“Diet” it is an interesting word. Depending on the context, it can have many different meanings. In the world of dietetics, “diet” simply means the food that a person eats. A “diet” can also refer to a dietary protocol meant to manage a specific health condition, such as a gluten-free diet to manage celiac’s disease. However, culturally, being on a “diet” almost always refers to a set of food and calorie restrictions that are meant to result in weight loss or fat loss.
This type of diet never works.
For decades, consumers have been fed the same overly simplified view of health and weight loss. We have been told that 1.) Our health is determined by our weight, and that 2.) weight comes down to calories in, calories out. Neither of these things are true.
In reality, health, weight, and how they intersect are very complicated and to change either you must look at more than simply the amount of food you are eating.
This is the first reason why diets don’t work: they are simplified to the point of inaccuracy. If you have ever tried to manage health or weight through calorie counting, it is likely you weren’t very successful. Or maybe you did lose weight for a time, but that success didn’t last and you eventually “plateaued.” Trying to lose weight purely through forcing an energy deficit does not take into account the many other factors that can influence metabolism, body weight, and body fat. Medications, stress, sleep, underlying disease, hormones, digestive health, traumatic events, and environmental toxins are just some of the factors that influence the health, size, and composition of our bodies.
This brings me into the second reason that diets don’t work: Diets are not health promoting. Not only do calorie-deficit diets ignore the other components contributing to weight and health, they actually often worsen these factors and damage our health.
Long periods of being in a calorie deficit (especially when paired with an intense exercise regimen) may initially lead to some weight loss, but ultimately over-stresses the body and depletes it of resources leading to hormonal imbalances, chronic inflammation, and depressed thyroid function.
We are meant to believe dieting in order to lose weight is “good for us,” because is it healthier to be at a lower body weight. but I would argue that the opposite is true in most cases. Most of the weight loss programs out there are actually damaging to one’s health, even when they result in weight loss.
Let’s pause for a moment and think about what it actually means for a diet to “work” or be successful. I think most people would agree that a diet that “works” results in fat loss and is easy enough to stick to that they can maintain that weight loss indefinitely without gaining it back. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a diet that “works” forever like we want them to.
Weight loss and maintenance must come from a foundation of health. The nature of diets runs counter to this because they inherently damage health by keeping the body in a perpetual state of deprivation and stress.
Diets are also unsustainable because they are mentally so challenging to adhere to. This comes partially from the body’s desire to get enough food which can drive us to veer away from a diet’s strict rules. It also comes from the fact that most diets allow very little room for actually living! It doesn’t matter how badly we want to lose weight, most of us will not stick with a diet if it means permanently sacrificing our favorite foods or a social life.
For most people who “diet,” times of their lives revolve completely around their food rules and exercise regimens. This is not mentally healthy. We deserve to spend our emotions and energy on the things that we love and the ways we want to contribute to the world. No one’s purpose in life is to lose weight. No one’s time is spent productively obsessively trying to be smaller.
The bottom line: diets do not work.
Diets do not work because they are bad for our bodies, bad for our minds, and bad for our spirits. They sap us of energy and make us sick all while promising magical results.
Improving your health can be a wonderful thing to do. Living with less disease can greatly improve quality of life, and weight loss can absolutely be a part of this. But trying to get there using calorie and food restriction will ultimately lead to disappointment, and may even make you feel worse than when you started.
Real, lasting change to health comes not from restriction, but from abundance: abundance of nutritious, healing foods, abundance of safe, appropriate, movement, abundance of stress-reducing, self-care activities, and an abundance of self-compassion, gratitude, and love. <3
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