According to research, 95% of people who follow a weight-loss diet will regain the weight they lost within one year. This is a shocking statistic, and I’m sure we all are in some level familiarised with it, how many people do you know who have lost some ‘extra kilos” following a fad diet and then gained back all the weight a few months later? Or maybe you have experienced it yourself?
All of us have heard about these stories many times and the feelings of frustration and desperation that accompany them. So, why does this happen? Is it a matter of lack of willpower, discipline, or misinformation? There are so many different diets, experts and books out there that makes it difficult to understand why there are still so many people struggling to lose weight and keep it off in the long term.
There is an interesting article from the Institute for the Psychology of Eating that sheds some light on this issue. It explains three key reasons why diets simply don’t work as they go against our biology, our psychology and our inborn need for pleasure.
Biology: Diets slow down weight loss.
When we start dieting to lose weight, our body perceives our reduced calorie intake as a threat to survival, so it reacts by intentionally slowing down the rate at which it burns calories, therefore it sabotages our weight loss efforts. Thousands of years of evolution have taught our biology to conserve fat during periods of famine. Our body doesn’t recognise if we are dieting on purpose or if we are going through a period of famine like our ancestors did thousands of years ago, so when our body perceives a reduction on the calories we usually eat, all it does is its job, it slows down and stores fat to keep us alive.
Psychology: Diets don’t create sustainable change.
Most diets focus only on external factors like long lists of “foods to eat and foods to avoid”, indications about the times to eat during the day, recommended cooking techniques, etc. It is important to consider all these factors, however, they are not enough to achieve long-lasting sustainable results. We need to focus also on internal factors like our belief system, patterns and behavior that influence our food choices in the first place. Eating the right foods is important, but also why we eat them, how we eat them and who we are as an eater.
Diets work against our inborn need for pleasure.
Eating not only provides our body with the nutrients it needs to function all day, eating is also strongly linked to our sense of pleasure. Aromas, flavours and textures in food can invoke powerful memories that take us to other moments in our life. It is an important experience that diets don’t take into consideration. Diets have an element of deprivation, long “forbidden-foods” lists that requires from us willpower, discipline and the ability to follow strict rules. These characteristics remove the inherent pleasure of eating and make our body experience dieting as a stressful experience, and as in point 1, the body reacts to stress by slowing down the rate at which it burns calories, storing fat and therefore sabotaging our weight loss efforts.
Knowing why diets don’t work helps us understand why there are so many people in the world struggling with their weight despite the growing 33-billion-dollar diet industry. There is a shift in mentality that needs to occur if we want to achieve our health goals, either if it’s about losing weight or preventing and treating diseases linked to our dietary choices. We need to give up our search for quick fixes that fad diets offer to us and embrace lifelong sustainable food choices. We need to stop listening to external opinions either from books, doctors and more diets, and start reconnecting with our own body and trust its wisdom that tells us all the time the right and wrong foods for our unique self. We need to step into pleasure and be willing to explore and try and learn. Finally, we need to create a positive relationship with food and with our body and support our own biology and psychology to generate the ideal conditions that will allow us to reach our natural weight, in a sustainable and organic way.
We all can do it. It is our birthright. If you want to start this journey to a healthier you in a sustainable way and feel you may need some support, reach out! I’ll be happy to help you.
With all my love,