Have you thought about how many diets, detoxes, and plans you’ve tried in your lifetime?
When we have new clients in our Wellness Coaching practice or new students join The Method Membership, on average, they’ve tried three diets, plans, or trends prior to coming to see us for sustainable solutions.
And they’re not alone!
This is becoming increasingly more common with so much information online, new trends, and new quick-fix plans coming out weekly.
In this article, I’m diving into the 5 reasons why diets don’t work for most of us and what you could do instead to more mindfully care for your body and yourself.
Why Diets Don’t Work
Most dieting, for the sake of the example of reaching a societal ideal, includes calorie deprivation. When your body is calorie deprived, a few things may happen physically and mentally:
levels of leptin (the satiety hormone) decrease (1)
levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increase (1) (2)
ability to burn calories decreases (3)
mentally dieters become fixated on food (4)
attention and focus leans towards anything related to food (5)
dieters may have improved smell function and report food tastes more pleasant (6) (7)
the metabolic effects of chronic dieting can last years later (8)
These changes lead to a variety of challenges that can prevent you from maintaining this way of eating for the long term. Let’s dive into what those are.
(It’s important to distinguish between dieting used as a tool to improve health conditions and dieting to reach a societal ideal which is not tied to a biological need to lose weight or improve health markers. Dieting can work as a temporary tool for those who need to improve certain health conditions and should always be done alongside a Registered Dietitian like those on my team.)
1. Dieting can take the joy and pleasure out of the food experience
The first issue that comes up with diets, detoxes, and plans, which I’m sure many of you have experienced is that dieting can take the joy and pleasure out of the food experience.
Not only that, but research has shown those who are on strict or rigid diets become more fixated on food (4), have increased attention and focus leans towards anything related to food (5), and have improved smell function and report food tastes more pleasant (6) (7) all of which reinforces the power dieting can have over our bodies and brains.
If you know me, you’ve likely heard me say this before, and it’s worth repeating: food is more than nourishment. It’s tradition, culture, pleasure, and joy and it’s okay to celebrate the many roles food plays in our lives!
Every day, I cook meals that not only nourish my body but also make me so happy and filled with joy to experience.
I love being in the kitchen alone or cooking with my husband Jesse, trying new recipes and new ingredients and then sitting down together over a delicious meal (not always “Instagram worthy looking) and talking about our day and our plans for the future. It’s such a great time to connect.
Food is such a powerful way to bring nourishment and joy into our lives, but unfortunately, so many diets are really strict, rigid, and completely ignore this “life/joy” element and it can make you feel as if cooking is a chore, that you’re meals are unsatisfying (both on a hunger level and also an emotional level), cause you to view food only as a means to an end, or can cause you to “look forward to” the next time you “can” eat that food causing a lot of stress and mental energy focusing on what you should or shouldn’t eat.
Try this: focus on creating a positive experience around your meals.
This could be finding recipes that excite you to try or even simply eating at the table with your partner without any devices and talking about your day. It could be turning on music while you cook a meal for yourself or invite a friend over for a mini-pot luck night in.
Reframing food in this way can help you create a whole new appreciation for fueling your body with nourishment, love, and joy.
2. Short-Term Thinking — Start and Stop Mentality
The second reason why diets fail most people so often is the short-term thinking — the 21-day this, 30-day that — what are you supposed to do after that time period?
What these things fail to do is set you up for success 365 days a year.
Not only that, but from a psychological perspective, the negative metabolic effects of chronic dieting can last years later (8) such as levels of leptin (the satiety hormone) decrease (1), levels of ghrelin (the hunger hormone) increase (1) (2), and the ability to burn calories decreases (3).
But most of those diets out there are not given in this sense of long-term change.
They’re designed to try to get you a big result as quickly as possible (most of it being just about the aesthetic/before and after photo or weight loss only), but they often fail to then teach you how to integrate that into your life.
It’s unrealistic to think that you can or should follow such strict guidelines 365 days a year.
Try this: the switch you need to make with your health goals is moving from this short-term, one-size-fits-all thinking and instead, to making choices for yourself that you can realistically sustain for years. Ask yourself, can I do this every day? If not, don’t add it to your life.
Think about this — following a diet can be a lot of work. You need to learn the rules, buy the right ingredients, follow the meal plan, potentially skip on or work around your normal social outings, and so on.
And then you end up following that for, let’s say, 30 days.
Imagine what would happen if instead, you refocused all of that time and energy into learning a new skill or developing a habit that would last you much longer than that.
Maybe instead of following a trendy or popular diet, you simply focus your energy on cooking more at home to avoid microwave dinners or drive-thru runs.
Or focusing on consuming more water in between meals instead of soda or fruit juices. Or focusing on increasing the number of vegetables at every meal to increase the fiber in your diet to improve your gut health and balance blood sugars.
It’s these types of small practices and longer-term thinking that can give you the skills to navigate all 365 days of the year.
3. They Often Require You to Have Foods that Are Off-Limits