Dieting is the problem

Why do 90% of dieters regain the weight yet we keep turning to diets over and over again? The answer doesn’t lie in willpower or in sugar addiction or in the irresistibility of food additives. It lies in the nature of diets themselves.

First off, the diet industry thrives off promoting unrealistic (and often unhealthy) physical ideals. It makes a whole lot of promises about those ideals it knows it can’t keep. Regardless of whether they involve calorie counting, carb cutting, or fasting, essentially all diets drastically reduce the amount of calories that you eat so that you are consuming fewer calories than you burn. This is the weight loss equation: calories in < calories out.

The thing is that diets cut your calories to an unsustainable low to make sure you lose weight faster. However, you cannot sustain at those levels long-term. The adult body is not made to run off of 1200 calories – in fact, that amount is more suitable for a toddler. What happens in response to such low calorie intake over time? Cravings, obsessing over food, binging. Plus, your body slows down your metabolism in response to those reduced calories so that you must eat less and less in order to maintain (check out this great breakdown of your body’s adaptation to calorie restriction by Precision Nutrition).

When you deprive your body of energy (calories), nutrients, and the foods you enjoy, it’s not a matter of willpower. It’s basic human biology that makes you gain that weight back. It’s not a personal failing. Diets are made for weight loss, not maintenance, not keeping it off.

So, why do dieters regain the weight they lost? Because that’s what diets are designed for. So, please, keep that in mind before you sign up for your next weight loss challenge or before you start to beat yourself up for “falling off” your diet.

Want to learn more: check out my post on the difference between dieting and healthy eating.

What’s the difference between healthy eating and dieting?

How can you be a nutrition coach and be anti-diet? What’s the difference between healthy eating and dieting?

Dieting and healthy eating are actually very different, mutually exclusive things. In fact, dieting is NOT at all healthy eating.

Dieting

Dieting means drastically restricting what you eat, either by counting calories or outright eliminating foods, with the goal of weight loss. Diets are not meant to be sustainable in the long-term. Rather, they are designed to get you to your goal weight quickly, but not to keep you there. The proof of this is in the pudding: with all of the scientific evidence we have that shows that slashing calories will slow your metabolism and that these approaches almost always result in weight regain (plus more), the diet industry continues with the same fundamental approach. This is because the industry makes money off of dieters coming back for more.

Another hallmark that all diets have in common is the diet mentality. Diets promote deprivation and moralization of foods into “good” and “bad” categories. They entail black-and-white thinking – you’re either on a diet or off, being good or being bad. And, regardless of the specifics of the diet, they are too often a slippery slope into disordered eating. Dieting does not promote a healthy relationship with food. Think about the last time you were on a diet. How much time did you spend thinking about the foods you weren’t allowed to have? Wishing you could eat like everyone else? And how much time did you spend stressing out about how much of what you could eat? You shouldn’t be wasting so much time and energy stressing about fulfilling one of our most basic human needs. Food is not meant to be a source of stress, but the diet mentality makes it so by convincing us that we need to monitor our every bite.

The sneaky thing is, diet companies will convince you that it’s YOUR fault for not maintaining. The truth is that it’s NOT your fault if you struggle to stick to your diet’s strict rules and it’s NOT your fault if you gain your weight back. Our human bodies and minds are simply not compatible with the diet structure. Our bodies are not meant to run on just 1200 calories a day and we are programmed not to respond well to deprivation. If you would like a really eye-opening illustration of this, read about the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (and pay attention to how many calories they were consuming a day).

Healthy Eating

Healthy eating does not require counting calories or cutting out foods. In fact, there is room for all of your favorite treats! Instead of focusing on rules and numbers, you re-learn to tune into and trust your body so that you can securely give yourself permission to indulge. Healthy eating is about finding the right balance for you and for your body. By getting to the factors behind your cravings, eating mindfully, and tuning into your hunger and satiety cues, you are able to balance your diet and release that food stress.

The “healthy” in healthy eating isn’t just about the types of food you eat; it’s also about your relationship with food.

Healthy eating requires you to flip the script on that old diet mentality that we all carry with us. It requires recognizing that what works for me might not work for you. We could eat the same way and exercise the same and our bodies would look completely different – and that’s OK. It requires recognizing that there are no “bad” foods and that eating ice cream is not going to have negative consequences.

One final point: the goal of healthy eating doesn’t have to be weight loss. For example, you can focus on healthy eating to feel better, improve your health, manage certain conditions, or just to care for yourself. Our culture would certainly prefer to have us believe otherwise, but our bodies are supposed to come in different shapes and sizes and they are supposed to change as we get older. At 33, I don’t fit into the clothes I was wearing at 21 and I shouldn’t – my hormones are different, my metabolism is different, my eating and movement are different. Learning what your unique body needs is also an important part of healthy eating.

I write this post not to put down anyone else’s thing, but to give you some important information to consider before you embark on a diet program. If you have questions about this post or how I approach nutrition coaching, please don’t hesitate to send me an email.