Have you ever tried dieting and restricting all “bad” foods in order to lose weight but were unsuccessful? Or ended up gaining it all the weight back (with interest)?
Yup, most of us have been in that boat. And trust me, it is a sinking ship. As a registered dietitian, there are some questions that seem to come back over and over and over again such as:
“What diet should I follow?”
“Which diet will make me lose weight fast without losing”
“I want to look better, tell me what to eat and I will follow the plan 100%”
“I want to lose I don’t want to feel restricted, what diet should I follow”
Everyone is looking for a quick fix solution. A plan to follow. Someone to tell them what to eat and what not to eat. However, years of evidence tell us that IT IS NOT THE WAY TO BE HEALTHY. So, let’s dive and truly understand WHY you should never diet again.
P.S. My opinion on dieting for weight loss is very clear. I don’t support it and don’t think it’s efficient nor sustainable. That being said, the following review is purely objective to give you the last up to date evidence. No BS.
Before we start, let’s define the word diet. In the dictionary, diet is “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats”. By that we are ALL on a diet that consists of many different foods. However, we often use the term diet as “a temporary and restrictive way of eating in order to lose weight”. The latter definition is what I am referring to in this article.
Any diet comes with a set of rules. Things to eat and things not to eat. Times to eat and times to not eat. Feeling restricted is a not a fun way to live your life and many individuals report feeling left out of social gatherings and experience FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Furthermore, restriction perpetuates overeating and/or binge eating episodes. When we feel deprived/restricted it can lead us to swing to the other extreme and overindulge in ALL the food. If we think about it from an evolutionary perspective it makes sense that the thought of food deprivation and restriction triggers binge eating episodes. Back then, starvation was a real issue that endangered our specie. Therefore, when food was present, humans would eat as much as they possibly could because who knew when the next rations would be available. Depriving ourselves from food can trigger our primal brain to want to eat all the food when present. Emotional starvation can also be the trigger. Just telling yourself that you CAN’T something can be triggering.
The human body is incredibly amazing. It will always try to find homeostasis AKA balance. Just like there are many mechanisms to keep our body temperature at 37 degrees no matter the circumstances (i.e. sweating, shivering), there is a theory that our body also has a weight set point. A weight set point is basically a weight at which your body feels healthy and balanced. Therefore, our body will always try to stay at that same weight. There is no way to calculate a weight set point aside from subjectively observing what weight you seem to revolve around. According, to this theory, when individuals gain weight, their metabolism will increase to burn the extra energy. In the same way, when individuals lose weight, their metabolism will slow down in an attempt to save energy. This being said, when dieting you are fighting against your biology to reduce your weight and your body will make it that much harder for you to sustain weight loss.
Again, diets are restrictive. The restrictive nature can lead to malnutrition, which can in turn lead to various health issues. Malnutrition happens when your body can’t absorb or is not getting essential nutrients to thrive. Diets that completely restrict a food, macronutrients or calories inevitably cause deficiencies (i.e. ketogenic diet, Atkins, low-carb, low fat, plant-based, etc.). Some types of health issues related to malnutrition include digestion disorders, constipation, diarrhea (including steatorrhea), skin disorders, muscle loss, stunted bone growth, decrease bone density, hair loss, amenorrhea (loss of menstrual cycle) and hormone imbalances.
Most diets come with a list of “bad foods” and “good foods”. Food that you should avoid like the plague if you ever want to achieve your ideal body. The issue is that most diets are NOT based on any type of scientific evidence and foods that are part of a balanced diet. Even when individuals are no longer on a diet, those food beliefs persist and individuals still feel the need to avoid certain foods (or feel guilty when indulging in these “bad” foods). For some of us, these false food beliefs can lead to disordered eating and potentially an eating disorder.
Using weight as a health marker is ridiculous. As contrary to what the diet industry wants you to believe, you cannot control your weight. You can only control your health behaviors. For some of us, weight loss can be an outcome of those health behaviors, however, it is not a given. Your body knows best and will always strive to be at a healthy weight (see point #2). The issue with diets is that they all focus on weight loss and shedding pounds off your body. These diets guaranteeing you a weight loss are setting you up for failure.
When you are dieting, you are putting your body in a calorie deficit in order to lose weight. However, your body does not know the difference between dieting and famine. When you are constantly at an extreme calorie deficit, your body is in alert mode and will do its best to preserve to avoid weight loss. This means your metabolism will slow down and you will burn less calories doing the same activities you usually do. This is a HUGE problem when it comes to dieting because the more you restrict calories, the more your metabolisms slows down. Therefore, in order to keep losing weight, you need to reduce calories more and more. This way of nourishing your body is NOT sustainable.
Furthermore, dieting can create hormone imbalances. Have you ever heard of also known as the satiety hormone? It is a hormone released by fat cells to inhibit hunger (AKA tell your brain you are no longer hungry). This hormone is vital in order to regulate our energy intake. This being said, when body fat mass decreases rapidly, levels also decrease which can increase appetite and food cravings as you no longer feel satiety.
Also, extreme calorie deficits can lead to increase stress levels as your body is perceiving dieting as a type of famine. Cortisol is the stress hormone that is released periods of physical and mental stress. Having high levels of cortisol in your body makes it extremely difficult to lose weight as cortisol is related to fat accumulation.
Basically, dieting reduces metabolisms, satiety cues and increases stress. So you feel hungrier, you burn less calories and you hold on to fat tissues more efficiently…not a good combo!!
No matter the type of diet, 95% of people will regain the weight (AND MORE) 1-5 years after. Why? Because although they might lose weight in the beginning, the diet lifestyle is not sustainable and individuals inevitably stop dieting. People fall into the diet cycle where they start a new diet with all the best intentions and they are on a high full of hopes. They restrict foods and slowly start feeling deprived. They inevitably cave in to the cravings which leads to overeating or binging on forbidden foods. Then the guilt sets in…feelings of worthlessness arise. Then we find a new diet to try and hope this time it will be different. This cycle is never ending, delivers no significant results and makes you feel miserable.
Well the answer is simple. STOP DIETING and NEVER DIET again. This is easy said than done! The diet mentality is SO ingrained in our minds that it is hard to let it go. The first step is to notice your thoughts around food and your body. Whenever you have a thought fuelled by your diet mentality: CANCEL, CANCEL, CANCEL!! It is important to change your relationship to food and your body. I strongly suggest meeting with a registered dietitian to understand how to properly fuel your body without dieting ever again.
I hope this article was helpful and convinced you to ditch the diets for good! Questions or comments? Send me a message.
The Balanced Practice is a team of professionals specialized in eating disorder outpatient treatment. We strive to provide evidence based nutrition counselling to support you, or your loved one, in achieving full recovery. Schedule a connection call now.
Marie-Pier Pitre-D’Iorio, RD, B.Sc.Psychology
Lead Registered Dietitian & Founder at The Balanced Practice
Albertsson, C. & Mei (2005) The effect of low carbohydrate on energy metabolism. International Journa Obesity.29, 26-30. 10.1038/0803086
Hussain, T. A., Mathew, T. C., , A. A., Asfar, S., Al-Zaid, N., & Dashti, H. M. ). Effect of low-calorie versus low-carbohydrate ketogenic diet in type 2 diabetes. Nutrition, 2810), 1016–1021. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.nut.2012.01.016
Keys, A., Brozek, J., Henshel, A., Mickelson, O., & Taylor, H.L. (1950). The biology of human starvation, (Vols. 1–2). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press
Moyer, A. E., Rodin, J., Grilo, C. M., Cummings, N., Larson, L. M., & Rebuffé‐Scrive, M. (1994). Stress‐induced cortisol response and fat distribution in women. Obesity research, 23), 255-262
Müller, M., Bosy-Westphal, A., & Heymsfield, S.B. (2010). Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight? F1000 medicine reports.
Copyright © 2021 The Balanced Practice Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Website Template by K Design Co.