If you’re a woman, regardless of your age, you have probably been on a diet.  If so, then you already know that diets don’t work. Yet, you may keep trying to find the one that does, right? You’re about to learn why diets don’t work and 5 tips for mindfulness. Why is this important? So that you can have a healthy relationship with food and your body!

The definition of a diet.

First, let’s look at the definition of a diet which makes it easier to understand why diets don’t work. According to Merriam-Webster, diets are defined as “a prescribed selection of foods…especially: one designed to promote weight loss.” This means diets dictate what you should and should not eat to lose weight.

Examples of diets you have tried.

You’ve most likely heard of these common dietary approaches. The mediterranean diet, weight watchers, dash diet, mayo clinic diet, plant based diet, vegan diet, paleo diet and keto diet, to name a few. There could be some health benefits to these common approaches out there. They all promote healthy eating after all. The key is to look for the overall risks which tend to negate the health benefits.

For example, you probably know people who have had success on keto. Are you aware of the risks? Here are a few to raise your awareness. Keto can cause low blood sugar, stress on your kidneys, nutrient deficiencies, and damage bone health. Diets tend to train you to think of the short term gain and neglect the long term danger to your body and overall health.

It’s deceiving to think that fewer calories and cutting out certain food groups are the answers to your weight loss goals. You have to look at the bigger picture.

What is the most successful diet?

There are very few diets that have been studied scientifically to determine their effectiveness.  One of the most successful diets was described in The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) as “eat less and exercise more” or, in other words, calorie restriction with increased physical activity.

Why don’t diets work?

The diets that are most likely to result in weight loss are those that restrict calories by cutting out or limiting particular foods, such as diets that cut out carbohydrates, diets that cut out dairy products, diets that require eating only salad with fat-free dressing for lunch and dinner, etc.

Unfortunately, diets of this nature have been found to lead to short-term weight loss, increased hunger and cravings, and overall, more weight gain than when you started.

Here are 7 reasons why diets don’t work:

 

  1. Diets are not sustainable over a long period of time. The minute you resume a non-restrictive lifestyle, the weight comes back and often even more. Your body is making up for the deficit.
  2. Diets slow your metabolism.
  3. Diets deplete needed nutrition. Removing carbs, decreasing fat, or overloading on protein can all affect your body in different ways. Long term physiological (what goes on internally) results can be damaging even if weight loss is successful.
  4. The number on the scale controls you and your sense of worth. The number goes down, you’re the most awesome person on the planet who can conquer anything. The scale goes up, you’re a complete failure, covered in shame.  Shame easily leads to weight gain.
  5. You are missing out on a great relationship with food where you actually get to enjoy it and not feel deprived.
  6. You feel isolated because you can’t eat what your family or friends are eating. Someone told me they were on a family vacation and had to eat their prepared food in the car while her family went in the restaurant and enjoyed pizza.
  7. Diets don’t address the emotional reasons you turn to food when you’re not hungry. Your emotions and how you manage stress cannot be ignored.

Is it possible to be on a “healthy” diet?

Weight loss programs show that 95% of those who lose weight will gain it back in 1-5 years. This is because weight loss programs are a temporary food plan which implies that it’s not meant to work for the long run, therefore, they are not sustainable.

Diet programs require some form of restriction. When you restrict, your body will naturally need to make up for the deficit because it gets hungry. When you eat to make up for lack of energy, calories, nutrition, or food cravings, you tend to overeat and therefore weight gain ensues.

Weight loss programs that require restriction ironically and ultimately lead to a slower metabolism. The body thinks it is starving and needs to preserve its energy. Whatever food you consume will be stored as fat for energy just in case you run out. Imagine your phone is on low battery and needs to dim its light to preserve battery power. Your body does the same thing by slowing down the metabolism.

Now that you can see very clearly why diets don’t work, you can choose to shift your thinking and apply the following 5 tips for mindfulness.

Here are 5 tips for mindfulness with your food.

 

  1. Keep a food journal. Tracking your food (not calories or macros) is helpful in being more aware and mindful in your choices, portion sizes, and how certain foods make you feel.
  2. Get rid of distractions. If you normally eat in front of the tv or on your phone, it is helpful to put that aside and sit with your food. Notice all 5 senses when you eat and see how this increases your awareness and contentment when eating. Instead of eating on autopilot and usually eating past fullness, getting rid of distractions enables you to be in tune with your body as far as what it is really needing and wanting.
  3. Learn your hunger and fullness. I teach specific tools for this. You can simply use a scale from 1-10. Ideally, don’t wait until you are at a 1 to start eating. You will be too hungry and it’s hard to be mindful when you’re starving. Start eating something, whether it be a snack or meal at a 3. The goal to stop eating is at a 7-8 so you’re not too full or uncomfortable after a meal. The goal is satiation not fullness.
  4. Remove moral values and judgments in your food choices. Food is neither good nor bad. Burgers are not bad, and salads are not good. Being mindful means checking in with the body to know what it wants and needs without judgement or shame.
  5. Value food as fuel and how it makes you feel. You actually get to enjoy it!

Mindfulness based stress reduction

I teach a mindfulness practice that benefits every area of your life. For example, mindfulness meditation has multiple health benefits. When you practice mindfulness as it relates to weight loss, it increases your ability to figure out your hunger and what you want to eat. It’s important to know how to check in with your body and decide what you’re wanting and needing vs eating what you think you “should”. If you’d like this tool, click here. 

You now know why diets don’t work which is mostly because they teach the opposite of mindfulness. You metaphorically cut off your head from your body and need to follow rules vs what your body actually needs and wants.

Practicing mindfulness is the best “diet” out there!

Now you have a clear picture of why diets don’t work and tips to create a mindful lifestyle that can and will completely change your relationship with food and your body. It takes practice and patience to shift your mindset away from a weight loss diet to mindful eating.

What if mindful eating leads to weight gain?

You may hesitate for fear of gaining weight. That is understandable. But remember why diets don’t work and be willing to learn something new. It takes time to learn your body and trust that it knows what it needs and how much. As you practice, you’ll get better at listening and trusting yourself, especially as you see that you can be mindful and weight loss happens. The bottom line is that diets don’t work. These 5 tips for mindfulness take practice and patience which make them sustainable for the rest of your life!

Lesley Goth, PsyD., has created an 11-week Women’s Sustainable Weight Loss course that teaches mindfulness, self-love, and a lifestyle that finally puts an end to your weight loss struggle. For more information about Lesley, click here.