Check the facts: Diets don't work

It’s the beginning of a new year and that means that our media is inundated with diet and weight loss recommendations, tips, and success stories all meant to help you create the “new, thinner, happier, and all-around better version of you.” What the media doesn’t tell you is that diets don’t work in the long-term; in fact, they can lead to weight gain and disordered eating.  

First of all, I think it’s important to define what I mean by the word “diet,” as it has multiple meanings. In this blog, I am referring to diet as “a reduction of caloric intake, via restricting oneself to small amounts or certain kinds of food, in order to lose weight.”

Why diets don't work:

  • Diets are typically temporary by nature. Each fad diet touts its own unoriginal tagline, something along the lines of, “lose 16 pounds in 2 weeks,” “a never before seen 24-day weight loss program,” or “a 12-day cleanse with promising results.” These examples could go on and on. Reading between the lines, these messages really tell you that as soon as you begin eating normally again, your body will gain back the weight lost or even add a few extra pounds to protect against future restriction periods.
  • Diets implement the yo-yo effect. Deprivation of nutrients, which is the case in most fad diets, may lead to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. This occurs because your body will try to get its nutritional needs met by reminding you that you are hungry – headaches, a growling stomach, obsessive thoughts about food – this is your body communicating it needs more nutrients to function properly. Depression and fatigue are other common side-effects of a diet, which make them impossible to sustain, thus leading to a yo-yo cycle.
  • Your body learns and adapts to diets. Your body doesn’t want to starve, so it will fight against restrictive diets by slowing your metabolism AKA making it harder to lose weight. This is also why you may gain more weight than you lost when you begin to eat normally again.

If these points, all of which are backed by research, aren’t convincing enough, here are some statistics about dieting:

  • Dieting for weight loss is often associated with weight gain, due to the increased incidence of binge-eating. (Field, et al., 2003)
  • 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years. (Grodstein, 1996)
  • 35% of "normal dieters" progress to pathological dieting. Of those, 20-25% progress to partial or full-syndrome eating disorders. (Shisslak & Crago, 1995)
  • Adolescent girls who diet are at 324% greater risk for obesity than those who do not diet. (Stice et al., 1999)

The message I want to get across is this: Your body knows what it needs – we are all born with the capability to eat intuitively; however, after dieting, it may take work to learn how to listen to your body again.

I think the National Eating Disorder Association (NEDA), says it best: “Eat what you want, when you are truly hungry.  Stop when you’re full.  And eat exactly what appeals to you.  Do this instead of any diet, and you’re likely to maintain a healthy weight and avoid eating disorders.”  To read more about listening to your body, click on the NEDA article here.

I also want to share with you this informative video from Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD, titled, “Warning: Dieting Causes Weight Gain.”

I’d love to hear your thoughts!

- Chelsea