Disclaimer: this post is a bit of a doozy in terms of length, so if you think that this is foreshadowing, don't worry because it's not. I just feel very strongly about this particular topic. Anyway, I promise this will probably be the only long ass post you'll ever see here.
Anyhoo, let's begin, shall we?
If you’ve ever read my old blog, Legwarmer Nation (RIP) or have participated in a FitNation Mind Body Reset (my other pet project), you just might know by now that I think diets are the devil. Seriously…it's the other 4 letter word, in my book.
If you haven’t the slightest idea what I’m talking about, I assume that you’re clear now on my stance toward dieting! If not, I’ll repeat it once more: I think you need to throw yours in the trash and set it on fire.
Not that I have a strong opinion about it or anything.
But once upon a time, many moons ago in a past life, I was a complete diet psycho. As in, I was always on one or about to begin one. I’ll spare you the long version, but let it be known that the toll it took wasn’t pretty. Not only was I consistently anywhere from 10-40 pounds overweight from the time I started dieting to the time I finally stopped, but dieting wrecked a lot of other things, which eventually came to include both my metabolism and my self-esteem.
After years of crashing and burning, finally I threw in the towel and quit dieting for good. I was 100% certain that I would put on 25 more pounds and broke from having to buy a new wardrobe, but I I wouldn’t be miserable from trying to not eat and failing.
What actually happened was ironic to say the least. When I wasn’t convinced that “tomorrow” would be the end of enjoying food indefinitely, I stopped binging. I was no longer compelled o shovel 3 meals’ worth of food in my mouth at once. There was no diet to start the next day, and that change alone soothed a lot of my anxiety, which in turn meant less emotional eating. When I stopped using the term "cheat meal," I also stopped feeling guilty when I ate. I started getting clued in to hunger cues, and because I wasn’t telling myself “no” to food anymore, I stopped obsessing about it. The most interesting side effect was the fact that I lost weight without consciously trying. Those 25 pounds I was sure I’d gain in a week? I lost about 3/4 of that number over the course of a couple months, by doing literally nothing other than saying yes. And as irony would have it, suddenly, everyone wanted to know what diet I was on.
I wanted to scream from the rooftops that everyone should quit dieting if they wanted to lose weight, but my more logical side kept telling me to stay quiet, reminding me that every person was different. I was definitely afraid that my advice might backfire for other people..but being the obsessive type, I couldn’t let it go. I racked my brain, trying to think about how many people I knew who had legitimately struggled with their weight, went on a diet, and kept it off for the long haul. The answer was, not-a-one. I knew plenty of people who (unlike me) had successfully lost a lost of weight on a diet, but very few who kept it off forever, or at least kept it off without facing a daily struggle and a lot of issues around food.
But again, this was just what I knew – not the hard facts. It’s not like I knew dozens and dozens of people who tried to diet, so I began looking at the facts. What I found was staggering.
According to about 15 major studies (including by research teams at UCLA, Colombia University the Cooper Institute) anywhere from NINETY- to NINETY SEVEN PERCENT of dieters gain back the weight they’ve lost, and a high percentage of those people gain even more back. So the truth is, diets don't work: the truth is rooted in studies, numbers, and facts.
Here are a couple of reasons why.
First- the minute you go into diet mode, you’re essentially telling yourself “no.” Your adopting a mindset of lack, and it's human nature to not only think about what you can’t have (some of us go so far as to obsess about it), and want it even more. In fact, there’s neurological science around it: dieters notice food more, and it actually looks more appetizing because the brain becomes more responsive to it. So food is looking extra appetizing, you're telling yourself no...what do you think will eventually happen? You break. For some of us, it comes on the weekend. For others, it’s every few months. Or after a few drinks. The point is, it almost inevitably happens. Not only does that come with a side order of shame, but that kind of eating behavior repeated over time can really take its toll on your metabolism. It has little to do with your self control, because you are essentially setting yourself up for failure.
So there’s that.
The other issue is that when you go on a diet, you’re simply addressing a symptom. You’ll hear me say this a lot: when I coach, my number one objective is to set the symptom (eg, being overweight) aside while we focus on figuring out the source of that symptom. I liken it to the following example: if you kept getting the flu week after week, you probably wouldn’t just keep eating cans of Campbells soup. Hell no, you’re going to figure out why the heck you keep getting nauseous, ‘cause who wants to be sick 24/7? Yet when it comes to losing weight, we treat the process differently.
If you want to lose weight, there’s a reason for it that dieting isn't going to solve (at least, studies show there is 97% chance it won't). You may be generically predisposed to it. Maybe you use food as a coping mechanism. You may have a crazy ass job or travel every week or be raising 6 kids all by yourself or afraid to put yourself first. You might know literally zero about nutritious food. But whatever’s causing your symptom is not going to change from a meal plan alone. A meal plan doesn’t make you less busy or teach you how to cook or soothe your emotions with things beside food or teach you about mindfulness. As a coach, I'll help you work through these issues and implement new habits to help you reach weight loss (etc) goals, but the takeaway for now? Ditch your diet, and start getting to the heart of the matter.