Looking to end the defeating diet cycle and find your ideal weight without deprivation?
If you read Part One in this series, you now have some insight into why dieting can make a person feel kind of awful, both physically and mentally (if you didn’t read last week’s post, catch it here). Our bodies do not respond well to deprivation, and limiting our caloric intake can lead to obsessing about food, binge eating when food is available, social isolation, and even depression.
Now what if I told you diets don’t work anyway? You’d be pretty mad right? If you experienced any of the above-mentioned misery, it would be quite infuriating to be told it was for naught. When I look back at the grief I caused myself to be X pounds lighter or to try to address [insert perceived “issue” with my body], it makes me pretty sad and, frankly, pissed off.
So go ahead, get angry. Because I’m telling the truth: Diets don’t work in the long term.
If they did, why would we be sold so many of them? Why would we try one, have it fail us, then be told the next one is the answer? Don’t you think we would have gotten to the bottom of what "works" by now?
“Not one study has ever shown that diets produce long-term weight loss for any but a tiny number of dieters. Not one.” (Linda Bacon, Health at Every Size)
The key is in the phrase “long term.” Sure you can lose weight for a few months by restricting your calorie intake and exercising like a maniac (shows like “The Biggest Loser” exploit this potential). But it is highly unlikely you’ll be able to keep the weight off through dieting. The statistics don’t lie: Somewhere between 95%-97% of dieters gain back any weight they lost on their diets within five years, and often gain back more.
Why don’t diets work?
Here’s a fact that is hard for many people to digest (it was for me at first): Your body is essentially pre-programmed to live at a certain size, known as your “set point.” Some people are biologically prone to live in bigger bodies while others have naturally smaller frames. No one questions that humans fall on a spectrum of height (some are shorter, some taller) due to factors outside our control. The same principal applies to weight: There is a weight range that is natural for your body given your unique genetic makeup, bone structure, hormones, metabolism, and other factors.
Your body fights to defend its natural size: If your weight gets below your set point range, your body is going to do everything in its power to try to get it back, including by slowing your metabolism, increasing your hunger cravings (especially for high-calorie foods), and decreasing your desire to be physically active. On the flip side, if your weight moves above your set point, your metabolism revs up and you may feel an urge to get moving.
That said, your body has a much stronger drive to hold onto weight than it does to let it go. This is because there is an evolutionary advantage to storing fat (to protect against famine or times of starvation), but there is not as strong of a benefit to being lean. (If you’ve ever wondered why it seems so much easier to gain weight than to lose it, now you know!)
The concept of set point impacts the “success” of dieting: As soon as your body weight dips below your set point range, your body starts fighting like hell to get back there. But this is a good thing: Your body is working properly to protect you and make sure you survive!
Now, all of this information is not to say that your current weight is necessarily your body’s “ideal” weight or set point. Our bodies (and our body weight) can get totally out of whack through unhealthy eating patterns, a diet of processed “food” lacking in nutrients, a sedentary lifestyle, or by—you guessed it—dieting.
Finding and maintaining the weight that is right for you can be done, and you can get there.
That brings us to Step Two: Tune into your body.
By listening to your body, respecting its hunger and fullness signals, and identifying foods that make you feel good, you’ll be on target to find your body’s ideal weight without dieting.
Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you can’t remember the last time you let yourself eat whatever you wanted without feeling guilty. Do you sometimes eat until you’re practically sick, feeling too stuffed to move? I can relate, and that is a classic symptom that you are out of touch with your body’s signals.
So how do you tune back in? Let’s start with an action step:
This week, take note of when you feel the desire to eat. Ask yourself: do you want to eat because you are hungry? Or is the desire to eat linked to experiencing an emotion (stress, boredom, sadness, etc.)?
If you’re hungry, honor that biological urge! Stop fighting your hunger signals and trust your body to tell you what it needs.
Remember: it’s a process. But the good thing is, you don’t need to go through it alone! As a health and wellness coach, I specialize in helping those who have lost touch with their bodies to tune into what they need. I would love to support you as you embark on your diet-free life.