk of mortality, osteoporotic fractures, gallstone attacks, loss of muscle tissue, hypertension, chronic inflammation, and certain forms of cancer (3).
The purpose of this post is not meant to make you feel poorly about your dieting history or your weight loss goals. Rather, to shed light on the science that diets tend to sweep under the carpet! So, where do you go from here? Take a deep breath. It’s not your fault.
Fortunately, there are many evidence-based, non-diet approaches to nutrition that can help support your overall health, your relationship with food, and help you heal from chronic dieting. Team dietitian, Willow Padbury, supports clients in improving their relationship with food and nourishing their bodies without dieting. Contact us to inquire further.
(1) Herman, C. P., & Polivy, J. (1984). A boundary model for the regulation of eating. In J. A. Stunkard & E. Stellar (Eds.), Eating and its disorders (pp. 141–156). New York: Raven Press.
(2) Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutr J 10, 9 (2011) doi:10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
(3) Tylka, T., Annunziato, R., Burgard, D., Daníelsdóttir, S., Shuman, S., Davis, C. & Calogero, R (2014). The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss. Journal of Obesity, Article ID 983495. DOI: 10.1155/2014/983495