January is officially here, which means diet season is in full swing! You’re probably being inundated with all sorts of weight-loss ads and might even be contemplating starting one of those trendy diets you heard about on Instagram. Before you go stock up on bags and bags of riced cauliflower and celery sticks, it’s important to know that studies and industry professionals agree that diets don’t work. Yup, you read that correctly. In fact, diets have been shown to have some pretty damaging effects, and more experts than ever are encouraging people to stop dieting. That probably seems like a surprising recommendation, but as it turns out, there are many concrete reasons why you should ditch dieting once and for all. Today, we’re going to talk about four of those reasons—and what you should aim to do instead. Let’s get into it!
Why diets don’t work
- Dieting doesn’t lead to sustained weight loss for most people
Diets generally include some combination of calorie counting, eliminating a food or food group, or following a strict meal plan. Most people will initially lose weight, but studies show time and time again that people usually gain back the weight they lost—and sometimes more! This usually comes down to both mental and physical components. Mentally speaking, restricting food makes you want it more, which is why most people fall off the wagon in the first month or two. Physically, our bodies view dieting as a form of starvation. As a survival mechanism, our metabolism slows, and hormones that regulate appetite and satisfaction fluctuate, which can lead to increased weight over time.
- Dieting disconnects you from what your body actually needs
A major problem with dieting is that it teaches us to eat according to specific food rules, rather than tuning in to our own hunger signals and needs. Our bodies are extremely smart and naturally direct us to the nutrients we need by triggering hunger signals and cravings. Diets label foods as “good” or “bad” and tell us to deny certain foods that our bodies might actually need. This ultimately undermines our own internal wisdom around food and can cause us to lose trust in ourselves. That’s not to say that we should give in to midnight hankerings for chocolate cake, but we should satisfy our cravings for a wide range of healthy foods.
- Dieting can promote disordered eating
Perhaps one of the most damaging repercussions of dieting is the potential to develop disordered eating. Food restriction and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which can perpetuate restrictive eating patterns and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits. Additionally, food restriction can promote binge eating. As your body realizes it’s deprived of nutrition, it will encourage you to reach for food whenever it can get it—usually via binging on quick energy sources such as sugar and carbs. In severe cases, this can lead to a vicious restrict-binge cycle.
- Dieting can make you feel like a failure
Since diets usually fail, it should come as no surprise that dieting can cause people to feel like failures themselves. Most people blame themselves when they inevitably fall off the diet wagon and their weight creeps right back up to where it was—plus some. Science shows that diets are set up to fail and an inability to stick to strict diet guidelines is not a reflection of the strength or success of a person.
What to do instead of dieting
Okay, so clearly this dieting business has got to go—but what can you do instead to maintain a healthy weight and general well-being? Here are some of the most important tips:
- Eat mindfully—To avoid unintentionally overeating, try being in the moment while you calmly eat with intention.
- Practice intuitive eating—This is the opposite of dieting and encourages you to trust your inner body wisdom to make choices around food that feel good in your body, without judgment and without influence from diet culture.
- Cook your own meals—Restaurants tend to load their dishes with unhealthy ingredients such as sugar, canola oil, and loads of salt; opt for cooking meals at home using fresh, whole ingredients.
- Focus on wellness, not weight—Embrace new habits that are good for whole-body health regardless of whether or not they lead to weight loss.
- Cultivate body respect—Make food choices from a place of love, respect, and acceptance of your body, rather than hatred. When you accept and value how you are right now, you’re more likely to instinctively make better choices.