Let me start off by saying: if you have ever felt like a failure after not complying with the rigid rules of a diet, felt like a "bad person" after reaching for one of the foods your diet was depriving you of, or felt personally attacked and humiliated by the "before and after" photos of a diet; you are not alone, and it is not your fault.
You did not fail your diet - the diet failed you.
You are not "bad" for craving the foods your diet is depriving you of - your body is in rebellion.
Your "before" body is not less worthy than an "after" body - this is diet culture trying to profit off the misleading propaganda that they are trying to convince you is real (I promise - it isn't).
So, I am going to get you to take a deep breath and say it with me: diets. do. not. work. Don't believe me yet? That's okay, it takes a while to plant new seeds in order to replace the ones that diet culture has spent years tending to - but I am here to walk you through it!
Let's start here, with a fundamental truth: no matter what your body size, history, culture, sexual orientation, gender identity, skin colour, or mental health struggles, you are worthy. In the present moment, without any changes, no questions asked, you are worthy.
Diet culture has a really sneaky way of making us believe we will worthy and/or happy "when I finally a, b, c (lose the weight, get promoted, get noticed)", or "if I just x, y, z (fit into a smaller size, get complimented on my body, get over my struggles)". That, quite frankly, is just bull s**t. If you are a human, which I have to assume you are if you are reading this, you are worthy right now. Okay? Okay.
I can promise you this: the worthiness we all want are not waiting in the smaller body, hunger pangs of deprivation, or the "inspiration sized jeans". I can say this with confidence, because I too have been affected and shaped by diet culture. Absolutely nobody is immune from diet culture, so it just comes down to making the conscious effort to try and rise above it when and where we can.
In the spirit of vulnerability and authenticity, I share my story with the clients who need it, so they know they are not alone in the painstakingly tough process of ditching diet culture. Pan back a decade, there is me, trying with all my will to squeeze into just one smaller size, skip just one more meal to see if maybe my worthiness is waiting there for me, and being so proud of my “willpower” for only eating healthy foods (until I uncontrollably and predictably binged on the "bad" ones). Spoiler alert: I didn't find anything positive or that sustained me in the continual shedding of jean sizes and “fitness goals met”, and I am convinced that nobody can.
Why? Because I do not believe we can cultivate happiness from something so fundamentally unimportant and manipulated by a culture that profits off people hating their bodies. And that is all that diet culture is!
Listen: the LEAST important and interesting thing about you is your weight, but the ads and propaganda need you to think this is the single most fundamental aspect of your worth. SIGH. Ditch it. Another thing to keep in mind is this: because diet culture profits off unhappy people, they are pretty good at making sure that you will never think you are good/thin/pretty/accomplished enough – if you were, they wouldn’t be profiting anymore!
So, instead of continuing along this harmful and ever disappointing path, I propose a new journey: intuitive eating and self-compassion. It may sound radical, but there is a whole new wave of registered health care professionals following suite with this "non-diet" and "anti-diet culture" philosophy.
Why? Because as registered health professionals we are obligated to follow the evidence and provide the most up-to-date support possible, and this is where it’s pointing! We’ve known for a long time that diets don’t work, and now we have the science to prove it!
In this blog I am going to dive into three scientific reasons that diets don’t work, but rest assured, there are a whole heck of a lot more reasons that just three!
#1) Dieting increases your risk for weight cycling & therefore weight gain
A 2007 review of the literature1 not only revealed that dieting is consistently a strong predictor of weight gain, but that two thirds of dieters actually gain back MORE weight than they ever lost in the first place. This weight loss followed by weight re-gain is known as weight cycling, or “yo-yo dieting”, and it is a significant risk factor for developing heart disease, inflammation, high blood pressure, and type two diabetes2.
Why does this happen? See the next reason dieting doesn’t work!
#2) Dieting decreases metabolism
Biologically our bodies observe dieting as a form of scarcity and starvation, which means our cells don’t know the difference between our body’s intentional shifts into deprivation (aka diets) and our ancestral roots of scarcity from hunting and gathering. To cope with this, our bodies automatically shift into “survival mode”, they do this by slowing down our metabolism and storing excess nutrients as a way to protect us and our organs. Then, when the inevitable end of the diet rolls around, we start eating more than our down shifted metabolism is used to, which leads to the weight regain!
#3) Dieting teaches the body to retain more fat
The book Intuitive Eating3 dives into the research on how our body shifts into survival mode when we are faced with deprivation (as mentioned above). Historically, famine was a serious concern for the human race, so our bodies developed strategies to better cope under these circumstances. Evolutionarily, those with more body fat were the most resilient under conditions of famine. Consequently, human bodies are still hardwired to store more fat (energy) when faced with starvation (yes, even when it is intentional).
Our body do this at a cellular level, by increasing the enzymes needed for our body to make and store more fat in the body. Fat is the most energy dense nutrient we have, so increasing our stores of this nutrient was a survival mechanism to help stifle off the consequences of starvation!
There you have it, three scientifically validated reasons that diets don’t work! While it can be frustrating to know our bodies are hardwired to prevent us from losing unnecessary weight, it is also quite amazing how much our bodies do to protect us!
So, I am going to get you to take a deep breath and say it with me one more time: diets. do. not. work. And, it is NOT your fault!
If you are ready to ditch diet culture, but don’t know where to start, you are also not alone in that! Working with a Registered Dietitian, like myself, who coaches in Intuitive Eating can be a great place to start! Feel free to reach out to me via email at email@example.com or head over to the online booking page to book your free no-obligation meet and greet with yours truly!
References and Resources, I recommend:
1Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A. M., Samuels, B. & Chatman, J. (2007) Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: diets are not the answer. American Psychology, 62(3), 220-33. doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220.
2Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. (2011). Weight science: evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal, 10(9). Received from: https://nutritionj.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1475-2891-10-9
3Tribole, E. & Resch, E. (2020). Intuitive Eating, 4th edition. St. Martins Publishing Group.