3 Reasons You Should Never Go on a Diet

Research shows a surprising percentage of us simply can't keep it off long-term.

Posted Oct 12, 2015

Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock
Source: Piotr Marcinski/Shutterstock

Diet culture is everywhere. From the Paleo fanatics to the clean-eating enthusiasts and Weight Watchers evangelists, thousands exalt the benefits of various diet plans. I use the word "diet" in this context to refer to any set of restrictive food rules (barring true medical and ethical concerns). If you are feeling guilt and shame about your food choices, it is likely that you are approaching the experience of eating from a "diet mentality."

The word "diet" often has a negative connotation, so many people prefer to say they are making a “lifestyle change.” But if your lifestyle change entails rigid food rules that invoke guilt when broken, you are probably on a diet, even if in disguise. And the truth is, the diet industry wants us to "fail" so that we will continue to purchase their products. When you jump on the latest fad bandwagon, you support a multi-billion dollar industry that profits by convincing us we are inherently flawed.

Here, then, are 3 reasons you shouldn't go on another diet:

1. Diets do not help you maintain weight loss long-term.

The idea that people fail at diets because of a lack of willpower is a myth perpetuated by the diet industry. Powerful biological factors essentially ensure that your attempt at dieting will fail. Researcher Traci Mann, who has studied dieting for more than 20 years, found that there are metabolic, hormonal, and neurological changes that contribute to "diet failure."

According to Mann, "When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food. . . But you don't just notice it—it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting." Mann also stated that as you begin to lose weight, "the hormones that make you feel hungry increase" and "the hormones that help you feel full, or the level of those rather, decreases."

Lastly, she explains, when you diet, "Your metabolism slows down. Your body uses calories in the most efficient way possible. . . When your body finds a way to run itself on fewer calories there tends to be more left over, and those get stored as fat."

Thus, it is no surprise that studies show that 95 percent of people will "fail" at diets. Most people can lose weight in the short-term; however, over time the majority will regain the weight they lost—and potentially gain even more. Working to suppress your weight below your natural body weight is an ultimately a fruitless effort—in fact, it's an utter waste of time. 

Even if you are among the 5 percent of people who can maintain a suppressed weight long-term, think about what you may be giving up in order to achieve this: What good does it do to have an "ideal body" if you are sacrificing eating out, socializing with friends, and your interests outside of calorie-counting and obsessive exercise. 

2. Weight loss is not the key to increased happiness.

As stated above, diets do not work if your aim is maintaining weight loss in the long-term. However, I have a problem with the very idea of weight loss as a goal, because tying your happiness to something external is a recipe for discontent.

As clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior says: "It's not the external achievement of some goal that's going to make us happy. You think that will automatically change your life in some meaningful way, but it could be that your life pretty much remains the same."

For argument's sake, let's say that you had your "ideal body" and were supremely happy with your appearance. The reality of life remains that our bodies will change as we age, so, ultimately, putting all of your worth and value into your appearance is akin to boarding a sinking ship.

Additionally, people want to be thin because of the meaning they assign to it. There is a pervasive, unspoken societal belief that we can control our world, relationships, and self-esteem through our weight. It makes sense that in a world full of uncertainty, people would desire to focus on something tangible they falsely believe they can control.

However, weight set-point theory holds that your body will work to maintain its set-point weight range through powerful biological and psychological mechanisms. Further, we cannot control our external environment through our attempts at manipulating our weight. What if instead of trying to manipulate or control your weight, you focused on loving and accepting your body exactly as it is now?

Counting calories, obsessing about your body fat, and reading diet books is likely taking time away from more meaningful pursuits. Think about all of the other passions you could explore if you gave up the goal of weight loss. What if you poured all that time, money, and energy into something that could actually make a difference in the world?

3. Losing weight will not make you healthier.

You can be considered overweight and be healthy. You can also be considered thin and be unhealthy. A person's weight is simply not a good barometer of their overall health. According to an article in The Nutrition Journal by Dr. Linda Bacon and Lucy Aphramor, "Most epidemiological studies find that people who are overweight or moderately obese live at least as long as normal weight people, and often longer."

Shifting your goal from weight loss to adopting more healthful habits is one way you can work to improve your health. As Bacon and Aphramor wrote, "As indicated by research conducted by one of the authors and many other investigators, most health indicators can be improved through changing health behaviors, regardless of whether weight is lost."

We all want to believe there is some magic solution that will help us to discover true health and happiness. But the reality is that restrictive food rules and weight loss is not the answer to what we seek.

I challenge you to really think about what is behind your desire to lose weight, because the truth is, you can find love, feel great about yourself, and make a difference in this world at any size.

Lisa Turner, a food writer and nutrition consultant, summed it up best:

"Losing weight is not your life's work, and counting calories is not the call of your soul. You surely are destined for something much greater, much bigger, than shedding 20 pounds or tallying calories. What would happen if, instead of worrying about what you had for breakfast, you focused instead on becoming exquisitely comfortable with who you are as a person?"

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