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Why Dieting NEVER works

Why dieting NEVER works and why it’s not your fault that you can’t lose weight

You may already know this plain fact: Weight loss is simply a matter of taking in fewer calories than you spend.  Conventional weight-loss ideology exploits this fact, prompting you to diet (reduce calorie intake) or exercise (increase calories spent).  On the surface, this seems logical.

The problem is it doesn’t work-at least not in a lasting way.  All of you folks who have dieted or exercised with gusto, only to regain the weight, listen up!  You did not fail to keep the weight off because you are lazy, weak or undisciplined.  It’s not because you didn’t want it badly enough.  You regained that weight because the contributors to your body weight, such as what, when, and how much you eat, as well as how you expend energy, are not completely under conscious control.

Dieting trains your body to store fat

Ever notice that when you go on a diet, at first you may lose some weight, but after a while the weight loss slows down and then stops, and you can’t lose any more?  This is due to the body’s interpretation that there is a famine going on.  The body slows down its metabolism so that it requires fewer calories to function.  It becomes happier with less.  It holds onto fat to hold it through this famine and the next famine.  Now, we are not going through a famine, but the body does not know that.  Our physiology has not changed since the Stone Age.  Do you ever notice when you come off a diet you gain all of the weight back and then some?  Why “and then some”?  Because your body really thought you were in a famine and it is now going to “save” you by storing some reserves for the next famine that it is sure you will be going through some time soon.  We are designed to hold onto fat.  Historically, the bodies that could store fat survived, and the skinny bodies that could not store fat, did not survive.  Of course, we are not living in times of famine.  It may not be so reassuring to know that you’re well equipped to survive food shortages.  But this survival instinct sure was a valuable trait in the past.

Dieting causes food cravings and binges

Do you notice that when you are following a diet-be it a low carb/no carb, paleo, low fat, low calorie, etc., you are constantly thinking about all the foods you’d love to be eating, but are forbidden from, because you’re following a diet?  Since this is not a way anyone can possibly live for very long, eventually you cave and binge on all of the forbidden foods. .

The truth is that diets do not work.  90% of all dieters gain the weight back.  And yet many of us try this diet, then that diet, because we think that something will work sooner or later.  After all, the woman in the ad looks amazing and she did it by following the diet, so maybe it will work for me, too.  Diets do work in the short term, which is why many of us keep trying.  We get an endorphin hit when we lose some weight, and often we crave that feeling, so we go back to dieting again and again.

Diets fail.  We know they fail, and that is what makes Weight Watchers and other diets, and diet foods successful businesses.  If people were successful in losing weight, they would not keep coming back.

Your body has a set point that it likes to hang out at

There is a weight-regulation mechanism in your brain called the hypothalamus.  It is aware of how much body fat you have at any given moment, and its job is to keep you at your set point.  Your set point is the healthy weight that your body aims for.  Think of it as the preferred temperature on a thermostat.  There is a range that the body likes to be within, usually about a 10 pounds range. Your system works tirelessly to do anything it can to bring your body into alignment with the set point.  It acts like a biological force.  The further you go from centre, the stronger the pull to get you back to the comfortable range.

Let’s say you’re losing weight and you are below your set-point.  Your hypothalamus directs other body systems to regulate your eating and activity levels as well as your metabolic efficiency, the rate at which your burn calories, to get you to regain the weight.  It can initiate the release of particular hormones that influence your appetite and mold your drive to eat, including changing how food tastes and how much it appeals to you.  It can also lead you to actually crave higher-fat food if it wants you to get concentrated energy and gain weight.  It can even decrease your drive to move, leading to serious couch potato behavior.

These actions are particularly strong if the hypothalamus senses that body fat levels are dropping too far below the setpoint.

This system only works if we let it.  If you keep “jiggling” with the thermostat by going on diets, the mechanism breaks down.  This jiggling is like a power struggle to take control away from your body’s innate weight-regulation mechanism, and in the end, it only makes your body fight harder to retain control.  The result: Your body forces you to not only regain any weight you’ve lost, but often you pay a penalty with extra weight gain-and a setpoint now set higher to protect against future diets.

When your body can’t get you to comply with its demand to break your diet, it asserts even more control by toning down certain metabolic processes.  As a result, people who do succeed at conquering the drive to eat are miserable.  Experimentally underfed people experience lower energy levels, apathy, dizziness, intolerance to cold, slower metabolism, preoccupation with food, intense hunger and cravings, decreased sex drive, general irritability, and depression, among other characteristics. 

Resource: Health At Every Size, Linda Bacon, PHD.

What does work

Rather than continuing to engage in this weighty battle with your body, you could declare a truce and join forces with it to help achieve a healthy, natural weight.  Through learning food truths and how to eat mindfully, you’ll find that you will become more interested in nourishing your body, and less interested in depriving your body.  And your body itself will make up for those occasional party over indulgences without you having to deliberately deny yourself.  What works to allow you to arrive at your natural weight are wellness practices and a little self love.