Why don’t diets work?

Today I’ve been reflecting on two pieces of information:
1. This article ‘Dieting must Die’ from Dr David Katz. “Dieting is a short-term, get-on-then-get-back-off approach to the permanent challenge of losing weight and finding health. It has been tested rather generously, and it does not work”

2. This spaghetti-like ‘obesity map’ explores the hundreds of factors that influence energy balance. Just look at it. It’s huge!

Diets are by definition restrictive. Restriction leads to weight loss, because reducing ‘energy in’ will cause weight loss. So as long as you keep that conscious ‘restrict restrict restrict’ mindset forever you’ll keep it off (Hooray…). Besides the fact that restriction is boring and psychologically damaging, it usually doesn’t work long-term. Studies show that most people on diets start to regain weight about the 6 month mark.

What diets fail to do is address the reasons WHY people have gained weight. Unless you remove the factors, or manage them, diets will not work.

The human body is quite well designed. We have excellent appetite signals – we get hungry when we need to eat, and we feel full when we do not. If we pay attention to these signals most of the time, we’d be right. The only exception is junk food- It’s hard for your appetite to keep up when you can inhale a large big mac meal (5000kJ – about 60% of your requirements for the day) in about 10 minutes.

Eating mostly whole, healthy foods to promote health, paying attention to appetite is not only a recipe for being a healthy and comfortable weight. It’s also an important part of a happy and calm life.

So why don’t people eat whole healthy foods? It varies for each person, but here are some factors I (and the spaghetti diagram) think are important:

  • cost and income
  • convenience
  • family preferences
  • personal preference
  • media pressure
  • peer group and social pressure
  • time restrictions
  • food literacy
  • habit

Why people eat when they’re not hungry, or keep going once they’re full?

  • Emotional eating
  • Habit
  • Social occasions
  • The food is just so delicious
  • Feeling deprived
  • Bored eating
  • Big portion sizes
  • Big plates
  • Eating too fast to register fullness
  • Not acknowledging hunger/satiety.
  • Pressure to finish everything on the plate / not wanting to waste food

So what can we do if we want to lose weight? It can be difficult to figure out what factors are having the biggest impact in your life. Taking time to consider WHY you are making certain food choices can be really helpful.

If you want to make a start, try asking yourself questions such as:

  1. Do I really want to eat this?
  2. Why do I want to eat this?
  3. Do I want to keep eating?

I hope you forgive some shameless self-promotion for dietitians here! A dietitian can help you figure out and manage your factors, and help with motivation and accountability.

Feel free to send me a message, or look for a dietitian in your area.

If you want to read book that address these topics, check out Don’t Go Hungry and Mindless Eating.

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