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Home > Medical Services > Food & Nutrition Services > Why Diets Don’t Work
Published on February 28, 2019
Have you ever tried to lose weight by following a diet plan – focusing on certain foods while avoiding others – and had trouble sticking with it? Have you succumbed to your cravings by eating a forbidden food or having a “cheat day”? Did you feel like you blew it or failed, which then led you to eat all of the foods your diet restricted?
If this story sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. Many Americans find themselves caught in a cycle of restrictive dieting followed by dysfunctional eating, sometimes for years.
Historically, conventional thought maintained that restricting intake and/or dieting was necessary for weight management. This might include:
All of these are forms of external control used to influence weight. However, several large studies demonstrate that eating restraint is actually associated with weight gain over time.
The initial phase of restrictive dieting is alluring as many people do lose weight and, therefore, perceive their efforts as successful. But, social or celebratory events often feature restricted foods and, eventually, we cave. The floodgates of previously forbidden foods open and we indulge in our temptations, often overindulging. During this break from our diets, we likely gain weight and, wanting to lose it, circle back to restrictive dieting... and so the cycle continues.
According to the Council on Size & Weight Discrimination, 95% of dieters regain their lost weight within one to five years. Studies also show that dieters regain weight regardless of whether they maintain their diet or exercise program.
The problem isn’t that 95% of dieters aren’t trying hard enough, the problem is that diet’s don’t work.
Experts believe we may have less control over our weight than we think. The set point theory suggests that genetics and hormones regulate our body weight at a predetermined level.
For example, imagine a rubber band as your body’s comfortable, preferred weight. At this weight, the rubber band is loose. Set point theory contends that when we intentionally lose weight (by limiting foods and/or increasing exercise), we push our body outside of that comfort zone and thereby stretch our rubber band. The further the rubber band is stretched, the greater the resistance and desire to swing back to normal. The theory implies that the farther we get from our set points, the greater our bodies work to revert to our “natural” weight.
Consequently, many dietitians and healthcare providers are now encouraging individuals to rely on their own internal regulation of hunger cues. Called intuitive eating, this method gives you permission to eat as much as you want and what you want.
If you’re worried that eating as much as you want will make you gain weight, keep in mind that intuitive eating involves eating for physical, rather than emotional, cues. This means that your body’s need for nourishing foods comes first. “Permission” is not a free pass to eat desserts all day, every day. It means you can enjoy those foods, but – first and foremost – you need to meet your body’s nutritional needs.
Another key aspect of intuitive eating is the reliance on internal hunger and fullness cues. Again, the emphasis here is on permission. Give yourself permission to eat when you’re hungry, but take notice when you’re full. Even though that second helping sounds good, do you really need it? If you’re still hungry, give yourself permission to take seconds. But, If you’re not really hungry, your body is telling you it is satisfied and you don’t need an additional helping.
Diets are not associated with long-term weight loss. Moreover, diets create a restrictive, controlling relationship with food. Those who attempt to manage their weight through restriction and deprivation often discover that these tactics may worsen a weight problem. Ditch dieting for an intuitive eating approach. You’ll have a better relationship with food when you tune in to your body’s needs and cues.
For more information, contact a Mercy dietitian or check out these resources: