I’ve been very vocal about how diets don’t work, even when they’re dressed up as ‘wellness’, a la WW style (it’s still a diet if you have to count points in order to know what to eat). If you’ve been wondering, well if diet’s don’t work, then what should I do?
I will discuss why we should ditch the one-size-fits-all, prescriptive diet advice. And instead, stop making people feel guilty about their weight and offer compassionate, practical information that will actually make a difference. I’ll also briefly discuss six different strategies you can use right now instead of dieting that will work to help you have a healthy relationship with food and your body.
If diet’s don’t work, then what should I do?
Most people intellectually understand that diets don’t work long-term. Sure, you can lose weight on ANY diet if you’re simply not consuming many calories/fuel.
Take meal replacement shakes for example. At around 207 k/Cal per shake. If you consume one for breakfast and one for lunch, you’re only consuming 414 k/Cal up until dinner time. Say you have a 500-600 k/Cal dinner and you’re daily intake of calories is sitting around 1000 calories a day.
It’s a no brainer that you’re going to lose weight when you’re body burns more calories than that just to keep your organs functioning and keep you alive. It’s simple math. Calories in versus calories out.
But will you keep it off once you start eating again?
You only have to look back at all of your failed diet attempts and yo-yo-ing weight to see that diet’s don’t work.So you’ve got first-hand experience that they don’t work.
Then, there’s also the undeniable evidence-based research that has proven over and over and over, that intentional weight loss fails 95% of the time and ironically, we end up heavier than before we started the diet. It’s called fat overshooting.
I recently read Traci Mann’s provocative book, Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower and Why You Should Never Diet Again.
Mann says, most people tend to believe that if they had more self-control they could succeed on their diet better. However, that’s not what the research shows.
“After you finish your diet, so many biological changes happen in your body that it becomes practically impossible to keep the weight off. It’s not about someone’s self-control or strength of will”.
There is neurological, hormonal and biological changes taking place in the body when someone loses weight – three things that are largely out of our control…like our weight.
I’m not against weight loss. It is good for us to maintain a weight that we personally feel comfortable and free in, but it is how we go about achieving this that that is the key.
So, if diet’s don’t work, then what should I do?
1. Create individual, sustainable behavioural goals:
Having flexible goals is essential. If you are over your comfortable weight it may be that one of your goals is to lose weight. When this is your aim, it is important to focus on individual and sustainable behavioural goals, and allow the change in weight to come because of the change in your behaviours. Not by drinking meal replacement shakes. Weight loss is not a behaviour, it is an outcome.
2. Cultivate a positive attitude towards food:
There is no such thing as good food or bad food. Some foods just have more nutrients in them than others. Putting a moral tag on food is of zero benefit to developing a healthy eating pattern. We do need to be educated as to which foods are perhaps high or low in sugar and salt etc, and we certainly want to strive towards having a balance in the amounts and different types of foods that we eat, without it being obsessive. Variety really is the spice of life when it comes to food.
3. Examine your thoughts during and after eating:
Usually, we feel angry at ourselves for having no willpower and guilty about what we have eaten, and this makes the process of looking after ourselves and developing a healthy eating pattern much harder. Often these feelings of guilt make us eat more of that sort of food, even when we no longer feel like it. It’s much easier to feel guilty about eating a certain food that we label as “bad”. So as I mentioned above, do not moralise food. Enjoy food!
4. Get curious about non-hungry eating:
We all eat food when we are not feeling physically hungry. This sort of eating can be called non-hungry eating and can include things like overeating, grazing, picking, nibbling and bingeing. It is quite normal to do some non-hungry eating, but when we do too much it can tip our eating out of balance. If we can decrease the amount of eating we do when we are not physically hungry, most of us can still enjoy a wide range of enjoyable and satisfying foods, without restriction and still reach and maintain a comfortable weight.
5. Prioritise enjoyable movement:
The importance of being active cannot be understated. Unfortunately, the word ‘exercise’ has been associated with the ‘no pain, no gain’ philosophy. This simply is not true. The difference, for example, between taking the stairs rather than going in the lift, or walking to the shops, rather than taking your car, can be significant over the weeks and months. This sort of unplanned generally non-sweaty activity is called incidental movement. Some movement is significantly better than no movement at all. Food for thought.
6. Do body image healing work:
Even when you feel your body is not at its most comfortable size and shape, and you’re working on a long term plan to change it, you need to try to be as accepting of your right now body as you can be. You might not like every part of your body, but it is important to try to come to terms with this. It is okay to want to change your body, but you must do it from a place of love, not hate. Hating and being hard on yourself doesn’t motivate you into changing long-term.
We don’t need to diet or following external rules. We are born knowing how to feed and move our bodies.
Take for example small children. Watch a toddler at a party choosing between cake, sausage rolls, fruit, lollies and popcorn as if each food is morally neutral. Also note that they happily leave food on their plate, any food, when they have had enough. This is intuitive eating in practice. This is non-dieting.
The big fear is that without the rules and restrictions of a diet you will binge on all the “bad” foods all the time.
It’s as if we think there are only two ways to eat: dieting or bingeing. So strange given this is not what is reported in the research into the non-diet approach and not what I have observed with my clients.
Most non-diet approach interventions have shown positive outcomes in physiological and psychological outcomes and BMI tends to remain relatively stable or decreases during and after treatment.
Please check out the work of Dr Rick Kausman from If Not Dieting. Dr Rick Kausman is a medical doctor who is recognised as the Australian pioneer of the person-centred approach to wellbeing and healthy weight management. Rick has been a huge influence and mentor in my work as a non-diet Nutritionist.
There is another way to eat that’s not black or white, all or nothing, dieting or bingeing. If you’ve been thinking if diet’s don’t work then what do I do? And you want some advice on another way to eat, don’t hesitate to get in touch with me.