Whether you goal is to gain weight, lose weight, maintain weight, build muscle, or get toned, there is a diet out there that is marketed specifically to you. Because of this we begin to get the impression that we need to be on a specific diet. If the way you eat doesn’t have a name then you aren’t eating right… right? I get asked about different diets on a regular basis; some of these are fad diets centred around the latest and greatest superfood while others claim that we should be eating more like our primal ancestors. Regardless of it’s name, each diet focusses on restricing what we allow ourselves to eat. So, why don’t I support the use of diets?
1) The Focus on Weight and Weight Loss May Result in Weight Stigma
By definition, a diet is a habitual way of eating. However, we have come to associate the term with “a way of eating in order to lose weight”. This new definition of the word “diet” completely misses the point. It causes many people to idealize a certain body type which is thinner, which perpetuates the weight stigma. This stigma has been associated with an increased desire to avoid exercise, increased caloric consumption, binge eating behaviours, low self esteem, depression, and many other issues .
Essentially, eating to lose weight by restricting what we eat actually does more harm than merely focusing on a healthy diet.
2) You May Gain Weight Instead of Losing Weight
Diets are becoming evermore restrictive; everyday we hear of yet another thing we shouldn’t be eating because it might make us fat. Research is now showing that by restricting what we eat we are unable to sustain the results. In a study where restrictive diets were used to treat obese patients, 1/3 to 2/3 of patients regained more weight than they had lost on the diet . Another study on overweight preadolescents concluded that diets were ineffective as they promoted weight gain .
3) Diets Are Too Difficult to Maintain For Prolonged Periods of Time
Ideally, we should be eating enough to sustain our daily activities. Our calorie input should not only be nearly equal to our calorie output, but the source of those calories should also satisfy our macronutrient and micronutrient intake. By practicing restrictive eating behaviours, we no longer satisfy this balance of eating enough for our body to maintain its regular function. Many people cannot sustain these diets for a prolonged period of time. For the few people who can, they develop a restrictive eating cycle. Individuals who follow these eating patterns begin to ignore hunger and deprive themselves of food that they love. For these individuals, they are constantly dealing with internal conflict and food guilt rather than enjoyment and changes that are sustainable for a healthy lifestyle.
4) They Miss The Point
When an individual decides to go on a diet it is to lose weight. Most people don’t even think about it twice to realize that going on a diet won’t actually fix the root problem which is typically overeating. For many people, overeating is usually triggered by stress, boredom, or from not eating enough micro/macronutrients. Although the diet may cause the individual to lose weight, it doesn’t allow for them to learn how to deal with their triggers. By not acknowledging these triggers, once the diet is over, they resume their previous eating habits.
5) Results Are Not Sustainable
As already mentioned, diets are not sustainable. This also means that results obtained through the diet are not sustained either. Researchers have begun to follow up with individuals who lost weight through dieting methods. The findings of this research was that at the one year follow-up after the diet had finished, only 20% of the participants were able to maintain weight loss. Weight loss maintenance beyond one year further dropped this percentage .
6) They Decrease Metabolism and Increase Hunger
Our bodies undergo a process called adaptive thermogenesis. What this process does is it automatically reduces an individuals energy expenditure to adapt to a lower caloric intake. This means, for a person who reduces caloric intake, their body will begin to adjust to start using less energy to perform functions to adapt to the new conditions . This process may then lead to weight regain for those attempting to maintain weight loss. Adaptive thermogenesis is also associated with increased hunger sensations .
7) Metabolic Adaptation Persists Over Time
As we lose weight, it means we have a caloric deficit and that our bodies are losing mass (preferably fat, which acts as energy storage). As previously mentioned, this can cause the process of adaptive thermogenesis where weight loss becomes difficult to maintain. In a study, it was found that individuals who lost weight through dieting had a significant decrease in their resting metabolic rate and that their resting metabolic rate continued to decline for an additional six years after they dieted .
8) Counterproductive Psychological Consequences
By restricting food consumption individuals begin to impose counterproductive psychological consequences. These consequences include being preoccupied with food and eating, dysphoria, eating in the absence of hunger, binge eating, distractibility, and many other issues . The restriction of food has also been found to lead to obsessive behaviour that can promote disordered eating .
9) They Use The Wrong Approach
Diets are about following a strict plan. These plans very rarely take into account the needs of the dieter. This will often lead to dieters feeling hungry and ignoring that feeling and even eating when they are not hungry. By ignoring the cues from their body to determine when and when not to eat, the dieter does not learn the ability to nourish their body without the use of diets.
10) Commonly Leads to Overeating, Increased Cravings, and Food Guilt
Diets by nature are restrictive. They typically restrict the number of calories or even require that specific foods be eliminated. When we develop the mindset of “I want it, but I can’t have it” we are more prone crave it, overeat it, and proceed to feel guilty about it which causes this process to cycle.
What To Do Instead of Dieting?
We need to change our mentality towards food. Instead of saying “I want it, but I can’t have it” we need to learn that we “can have it, but don’t want it”. It’s not about restricting what we eat, it’s about learning the root causes of why our body is the way it is and how to make healthy changes. Being healthy and fit is not about punishing our bodies, it is about nourishing them and taking care of them. By setting our goal to live a healthy lifestyle, we avoid obstacles such as obsessive eating and exercise patterns. Instead, we focus more on ourselves and doing things because they feel good. It is about learning to find your own unique balance.
In my next post I’ll talk more about finding this balance! Stay tuned!
 The Weight-Inclusive versus Weight-Normative Approach to Health: Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss
 Adaptive thermogenesis can make a difference in the ability of obese individuals to lose body weight