I’m not much of a basher of what I hate, far more of a promoter of what I love but I get so upset when I hear of yet another person going on a diet, or a juice cleanse, or intermittent fasting, or ‘cutting out sugar/carbs/eating after 6’, or ‘eating healthy’ or making a lifestyle change, because they simply won’t achieve what they are setting out to do.
And whilst you may think that you don’t do diets, I’m here to tell you that if you’re not listening to your body, eating intuitively and eating all food groups then… you’re on a diet.
So, here’s 5 good reasons to ditch all kinds of restriction when it comes to food (allergies and medically diagnosed intolerance notwithstanding).
The only correlation that diets have is with weight gain
That’s right, diets only correlate with weight gain not loss. Whilst in the short term (i.e. whilst you’re following the plan) you may see weight losses, once you stop following the plan your body will begin to gain weight. And not only will you gain weight, you will end up heavier than you were before.
This is why we see so many ‘yo-yo’ dieters. The gains outweigh the losses, resulting in increased weight and therefore people return to their diets to lose the weight. The likelihood is that you won’t lose enough to get back to the lowest weight the first time and the cycle starts over again, each time with you gaining a little more weight and ending up heavier.
What most people won’t tell you is that this constant restriction is damaging your body’s ability to regulate your weight and is increasing the likelihood of it storing fat.
And even more devastating is that you are not really ever likely to be able to get down to your ideal weight and stay there. Those that do, never eat normally again, they simply stay ‘on a diet’ for life, worrying about every little morsel and weighing themselves regularly.
There are slim people who have never had a weight problem, never had to diet and who eat whatever they want. Whilst their diets may include fewer takeaways and more fruit and veg than some overweight people, the truth is that they can eat far more than those few who have lost weight and are maintaining at their ‘goal / target / ideal’ weight.
Diets focus on calorie restriction
Early diets were almost exclusively based on the old ‘calories in vs calories out’ model. This is also how gyms and personal trainers tend to market their services, using the idea that you need to exercise to ‘work off’ the ‘bad’ food (I could also talk about use of language around food but that’s for another day).
Many diet companies that use other units of measurement are still basing their proprietary units on the calorific values in food whilst diets where you ‘cut out’ certain food or cleanse using only veg and fruit are generally successful because you’ve cut down significantly on calories.
We know now that calories are complicated. Much of the food we eat is used, not for energy as such but to repair and grow our body. At the same time, our bodies do discriminate between different types and quality of food and use them in different ways, so calories are not equal when it comes to usage. Finally, the ways in which calories are burned and measured for the sake of food packaging does not precisely replicate how our bodies burn the fuel we take in from fuel, so the calorie count we take in may not be quite as we think.
Our bodies can also adapt to using fewer calories and still retaining fat. It’s an evolutionary thing. Again – it’s complicated and no-one really knows exactly how it works yet.
All diets lead to a skewed and disordered relationship with food
Any kind of restriction is going to create a disordered relationship with food. Things that are forbidden or classed as out of bounds are always going to make you want them more. I call this the ‘inner teenager effect’. The minute you tell yourself you can’t have something, your inner teenager is going to start wanting it, craving it, driving you mad thinking about it all the time. When you remove the restriction, you realise that you can kind of take it or leave it.
For example, I love burgers. Not the rubbish cheap ones that you get in fast food restaurants but the big, juicy kind you get in restaurants or when you make them yourself. So, I happened to mention to Mr S that I like burgers. And he stocked up with the Taste the Difference ones he found on the reduced counter in Sainsbury’s (he’s a sucker for a bargain). So we now have a freezer full of burgers that I’m really not sure I want to eat. Because after a few, I’ve kind of lost my taste for them.
When you stop building food up in your brain to be something that it isn’t, like it’s something that should only be used as a treat, or it’s bad or you shouldn’t have it, then you want it badly. When you make it something you can have any time you want it, then it suddenly loses it’s appeal.
Diets start with the premise that you should want to lose weight
There are all sorts of reasons why you may want to lose weight. You may have been told it’s healthier, you may have low body confidence and think thinner is more attractive. There is a kind of common assumption that fat / overweight is bad and that just isn’t true.
When it comes to health, there are other approaches you can take to improve your health; increasing your movement, counting steps, adding in more foods of a greater variety, working on mood.
The body shame factor is far more insidious. It’s seeping into everyday life, it’s in magazines, it’s all over social media. There is a very real belief that you can only be happy / confident / healthy / successful / worthy / beautiful /spiritual if you are thin. There’s a belief that, particularly women, should be striving to become thin and therefore more worthy of the space they take up. There is a real fear of women strong enough to love themselves enough to be happy as they are. Which brings us to our final point.
Diets don’t fully address the real reasons you eat and in fact compound them.
For the majority of the women I work with, there is no misunderstanding of health or knowledge of what constitutes a balanced diet, other than a little confusion caused by the wealth of info out there.
Most of my clients eat well balanced meals. They just end up reaching for the odd takeaway after a stressful day, chocolate to see them through the evening or comfort food when something goes wrong.
What starts as excess eating through a tricky patch becomes a reason to ‘go on a diet’ rather than address the issues. Diets focus on reducing food intake and restricting certain foods which leads to all sorts of other emotions when you eventually fall off the diet wagon. Now, mixed in with sadness or grief or stress or boredom, you also have guilt and shame.
So, instead of fixing the original problem, dieting simply adds more emotions into the mix. That you can now suppress with chocolate. 😉
My way of working with clients is to address the relationship between emotions and food as well as addressing the emotions you’re feeling and working on new ways of dealing with them.
If you’d like to try out a slightly different approach you can join in my FREE course, Understanding Emotional Eating here.