#DietFreeSummer: Why Diets Don't Work

Last Sunday, May 6th was International No Diet Day and BALANCE celebrated by hosting a Twitter Chat! We joined together with our community to discuss why a no-diet approach to eating is a positive choice and the importance of committing to a #DietFreeSummer in the midst of the 'beach body' and 'summer body' narrative we are often bombarded with this time of year. 

Our new #DietFreeSummer blog series will share posts leading up to and throughout the Summer on embracing and maintaining a no-diet approach to eating when diet culture is in full swing. To kick off this series, our Founder Melainie Rogers shared some thoughts on why diets don't work and the negative consequences of dieting. Read it below!

Why is Dieting Unhealthy? 

When we live in a culture that is obsessed with dieting and weight loss, it can be hard to determine how this normalized behavior can be unhealthy. With science and research to back this up, I as a certified eating disorder registered dietitian can confidently say that dieting can be harmful and very unsafe. Why is that you may ask? The answer is that dieting creates a stress on the physiological body. The body actually experiences a diet as a real psychological starvation as it cannot differentiate between lower caloric intake from a diet versus the lower caloric intake due to a shortage of food such as starvation or famine. 

The body then begins to slow down the metabolic rate which slows down essential processes in the body in order to conserve energy, prioritizing survival over functionality. Due to this physiological trauma and stress, every system in the body is affected by this starvation mode. So while diets are usually presented to be the only route to optimal health, it is certainly not a 'healthy' thing to undertake. 

What Are the Psychological Effects of Dieting? 

The psychological harm to the relationship with food will often have longer lasting effects than the physical dieting.  We know that when there is food restriction, the brain pushes us, for survival, to seek out food. Food is no longer neutral, to be enjoyed, or to be eaten when hungry. It becomes "good" and "bad", "healthy" and "unhealthy". We label food and attach a moral judgment to it. We therefore by default are either "good" or "bad" human beings according to our food choices.  Often times, shame and self-criticism follow. We confuse the natural and appropriate hunger urges, with a "lack of discipline" or "lack of willpower." Our self-worth and self-esteem begin to take a hit. 

How to Know If Your Relationship With Food is Non-Neutral? 

A sign that food is losing its neutrality is if you find yourself thinking about food for a large part of the day, or daydreaming about certain foods that you "shouldn't have", or feeling out of control around foods that you have sworn off or worse yet, been told to not eat something by some fad diet. For many, this is how bingeing starts.  This "fall off the wagon" mentality is where we not only start to eat our old favorites, we eat beyond fullness because our body is demanding calories to be restored, for our body weight to be restored, in order to go back to optimal functioning and homeostasis.

Because of our dieting culture, more people than ever have developed an unhealthy, non-neutral relationship with food.  Deprivation - physically and mentally - are to blame.

What Can I Do To Rebuild A Healthy Relationship With Food? 

A lot of people tend to develop a non-neutral, unhealthy relationship and fear of food while dieting.  Unfortunately, it even tends to carry over after the diet plan is abandoned leaving people self-critical and judging themselves as "not having a strong will" and "lacking discipline".

One of the best-known ways to deal with these feelings - aside from not going on any of these diets in the first place! - is to acknowledge and accept your body for what it can do, does do, and for its functionality, more than the external appearance.  When we place so much emphasis on our external appearance we are setting ourselves up. Two factors have ultimate control on our appearance - genes, and the aging process! We cannot control either, yet we spend so much money and effort attempting to do so.  

If you are willing to embrace your body overall and reject the idea of your body being an ornament, it helps you to better focus on nourishing your body with your food choices, as opposed to disciplining and torturing it through restriction and elimination.  And remember, fun, delicious foods of all kind absolutely need to be included in your eating repertoire.

Research shows that approaching food with an "all foods fit" model is very helpful in undoing some of this psychological damage from dieting.  Eating is about moderation, and being tuned into our natural internal regulatory system - aka hunger, fullness and satiety cues. These cues are incredibly sophisticated, driven by a vast array of chemical signals in the body to keep our weight at its most optimal for all systems to function, and stable (ie homeostasis). Unfortunately when we diet, we wreak havoc on this sophisticated system and can cause long-term permanent damage to our relationship with food. In order to be the healthiest version of you - food needs to be neutral!

What Evidence is There Dieting Does Not Work? 

95% of people who attempt weight loss, will eventually regain in the next 2 - 5 years, if not before.  The true test of a diet, therefore, is not whether you can lose weight. If you cut calories - any calories - you will lose weight...no matter what the latest fad diet tells you. However, the real test is if the body will allow you to keep the weight off. 95% of the time, it will not. And in going through the yo-yo dieting cycle, because of the stripping away of muscle that occurs, we see people regain weight and then some.  Meaning, that from the beginning to the end of a diet cycle, a participant is highly likely to end up at a higher weight than when they first started! And that is the true cycle of a diet. This is one of the more unhealthy things you can do to your body and your health.  Dieting is certaintly not healthy. 


Stay tuned for more #DietFreeSummer blog posts!

Interested in guest blogging for this series? We would love to have you! Email Emily at emilyc@balancedtx.com 


Melainie Rogers