Why Dieting Doesn’t Work: Willpower is BS

I’ve been re-reading the fantastic book Intuitive Eating, and man, is it good. It should be required reading for everyone. Although it is directed to those struggling with food and their weight, it would help anyone who eats enjoy their food more mindfully and stop the unconscious dieting.

You may have heard that dieting doesn’t work, and you’re right. The research shows that diets fail. One study by UCLA found that after over 2 years, 83% of people had gained back MORE weight than they had lost. Dieting is consistently a predictor for future weight gain. Furthermore, yo-yo dieting is a risk factor for heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and more. My theory is it’s more related to the major STRESS than the actual weight changes.

Yet the weight loss industry is thriving at a $20 billion a year industry! Yet, when the diet fails, we blame ourselves for lack of willpower instead of blaming the actual diet. So, why do we always fail prey to another diet? We think that this time will be different, that this diet has to work. Yes, most people do end up losing weight on fad diets, but it doesn’t always stay off.

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The problem with dieting is the diet backlash that comes on fast and furious. Most dieting is a form of starvation for the body, and I can tell you the body does not like to be starved from energy or nutrients. Think about your hunger and appetite after getting to the point of “hangry.”

You know when you’re starving all day, and you finally get home to eat. What do you grab to eat? Probably not baby carrots. If I’m that hungry, I go for quick energy – chocolate, ice cream, chips. Ironically, those are also the foods people tend to binge eat on after failing on their diet. I’m not a dietitian who will sit here and tell you that you’re overweight because you lack willpower. Even if the online calorie machine told you to eat 1200 calories, don’t do it.

There’s no willpower involved with starvation. Your body doesn’t care if you’re just starving from not having food or if you’re dieting from trying to eat less. All your body knows is it needs food ASAP. It’s hard for your brain to think straight when it’s not getting the steady stream of energy it needs.

What does every diet you’ve been on have in common? I bet you end up thinking about food ALL THE TIME. When’s the next time I can eat? What’s allowed for dinner? How many calories left do I have? This doesn’t leave much time to enjoy life if you’re just worried about your diet and your weight. It’s simple biology, though. In the classic Minnesota Starvation study, the starving men made them crazy. They became food-obsessed, had strict food rituals, some stole food from trash cans, and others had severe psychological stress that they were sent to a psychiatric hospital.

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What’s even worse is the guilt you feel after eating a forbidden food. One study found that 45% of adults felt guilty after eating foods they like. How crazy is that? After eating chocolate, I want to feel good and know that I enjoyed every bite. I don’t want a sense of guilt creeping into the rest of my day with a voice in my head telling me to go workout in the morning to make up for it. Well, it happens, especially for women who often feel guiltier than men about the food they eat. Another study found that 44% of women feel guilt with food vs only 28% of men. Still, that number should be 0%.

Principle #1 in Intuitive Eating is Reject the Diet Mindset. You have to give it up 100%. Stop thinking that the next diet will work for you. Stop thinking that this time you won’t go for the chocolate, chips, and ice cream after you’ve been so good for a week. One study has shown that post-dieting binges occur in 49% of people ending a diet. Again, it’s not just you that fails a diet. Dieting is the real enemy.

Of note, there are tools you can develop to deal with true stress or emotional eating, but before you even get to that point, you need to nourish your body with real food.

What to Do

Hit your bookshelf and grab all the dieting books you have. The Atkins Diet. The Abs Diet. Skinny Bitch (ugh). You know that they’re there. Now, throw them in your campfire pile as kindling. I would say donate them, but then someone else would end up thinking that maybe, this diet will work for me. Summer isn’t quite over yet. There’s still time to have a few more campfires, and burn those diet hopes and dreams. I know, burning books sounds like a terrible thing to do, so you could also use them in crafts or other creative projects.

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Seriously?

Only by rejecting the diet mindset will you be able to start your journey towards a healthier relationship with food and your body. All the diet rules you’ve learned on fad diets or set for yourself in the name of losing 20 pounds, or even in the name of health, have to go. Then, you can start on a clean slate, and begin to listen to your hunger cues and what your body is telling you it needs. Then, you can begin eat mindfully and pay attention to nutrition.

How can you get rid of the diet mentality? Tell me in the comments below.

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2 responses to “Why Dieting Doesn’t Work: Willpower is BS

  1. Hi, Lauren. I wanted to take a moment to thank you for this post. As a recovering dieter, I really appreciate posts like these that encourage me to stop the madness and find a better way to enjoy life.

    I’m not sure if you’re familiar with the Fat Feminist Archivist Artist’s blog (link: http://brendaoelbaum.me/) or this project (link: http://brendaoelbaum.me/2013/05/14/some-beautiful-press-about-my-indiegogo-campaign/) but it’s a great spot to think about sending the diet books. I know I’m gathering mine from around the house to send to her. 🙂

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