Why as a dietitian I don't believe in diets

Updated: Feb 17, 2020

Approximately 45 million Americans diet each year. Whether it’s for weight loss or to improve health, dieting can take a toll on the body and mind. Dieting may be disguised as a “lifestyle” or “clean eating”.  If you do not allow yourself to eat certain foods (with the exception of medical reasons, of course!) and/or do not allow yourself to eat when hungry, chances are, it’s a diet. Diets are sneaky and often praised, however, the costly industry that has undesired side effects long after the diet (and its results) are done.

1. Diets ignore body signals.  Dieting ignores what our bodies tell us.  Society prides dieters for being “strong” and having “willpower”when in actuality, the body’s signals are being ignored.  Diets tell us when and what to eat, and if we do not follow them, we may risk gaining weight. Our bodies have cravings because they need certain nutrients (or maybe something just sounds good!).  Craving peanut butter? Maybe you need some healthy fats. Craving cereal? Maybe you need some carbohydrates for energy. I have come to learn that I crave cookies when I need calcium, because I always have cookies with milk!  Our bodies also tell us when we need fuel. Hunger may be a sign of low blood sugar, while fullness may indicate that the body has the energy it needs. If we overeat one day, our bodies may not be as hungry the next.  Hunger and fullness are regulated by hormones, and all we have to do is listen. However, dieting destroys this intelligent process by causing guilt if we go against the “rules”. As our signals continue to be ignored, they may become silenced and our ability to truly tell when our body needs food gets lost. 

2. Diets promote overeating.  Most diets eliminate certain foods (some even whole food groups!).  For most of us, prohibiting something tends to make us want it more.  For many dieters, eating a “prohibited” food creates the last supper mentality.  Let me explain.  The “last supper” implies that the food will not be eaten for a long time, so it must be consumed in excess because it may not be eaten again...or at least for awhile. It is kind of like a now or never mentality; I must eat it now because I will never have it again. For instance, during the holidays, a diet-minded person may eat all of the holiday cookies and candy because once New Year rolls around, these foods will not be eaten.  The diet mentality promotes overeating, and when each diet fails (and I can guarantee that is a when, not if) the forbidden foods are eaten again with the same mentality, and a new diet plan is in the making.  This also creates the mentality of starting a diet on a new week, a new month, or new year, and artificially gives the excuse to eat as much “junk” food as possible to prepare for the next diet.  

3. Diets may cause binge eating.  Many diets place people at a calorie deficient level.  This of course, is the goal of the diet to promote weight loss.  However, our bodies are extremely intelligent and will do whatever they can to get what they need.  When on a diet, many people may binge on forbidden foods due to the last supper mentality, or may binge because their body is in desperate need of nutrients.  If you are underweight, overweight, or obese, your body can experiece hunger and starvation. This hunger leads to increased senses; the smell of food becomes more potent and every sight of food looks delicious. Food may preoccupy the dieter's mind by thinking about the next meal. This is simple biology. The body needs nutrients and is doing what it can to get your attention to nourish it.  If prolonged, a binge is likely to occur. Most people binge on simple carbohydrates (cakes, cookies, cereal, chips, etc.) because they’re body is craving foods to make quick energy (remember, cravings have a purpose!).  Binge eating is essential for survival. Our body knows no difference between starving in the wilderness and starving with a pantry and fridge full of food. Our body only knows that it is hungry and that it needs food. Binge eating may cause feelings of guilt, shame, and disgust; leading to the dieter to search for another diet, because this time will be different...and the cycle continues.  

4. Diets may lead to weight gain.  Dieting promotes overeating and binge eating which may certainly cause weight gain. The body likes to be stable, so it will strive to maintain its current weight by slowing the metabolism. Being at a constant calorie deficiency tells our metabolism that it does not need to work as hard to burn calories off as less calories are brought in (quite an efficient process - our bodies are amazing!). When a weight loss plateau hits, the metabolism has slowed down and will maintain its weight with the new calorie regime. This is why many dieters quickly regain the weight they lost when resuming to normal eating.

5. Diets are a waste of time, money, and potential.  As of this year, the dieting industry is a $72 billion weight loss industry...seventy-two billion dollars! Just ponder how that money could be used elsewhere:  reduce world hunger, remove student debt, build schools in third-world countries, provide shelter for the homeless; the possibilities are endless.  Yet, this money is used for people to reduce the size of their body in an unhealthy and unsustainable way. It is such a waste of money for something that does not make a difference in society, yet constantly reminds dieters that they could be better, smaller, thinner, healthier, whatever, if they just ate a certain way or counted a certain amount of calories, macros, etc.  Not only does dieting waste money, but time. Researching diet trends, meal planning, meal prepping and thinking about “diet-approved” foods are all examples.  Diets take planning and commitment. Some dieters may avoid social events to prevent temptation (which may lead to binge eating later). Diets take up time and brain space when life is hard enough juggling between jobs, family and other commitments. It becomes one more thing added to the already long to-do lists, making it is difficult to think about things that matter more. Yes, you can diet and still be successful, but imagine...just imagine what you could accomplish with that additional brain space that has been preoccupied with diet-related thoughts.

Diets don’t work. They are often a short-term solution that create more problems. Your body and your life deserve so much more. I will never deny that eating healthy is important, but there are more gentle and sustainable approaches to that. Strive to listen to your body a little more. Eat more plants. Listen for that first hunger cue. Consider eating slowly to feel gradual satiety, and try to figure out what you are really craving; eat it and savor it. The beautiful and incredible thing about our body is that it will always have our best interest at heart and will try to tell us what it needs. If you have dieted in the past, this may take time and patience, but these signals will return in time...all you have to do is listen.


#antidiet #intuitiveeating #haes #nondietdietitian #dietculture #diet

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