It is well documented that most people who lose weight through dieting, regain the weight plus more within one to five years of losing the weight.
When diets fail, it is generally not from lack of willpower on the dieters behalf; in fact many people who diet display huge amounts of willpower when they restrict calories and deprive themselves of certain food for long periods.
Our bodies are carefully designed to make starvation and loss of body fat difficult. This is a protective mechanism as being underweight can be just as risky as being extremely overweight. There are numerous studies that show higher risk of death and various diseases in underweight people compared to slightly overweight people. A number of studies even show lower risks of death and disease in slightly overweight people compared to people in the healthy weight range. It would appear that a little extra body fat may be protective.
Therefore, whenever you go on a diet, or restrict your calories, you are fighting incredibly strong physiology that has been carefully designed to defend against loss of body fat.
It is mainly because of this that weight loss diets are not helpful in keeping a significant amount of weight off long-term. In other words; people don’t fail diets, diets fail people.
As well as strong physiology defending a higher body weight, we have equally strong psychology at work when we deprive ourselves of calories or certain food.
In one famous calorie restricted study, participants talked of little else but food, how hungry they were and how much weight they had lost. Such a preoccupation with food, hunger and weight generally does not lead to long-term health, physically or mentally. If you’ve ever been on a strict diet, you’ll most likely have experienced this.
This doesn’t mean you can’t achieve a healthier body, it just means you need to stop dieting. In order to stop dieting, you need to shift your focus away from losing weight.
There is growing evidence that yoyo dieting is more harmful to health, both psychologically and physically, than being stable at a weight that is above the ‘healthy weight range’.
A key problem is that our culture is obsessed with losing weight and the notion that being slimmer is healthier and better. This ideal is supported and promoted by many health and medical professionals, the media, most gyms and our government, which serves to further entrench the ‘thin is better’ ideal.
Until we start shifting our cultures attitude toward body size, millions of people will continue to diet in an attempt to be slimmer. Unfortunately most of these people will not succeed. If you have been on more than one diet, this should not sound like a ridiculous thing to say.
If you truly want to mange your eating habits and body weight long-term, ditch the diets and learn how to eat intuitively again with the non-diet approach. The below 8 points give you an idea of what the approach involves.
1. Start loving your body for what it can do, not how it looks.
2. Establish and nurture a healthy relationship with food.
3. Start listening more to your appetite and making food choices based on a need to satisfy hunger as well as enjoyment.
4. Learn how to eat mindfully.
5. Think about health in terms of the fitness of your muscles, heart, lungs and energy levels, rather than physical appearance.
6. Work on not judging others on how they look and in time you’ll find it easier not to judge yourself.
7. Tune out from all the advertised weight loss programs, weight loss products and extreme health and fitness regimes. To escape the constant advertising, try muting the TV when ads come on, avoid watching programs focused on weight loss and unfollow any social media that promises weight loss or promotes unattainable body images.
8. Ask yourself: “Why do I want to lose weight so badly?” Take a moment to consider if you can start to achieve your reasons without losing weight. One of the most common reasons my clients give for wanting to lose weight is to feel more comfortable (and “look better”) in clothes. Feeling comfortable in your clothes is not dependent on a number on the scales. Looking better is just a matter of perspective, and if you can learn to love your body for what it can do rather than how it looks, you may find “looking good” does not require being slim.
If your reason to lose weight is based on the idea that being overweight is unhealthy or that being fat is unattractive, then I challenge you to consider challenging these reasons. The below book does just this.
Starting quote and all studies referred to can be found in the book “Beyond a Shadow of a Diet” by Judith Matz and Ellen Frankel. I recommend all dietitians working in the area of weight loss read this.