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Healthy EatingWeight Loss

Why diets don’t work

By November 27, 2013No Comments

If you’ve got a history of failed diets, here are a few reasons why those diets didn’t work:

Diets are restrictive – and when something is declared off limits, guess what?  You can’t stop thinking about it.  So if your diet of choice says you can’t drink alcohol, and you love a glass of wine, it’s not going to make you happy and you are going to struggle to stick to it.  The same goes for diets which ban particular foods or food groups.  In the words of a dieter I interviewed recently, “When you’re told you can’t have things you immediately want them”.

Diets require food intake to be constantly monitored – points, calories, red and green days, etc.  So guess what?  You end up thinking about food all the time.  Not a great idea when you are trying to reduce what you eat.

And that leads on to another problem with diets: they generally concentrate on reducing food intake, either generally or for certain food groups, so you’re constantly feeling deprived.

Diets also foster self-hatred.  When dieters have talked to me about their experiences they’ve used words such as “bad” and “naughty” to describe the times they’ve strayed, and they regularly feel guilty and angry at themselves.  Moreover, as far as I can tell, weight-loss groups with their weekly weigh-ins encourage this judgmental attitude.

For dieters, all of this creates a pretty difficult relationship with food, and a depressing way to live.

When people stick to their diets they do of course lose weight, and some people lose a lot.  But they generally mess up their metabolism and their relationship with food so that when they get to the “end” of their diet, their bodies store fat much more readily, they go back to their old habits and before too long they are back where they started.  And then they beat themselves up for a lack of willpower and the whole self-hatred thing kicks in.

What I hope you’ve picked up from all of this is that the problem isn’t you – it’s the whole concept of Being On A Diet, which is basically a contrived and restricted eating plan with a start and an end date.

In contrast, here’s how healthy eating works:

It’s about improving the quality of your food, rather than reducing the quantity.

Eating well is about nurturing your body because you like it and want to take care of it, in contrast to dieting which seems to be about punishing your body and yourself.

Healthy eating is a way of life, with no start and end date[1].

Eating well improves the way your body functions and changes the way it stores or burns fat, so if you do have excess weight to lose, you will lose it.

So what’s it to be?  Diet or healthy eating?

This blog post is adapted from a chapter of “What’s Your Excuse for Not Eating Healthily?” – if you enjoyed it you can buy the book here


[1] I am often reluctant to refer to healthy eating as a Way of Life to new clients with a background of failed diets.  The concept of eating differently for the rest of one’s life can sound very depressing to someone who sees healthy eating as a form of deprivation.  But once my clients start to enjoy the benefits of healthy eating the concept of a lifelong commitment doesn’t seem onerous at all.