Diets Work… Until They Don’t

In our society, it is hard to find someone who has not been “on a diet”. Maybe not in the traditional sense of counting calories or eliminating desserts, but the likes of Whole 30, the Paleo diet, and gluten-free ways of eating. It’s now called a “lifestyle”. Dietitians and nutritionists may be partially to blame for that. We were the ones pushing for that “lifestyle change”, rather than going on a diet that, eventually, you will have to come off of. But I think the term “lifestyle change” has just replaced diet. It is now our lifestyle to be trying various diets, or ways of eating, looking for that magic bullet that is going to give us “energy”, eliminate pain, cure all ailments, and, of course, leave us looking like a supermodel.

But those “lifestyles” outlined above? They all eliminate foods. Paleo eliminates dairy, Whole 30 eliminates sugar, grains, and legumes (but wait – now veganism is cool, because, “What the Health”), and gluten-free, of course, is self-explanatory. I am not about to invalidate the energy improvements when switching to one of these patterns. I won’t even chalk it up to placebo effect. These eating patterns are all rich in fruits and vegetables, lean proteins, and healthy fats, things I advocate for on a daily basis. The problem with eliminating foods is that it forces us to develop rules. It tries to make nutrition black and white. It tries to make health black and white. And these sciences are anything but.

According to the Boston Medical Center (1), 45 million Americans go on a diet each year. The diet industry is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Yet, diets don’t work. At least, not in the long run. Have you ever tried to restrict food intake or “cut” calories? You may be able to do this for a little while. But what happens after a few days or a week of skipping out on carbs or fat? You get hungry and obsessed with food, particularly those that you “can’t” eat. Maybe something external happens in your life, triggering stress or other emotions. Then you “cheat”. Fall of the wagon. Get off track. Most likely, over eat on the foods you were eliminating. This leads to feelings of guilt, feeling like a failure. Diet starts Monday!

Stop. Imagine doing this for years. “Dieting” becomes your “lifestyle”.

There is evidence that weight cycling, or the chronic loss and re-gain of weight, is worse for us than simply maintaining a heavier weight (2). And most often, weight lost is regained. Let me explain.

  1. Drastically changing your diet or cutting out entire food groups leads to weight loss (generally speaking).This is unsustainable. Do you want to spend your entire life skipping the birthday cake?
  2. Rapid weight loss is not solely fat loss. It is a combination of fat, water, and lean mass. Your lean mass is the powerhouse of your body. If you are losing this, it not only increases your risk for bone loss and consequently your risk of fractures as you age, but it reduces how many calories you burn on a daily basis (granted, this is minimal). So when you resume eating the birthday cake (because, CAKE) you are going to regain what was previously lost.
  3. When we starve our bodies, they adapt and become more efficient. They burn fewer calories. This is really, really cool if we are ever in a situation where we do not have access to food. But in our dieting society? Not so much…
  4. Finally, there are hormonal changes that take place as we lose weight. Your hunger and appetite hormones re-calculate to try to restore order. As a result, you are hungrier. This is not in your head.

So, how do you improve energy, eliminate pain, cure all ailments and look like a supermodel? I hear bone broth works. I kid.

Personally, I try to get 7-8 hours of sleep, take days off from exercise, wash my hands, and I haven’t quite figured out that last one yet…

References:

  1. https://www.bmc.org/nutrition-and-weight-management/weight-management
  2. Bacon, L. & Aphramor, L. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal. 2011. 2011, 10:9.

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