I’m guessing that with the holiday rush nearly behind you, you’re probably feeling pressured to purge your home of all fattening goodies by 12:00 a.m. on January 1 so you can start dieting again in the new year. Maybe you’re even making plans to go back on a diet. But perhaps you’ve already done the dieting thing. Right? I’ll bet that by now, you’ve probably noticed that with all the dieting you’ve done over the years, you are actually heavier than when you started. That’s because diets don’t work. The problem is not you. You haven’t failed at dieting. Dieting has failed you.

Diets don’t work

Over the past 10 years or so, it’s become clear through various scientific trials that going on a diet to lose weight will not work over the long term. And in many cases dieting actually leads to weight gain. Public awareness of the negative effects of dieting began to shift in April 2008. At that time, Traci Mann, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA shared the results of a composite study of 31 different long term studies, analyzing people who lost weight on diets and opted to have their progress tracked by the study for between 2-5 years. As lead author of the study, she says, “We found that the majority of people regained the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

When asked what alternative is best to consider in lieu of dieting, Mann said, “Eating in moderation is a good idea for everybody, and so is regular exercise.” The underlying reason why most people regain their weight after losing on a diet is because diets don’t teach you how to address the emotions that push you to eat when you’re not hungry. It all comes down to two things, making peace with food and stress management.

Medical experts agree the path to better health is to stop dieting

Right as Rain is a digital publication published by UW Medicine, an international leader in research, patient care and physician training, located in Seattle. It is filled with articles written by healthcare writers devoted to providing truthful and down-to-earth health information. In their recent article entitled, “A Doctor Explains Why Diets Don’t Work”, author McKenna Princing offers several valuable tips on what you can do to change your relationship with food and make healthier choices.

My favorite of her tips is to practice forgiveness for overeating. That’s one of the biggest attitude shifts that I teach all my Losing Weight without Dieting clients. When you catch yourself overeating or choosing cake or chips for dinner instead of a healthier meal, realize you haven’t done anything wrong. You’re not a bad person. No food is good or bad and there is no value in beating yourself up. There are real, legitimate reasons why you are overeating and to break the cycle of mindless eating you have to look at the emotions and situations that preceded the binge to understand what caused it.

Like Princing, I’m also a big proponent of learning to eat in response to your body’s hunger cues. I encourage my clients to check in with their bodies several times a day to determine if they are hungry and what they need. By learning to question your hunger without judgment, you discover when you are eating to soothe overwhelming emotions vs. when you are actually hungry. As many of my clients have discovered, many times you will realize that the cereal bar you felt compelled to scarf down right after lunch wasn’t because you were hungry. Eating the bar was an emotional quick fix need to soothe yourself so you could think clearly again and re-focus on tackling that big project at work. Basically because we have so many emotions around our weight and the food we eat, we unconsciously trigger our urge to stress eat 50-100 times a day. If you want to get thinner, you have to be willing to take the slow and steady approach to losing weight.

I’m guessing that as the holiday season winds down, you’re feeling the pressure to go back to dieting, hoping that the next diet you try will work. But medical experts agree that diets are not the answer to changing your eating. It’s not even a question of choosing Keto over Whole 30. Counting calories or fat grams is not necessarily going to be better for you than watching your points. It’s the restrictive nature of all diets that doom them to fail. According to medical authorities, restricting what you eat does not lead to sustained weight loss. 

In a recent 2018 JAMA study (Journal of American Medical Association) the effects of low-fat dieting was compared to low-carb dieting over a 12 month period. The results showed that there was no significant difference between the low-fat dieters and the low-carb dieters. In addition both groups actually gained weight. The study determined that eating in moderation was indeed the most effective way to lose weight.

A Nutritionist Explains Why Most People Regain Weight After Dieting

Samantha Heller is a nutritionist with “Health” magazine. In talking about the weight gain that follows most diets, she says, “When you lose weight and you’re restricting calories, your body thinks there is a famine and you’re starving. Your body doesn’t know that you’re doing this on purpose. Your body’s mission is to conserve energy, and it does that in the form of fat. When you start eating again, your body is making preparation for the next upcoming famine by storing fat. This slows down your metabolism and fills up your fat cells. To reduce your weight without triggering your body’s starvation response, you must do it slowly and carefully.

A Medical Doctor Explains Why Diets Don’t Work

Sarah Halter, M.D., is a family medicine specialist who sees patients at the UW Neighborhood Factoria Clinic. According to Dr. Halter, your weight and what you eat plays a role in your health. But it’s only a small part of a bigger picture. Other variables that affect your health include your relationships, your hobbies, work-life balance, your religion or spirituality and the quality of the food you eat. You must find a balance in each of the most important elements in your life in order to increase your health and wellness and ultimately lose weight.

Dr. Halter explains from a medical perspective why it’s so hard to maintain a diet. Your body’s natural state is to maintain its weight. This survival mechanism has evolved over time when food was much more scarce and harder to acquire. By attempting to cut out and restrict foods, it puts enormous stress on your system and sets you up to fail. You can probably fight the urge to eat what you want for a short time, but over a long period, your brain must respond to its powerful survival needs by triggering you to eat the foods you crave. According to Dr. Halter, “you’re going to want what you can’t have.”

Dieting Takes a Toll on Your Mental Health

Dieting is stressful. As long as you try to fight your body’s survival instincts to eat the food you crave, you will put yourself under a lot of stress and emotional burden. If you expect quick weight loss, you’re bound to be disappointed. The reality is that for most people after a short period of small and quick weight loss, there are long periods of weight plateaus and weight gain. As long as your attention is fixated on the scale and you’re feeling the pressure to lose weight fast, there is a lot of frustration ahead.

Traditional ways of thinking like a dieter emphasize a focus on dieting as a solution to all our problems. This diet mentality connects weight loss to our sense of self-worth. Harboring a belief that weight loss will magically transform your life is unrealistic. During those times in your life when you gain weight, it will knock your confidence to the ground.

According to Dr. Halter, “if you see your weight as something you need to “fix” about yourself, and think of not sticking to a diet as a personal failure, that’s an unhealthy place to be mentally.”

Food isn’t “good” or “bad” 

Thinking about foods as being either “good” or “bad” is another trap that ultimately leads to disappointment. You’re not a better person if you choose a carrot stick over a piece of cake. No food is going to make you a better or worse person just by eating it.” Dr. Halter says, “I take real issue with the idea that food has moral value. Of course, if you sit around all day only eating cake, that’s not good for you, but you can sit around all day only eating broccoli and that’s not good for you either.”

According to Dr. Halter, the ultimate goal is to cultivate a healthy relationship with food, where you value it as fuel and value the way it makes you feel. The diet industry is poised and ready, eagerly waiting for you to get back on the diet treadmill. Once there you will be told what to eat, how much and when. Doesn’t sound like a winning plan to me. But I respect your decision to do what is right for you. If you are among the few for whom dieting is working, keep up the good work. Your ultimate goal is to cultivate a healthy relationship with food. The decision is ultimately yours. What do you want to do?