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Why dieting doesn’t work (and what to do about that)

By December 21, 2014No Comments

What do most people do when they want to lose weight? They go on a diet. And for the vast majority, it won’t be the first diet they’ve been on. They’ve probably already tried the 5:2 diet, Weight Watchers, low fat, calorie counted, Atkins, South Beach, Slimming World, juice fasts, Lighter Life, Slimfast, Dukan, or The Zone, etc, etc, etc…. And the reason they are planning to start another diet? Because they believe diets work. But if that’s true, why would people ever need to embark on more than one?

In fact diets do work, but only in the short term, and only temporarily. The majority of dieters will regain the weight they lost, and often end up heavier than before the diet. They then try a new diet, lose the weight, regain it, and so the cycle of yo-yo dieting continues, along with the cycle of guilt and the judgemental self-talk about being “good” or “bad” with food.

If all of this resonates with you, and your experience with diets, don’t despair. The problem is actually the whole concept of dieting, not you. And this is why:

Diets are restrictive – and when something is declared off limits, guess what? You can’t stop thinking about it. So if your diet plan says you can’t drink alcohol, and you love a glass of wine, you’re going to miss it and you’re going to struggle to stick to the plan. The same goes for diets which ban particular foods or food groups. In the words of one of the dieters I interviewed for my recent book, “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, fat grams, 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’s 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. Listen to a dieter and you will hear them use words such as “bad” and “naughty” to describe the times they’ve strayed from their diet plans. Dieters generally spend most of their time feeling guilty and angry at themselves. Moreover from what I hear from my clients about weight-loss groups with their weekly weigh-ins those groups seem to encourage this judgmental attitude.

Finally, diets are usually marketed as a sort of project – something with a start and an end date, or an end target weight. And when dieters reach the end that project, they revert back to their pre-diet lifestyle, which is what caused them to gain the weight they have just worked hard to lose!

All of these things set you up for failure, over and over again. And the more you diet, the worse your relationship with food will become. Also, the reduction in food will mess up your metabolism so that when you reach the “end” of your diet, your body will be primed to store fat much more readily, and before long you’re likely to end up back where you started.

So what do you do if you want to lose weight and keep it off? First of all, understand that the problem isn’t you, it’s the whole concept of being on a contrived and restricted eating plan with a start and an end date.

The alternative and effective route to a permanently slimmer you is a permanently healthier lifestyle. But I know that if you are a serial dieter and if you currently associate weight loss with diets and deprivation that probably doesn’t sound particularly appealing. Who would want to be deprived permanently?

In fact a healthier lifestyle is not about life-long deprivation, but if you’ve only ever reached your ideal weight through reducing the amount you eat or cutting out foods you love, it’s natural to feel put off. But don’t be!  A lifestyle change does not mean being on a permanent diet.  If you choose the right foods, you shouldn’t need to reduce the quantity, and if you get the basics right, there’ll be no need to cut out the occasional treat either.

You should also find that once you’re nourishing your body with good food (rather than punishing it by starving it) it will reward you by giving you more energy and you’ll start to feel more positive, which in turn will make you want to continue with the healthy eating. It will all start making sense.

So ditch those plans to join a slimming club or start another diet on Monday! If you’re not sure what constitutes a healthy diet, get some advice, and then make small changes to how you eat, one change at a time.  Take it slowly – one small change every week for two months will add up to a significant shift in your lifestyle.

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Eat a healthy breakfast every day
  • Drink more water
  • Add more vegetables to your meals
  • Replace sugary drinks with healthier alternatives
  • Have healthy snacks to hand at all times to prevent hunger getting the better of you
  • Do some regular exercise
  • Have a few alcohol-free night each week

So there you have it – how to lose weight and keep it off without embarking on another diet.   Now what small change could you introduce this week to get started on your own journey to a slimmer, healthier, happier you…..?