Diets don’t work. Whether you are attempting the paleo, keto, juice cleanse or even the blood type diet these have all set you up to fail. Yes you may initially lose some weight but 95% of people gain that weight back within 1-5 years. So did that diet actually work?

Does this sound familiar? You decide to start a diet so you prepare yourself on Sunday (usually by eating one last unhealthy meal!) to start fresh and be dedicated to your new diet come Monday morning. After a few days of eating well and feeling better something comes up, a birthday, holiday or even “national donut day” which of course you partake in. You think to yourself “I’ve already messed up today might as well let the rest of the week go and start fresh on Monday” and so the roller coaster cycle begins. Or perhaps the diet is simply too restrictive that you fall off the wagon or maybe you aren’t seeing results as quickly as other people so give up because what’s the point?  The average male attempts 5 diets over their lifetime and the average women attempts 7 and some feel as though they have never really stopped dieting.

The word DIET can be a confusing for people. Technically diet means, “the kinds of food that a person, animal, or community habitually eats” but for most people it means deprivation and restriction for a short period of time to achieve a specific weight loss goal. This connotation is what sets us up to fail.

Diets fail because of the unrealistic expectations, short term goals and lack of a healthy relationship with food.  People have unrealistic expectations of weight loss, primarily due to the media and marketing industry. Every diet fad claims you will lose a large amount of weight in a short amount of time, which is not true for everyone. There are the some who do lose the weight quickly but this is not sustainable long term because of the restrictive guidelines of the fad diet. However, if you are in the majority of people who lose weight slowly you can thank biology for that. When you quickly lose a large amount of weight, your body thinks it is starving therefor it wants to slow its metabolism and store as much fat as it can because biologically that is what we are meant to do. When our ancestors were trying to survive they depended on conversing energy and keeping weight on to get through a famine or reproduce, which is why losing weight can take a lot longer than the diet pill commercials claim.

66 billion dollars are spent yearly on the weight loss market because everyone wants to know the magic secret! Whether it’s a shake, pill, book or wrap these diet trends have been around for years. The first diet book dates back to 1863 which became a bestseller, so why have we still not figured out the secret? Because we continue to do the same thing over and over but expect a different result. Diets don’t work for most people because most people can’t stick to the diet! We have an unrealistic expectation of weight loss which prevents us from ever making healthy changes stick.

A recent study done by the Food and Agriculture Administration found that the average American eats around 3,000 calories a day. That is DOUBLE what our ancestors were eating and 30% more than what we ate 50 years ago. So what has changed? The portion sizes at restaurants and in packaged foods have doubled in size yet we still consider it one meal. For the first time humans are overeating and over consuming “empty calories” that accelerate weight gain and chronic disease. These “empty calories” have little nutritional value but are high in calories such as soda, cereal, chips, condiments and that fancy coffee drink you order every morning.

So what is the secret? What will actually create long term health changes?

The secret is instead of dieting to create a healthy lifestyle that works for you and build a better relationship with food. Let me explain..

Instead of focusing on calories and carbs you need to focus on your relationship with food. But what does that actually mean? From a young age people are dieting, in the U.S alone 80% of ten year old girls say they have been on a diet or would like to lose weight. This can do permanent damage to the psyche and hurt your self esteem from a young age. One of the longest relationships you will ever have with something other than yourself is with food, so you must take care of it just like you would any other relationship. You must learn how to balance healthy meals without feeling the guilt from an indulgence. Most people quit their diet for the day or weekend because of one slip up or “unhealthy” meal. This mentality will get you nowhere because you are always on or off the diet when instead it should be a gentle balance of eating. If you decide to indulge in something this does not have to mean the rest of your day is over, simply make the next meal or action a healthy one to bring your day back in balance. This simple step breaks the cycle of on again off again dieting.

Becoming an intuitive eater and learning to eat when you are hungry rather than when you are bored or experiencing certain emotions will help your relationship grow. If you are feeling sad or bored instead of eating those feelings look for a better alternative such as calling an old friend, going for a walk or exploring a new place.This is the key to weight loss and creating a lasting change, you have to first start with your relationship with food. You will never achieve long term health if your only goal is a quick weight loss diet because this insinuates deprivation until you can binge again aka yoyo dieting.

This of course does not mean that you can’t have a goal of weight loss. Losing weight can lower your risk for heart disease, decrease joint pain and create a better quality of life long term. Finding the balance of eating in a way that achieves your goals while being maintainable is the sweet spot! The scale is simply one quantitative way to measure if what you are eating is actually healing your body or hurting it.

Some people find that weighing themselves frequently keeps them on track while others feel that this creates an unhealthy mindset and become obsessed with the number on the scale. Your weight will fluctuate especially if you are female due to a number of factors including changes in hormones, water retention and stress just to name a few.  Weight loss is a long process, don’t let these small fluctuations hinder your progress by becoming frustrated or “throwing in the towel,” this will only hurt your relationship with food in the long run. If you decide to weigh yourself look at the average over the last few weeks or months to determine if it is heading in the right direction. 

Instead of “dieting” try eating real, whole and fresh foods that make you feel good on the inside and glow on the outside. We over consume these empty calories without thinking twice about it when we need to slow down and focus on eating in a way that lets us reach our goals while being maintainable long term. Finding what works for you will take time because this often involves trial and error but if you accept that this is a journey and not a short trip you will make it a lifestyle that sticks. This is why we need to adjust our expectations of weight loss, once you do that your body can slowly get back to levels of optimal health while reducing weight in the process. In our office we tell patients that losing one to two pounds a month is desirable and a rate at which the body does not go into starvation mode. This will seem very slow to some because of how the media portrays rapid weight loss but this is how you stop the yoyo dieting and reach a healthy weight that can be maintained long term.

When you work on your relationship with food and stop the cycle of falling off the “diet” wagon and getting back on it, only to fall off again you will learn the balance of eating. Diets don’t work, if they did no one would have failed one in the first place! We have to adjust our expectations of weight loss, heal the imbalances in our bodies, eat real ingredients and support our relationship with food for us to finally have a maintainable healthy lifestyle. People who have maintained a normal weight don’t think of themselves as being on a “diet.” They have learned to eat in a balanced way, one where they can enjoy the occasional indulgence but majority of the time eat whole, real foods.This person does not over consume empty calories or eat in abundance. They have accepted that weight loss can take much longer when you are doing it slowly but this is how you keep it off long term and achieve a healthy lifestyle that is maintainable.

No sure where to start? Schedule an appointment with Rachel our Wellness Coach here at IWC and she can work with you to create a healthier relationship with food.

About The Author

Rachel received her Bachelor’s Degree in Recreation Therapy from Calvin College and is a Certified Integrative Nutrition Health Coach. Helping others achieve optimal health and happiness is her true passion in life. She helps individuals find their love of life again though simplifying nutrition, guidance and lifestyle management. She fell in love with holistic health years ago and truly believes that living a balanced lifestyle makes for a happy one.When she is not busy reading health books or photographing new recipes, you can find Rachel discovering a new coffee shop, going on a long walk, riding horses or catching a movie.

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