Why Dieting Doesn’t Work & What to Do Instead
I come across so many women who are restricting their eating in some shape or form, this can be in the form of carbs, fat, calories, grains, fruit etc. And I find this so upsetting because everyone doing this, thinks they are doing the right thing, without realising that they are placing their body under so much stress and potentially going to create more health problems than they would solve by losing a little bit of weight. I am telling you right now, this is not the way to go! There are heaps of reasons why, so I will only cover a few.
1. Restricted eating wreaks havoc with your hormones
When we deprive our bodies of calories, or macro nutrients like carbs and fat, we deprive our body of what it needs to function optimally. And if your body is not functioning optimally you will not loose weight. Or you will, and then put even more back on. How many of us have starved ourselves to lose a couple of kilos only to put more back on further down the track. And the more we keep yo yo-ing, the harder it becomes to loose weight and the more weight our body will retain.
Now there are many mechanisms at play here but I mainly want to focus on the role of stress and cortisol in dieting. When we deprive our bodies we activate our fight or flight stress response. This response is triggered when our body thinks we are in danger or under stress. In a dieting situation, our body is triggered to think there is a shortage of food. And so we might initially loose weight and get to our desired goal, but as soon as we start eating more calories again, our body will store this energy as extra fat, to ensure we have reserves for the next shortage of food. Your body doesn’t care what you look like, it just wants to keep you alive at all costs (which I think is totally amazing as a side note).
Another problem with this is that when our fight or flight system is activated our body secretes more cortisol. Cortisol is a catabolic hormone, meaning it breaks things down in our bodies. In this instance, muscle. So our bodies are now breaking down muscle and trying to store fat to ensure we have enough energy right now to fight or flight and have reserves in case this famine continues. It is a total recipe for disaster. Muscle requires more energy, so you want more muscle to increase your metabolic rate. But when you diet what you are in effect doing is decreasing your metabolic rate! The total opposite to what you want to achieve!!!
How to fix this – eat more!!!
I have found in practice that when I get people to eat more (healthy options of course), do less intense exercise and more relaxing exercise, they actually loose weight. In most instances this is breakfast – please don’t skip breakfast! A bowl of porridge with some nuts, seeds and berries or a couple of poached eggs with some avocado and a piece of toast makes all the difference!
2. Restricted eating is a short term play, not a long term solution:
We live in a society where we are used to getting things at a drop of the hat. We want things and we want them now. However, when it comes to weight loss, you want to loose small amounts of weight over a long period of time. This is way more sustainable and will help you maintain a healthy weight.
When we focus on weight loss as our goal we become susceptible to quick fixes and I’m telling you right now, quick fixes do not work. There is no magic pill or diet that helps you drastically loose weight and then maintain it. The weight loss industry is built on selling this lie. Do not let them fool you! If there was a quick and sustainable fix we would all know about it. And quick fixes can end up being quite damaging to our overall health. When it comes to weight loss patience is key.
How to fix this – The focus should be on health, not weight loss
You need to decide that health is your ultimate goal. When you shift your focus from weight loss to being healthy so many more possibilities open up for you, your digestion improves, your sleep and energy improve, your skin glows, your hormones become balanced and all of these extras help you maintain a healthy weight.
If you just focus on weight loss you don’t get any added extras and can potentially wreak havoc with your health and hormones particularly. And I’m not going to lie, initially you need to put in the work. If you’re not willing to change, nothing else will change, and this can be our biggest barrier. But I promise, small consistent steps in the right direction will make these changes habitual. Here are a few suggestions:
- Switch energy and soft drinks for water, herbal teas, fresh vegetable juices
- Increase your vegetable intake by 1 serving per week until you have around 7-8 serves/day
- Don’t skip carbs at dinner!!! Eat some potato or rice (These things are good for you and will not make you fat!). This will stop you from craving an entire block of chocolate or a tub of ice cream later that night
- As I’ve already said – don’t skip breakfast!!! You will be hungrier and eat more later in the day, and when we’re hungry we often make poor food decisions
- Figure out the one thing in your diet that you think is the most unhealthy and stop it, or make a healthy switch
3. The psychology of restriction leads you to fail
Have you ever been told you can’t have something, you might not have even wanted that thing, but as soon as you’re told you can’t have it, you want it more than ever. Same goes with food. If you restrict everything that is ‘bad’ for you, once your diet is over, you will go straight for those things you have been restricting, in overdrive. And then you will feel guilty, which makes you want to eat more things that are bad for you – it is a bad combo!
How to fix this – Healthier swaps and the 90/10 principle
Instead of cutting out carbs, fats, chocolate, everything that is delicious in life, etc, get smart about the healthy version of these things:
- Wholegrain carbs like brown rice, wholegrain/sourdough bread, wholegrain/spelt/rice/bean pasta are part of a healthy diet, just probably not in the serving size you are having them. Don’t have a plate full of pasta – have a plate full of veggies with a little bit of pasta (about 1/2 cooked cup). Have 1 piece of wholegrain/sourdough toast with your eggs. Have 1/2 cup cooked brown rice with your stir-fry/curry
- Healthy fats like nuts and seeds, avocado, butter, eggs, coconut oil, olive oil will help you feel fuller for longer and balance your hormones which help you maintain a healthy weight – include them throughout your diet.
- Always craving sweet things? Have the healthier versions: fruit, 80% dark chocolate, bliss balls, a small handful of trail mix & health food shops have heaps of healthier sweet treats that are mainly dates and nuts and are super delish!
- The 90/10 principle: Your body listens to what you do the majority of the time, so if you love hot chips, ice cream, cookies, whatever! Let yourself eat this once or twice a week and don’t feel guilty about it. Eat well 90% of the time and do whatever you like for the other 10% and enjoy! It is good for you!
- And lastly, when you are cutting out unhealthy things, instead of saying to yourself I can’t have this, instead say, ‘I can have this, but I choose not to’ and watch how the desire to binge on something unhealthy vanish! It’s all in the psychology of how we eat.
The main thing to remember is to to forget everything that you have ever been told about weight loss; ‘fat makes you fat’, ‘carbs are bad for you’, ‘count calories to loose weight’ etc. None of these things are true, and the sooner you disregard them, the better of you will be!