So, you want to go on a diet? Here’s my best advice for you: DON’T! The truth is that diets don’t work. They just don’t. And, trust me, I know this can be disheartening to hear if you’re about to jump on the diet train- but I’d rather you know the truth now, before doing more harm than good.
Although diets don’t work, what does work are lifestyle changes. Rather than crashing dieting, cleanses, or radical shifts- think more about longevity and sustainability when it comes to altering the way you eat. When you create healthier habits, those habits are more likely to stick than a fad diet.
Still don’t believe me? Don’t worry, this post is going to outline 6 reasons why diets don’t work. Like at all. I’m not just talking about the physical impacts diet has on your body, I’m also talking about the impacts dieting has on your mental and emotional health, too. Buckle up, we’re about to dive into the dark side of diet culture.
6 reasons diets don’t work
I can remember the first time I thought I needed to go on a diet. I was only 12-years-old. And I realized that sugar was “bad” and makes you fat. I was only 12. It still makes me sad to think about a little girl crash dieting, but that’s the world that we lived in back then.
While there is some truth in the fact that, no, sugar isn’t very nutritious. And yes, it can cause inflammation and weight gain. It doesn’t necessarily mean a few crash diets a year with a radical reduction in one specific ingredient will actually be good for you.
Long, sustainable shifts. Lifestyle over diet, remember. Changing the way you live might inevitably change the way you eat, and that’s okay if it’s done from a place of love. From a place of wanting to feel good, rather than wanting to look a certain way. Because, let’s be real, most diets aren’t about how you feel- they’re all about how you look. Or how you want to look, anyway.
Making choices from a loving place for your mind and body will be the healthiest thing you can ever do for yourself. And will certainly be a lot more effective than a diet. Trust me.
Restriction Causes Binging
Here’s the thing, restriction causes binging. Period. Whereas, when you allow yourself to have whatever, whenever- then the allure that comes with restriction is suddenly taken away. It’s like it takes the charge out of it.
For example, say you only “allow” yourself to have dessert once a week. But the truth is, you still crave something sweet after your meals. So, instead you overeat fruit, or other dessert-like substitutes that you are “allowed” to have. The funny thing about this is that you’re probably going to eat MORE than if you just ate the chocolate cake you wanted. Because you’re eating everything under the sun about the damn cake, instead.
Plus, on the one day you do allow yourself to have dessert- the chances of you overeating the heck out of that cake are high. Because you’ve been craving that shit all week! See the trend? Restriction causing binging, or- at the very least- overeating.
Ignoring Body’s Cues
Overeating will happen, and that’s okay. However, we want to try to get to a place where we’re in tune enough with our body’s cues that we can notice when we’re full, when we’re satisfied, and when we’re satiated. Not just on a nutritional level, but also on a soul level. The chocolate cake might not provide much nutritionally, but it’s providing something deeper, something more. And that matters!
Intuitive eating is all about connecting to our body’s cues to navigate eating a little more seamlessly. You can learn more about how to start in this post.
Diets Aren’t Sustainable
The thing about diets is that they set us up to fail. Most of the time, they’re so restrictive that they’re not sustainable long term. There is the physical component of why diets aren’t sustainable, in that usually we’re depriving our body of certain ingredients or nutrients that it actually needs or wants.
There’s also a mental component as to why diets aren’t sustainable. Oftentimes, when we’re dieting, our mind is consumed with all of the rules we need to follow. We’re counting, we’re tracking, we’re planning. There’s likely a low level of stress coursing through you, because you want to make sure you do it all “right” so that it “works.” It’s not practical to assume how we eat can occupy that much brain rent, when we need our minds to do a whole lot more for us throughout the day.
Broken Inner Trust
Because diets are designed to fail, this creates broken inner trust. When we decide to go on a diet, we’re making a commitment to ourselves. We’re likely setting a goal alongside the diet that has to do with a number of some sort, right? While you might be able to hit your goal number, the chances are that when you stop the diet- whether by choice, or because you simply couldn’t go on like that- then your body will change back to how it was before.
We wrap up so much worth in our bodies. That’s where diet culture comes in. It preys on our worth in the physical form, telling us if we’re smaller, tighter, smoother- then we’ll be better people. So, we listen. And we do the diet- maybe our body changes, or maybe it doesn’t. Either way, the change isn’t long lasting, which makes us feel like a failure.
We broke the commitment to ourselves, or we didn’t reach our goal. And that broken inner trust only makes us more vulnerable, and more susceptible to another new diet telling us this will make us whole again.
If you’ve tried every diet under the sun, and it doesn’t “work” how you want it to (probably meaning your body isn’t changing in the way you intended), then your trust is being broken over and over again. Breaking our inner trust is moving us farther away from ourselves. It’s disconnecting us from our intuition. And, intuitive eating, will be the thing that sets us free from all this outside noise that is diet culture.
The more we break promises to ourselves, and the more often we don’t reach our number goals- the lower our confidence gets. The lower our confidence gets, the more likely we are to outsource our decisions onto others. In this case, the other is the influencer telling you to drink this powder, or the celebrity who’s taking this injection. Maybe it’s an entire company, or a popular new brand.
The point is that when our inner trust is broken, and our confidence is low, then we feel like we can’t make decisions for ourselves. So we let others do it. Drink this at this time, don’t eat that before noon, only have fruit between these hours, but only after you’ve had 8g of protein. The rules go on and on. And the rules are standing between us and our body’s intuitive ability to guide the experience all on its own.
Disordered eating is a common side effect of dieting. In fact, disordered eating can show up in all sorts of ways, from everything to obsession with calories, to only eating in certain windows of time. Overarchingly, diets can ruin our relationship with food, our bodies, and our body’s intuitive cues.
I would argue that most women in the US have disordered eating, including myself. While I’ve come so far in my healing, there are certainly still moments where certain thoughts or fears pop up around food, and I lean into the old rule rather than listen to my body.
While disordered eating doesn’t always turn into a full blown eating disorder, it absolutely can. Which is yet another reason why diets don’t work. The amount that we need to undo mentally when we break free from diet culture is exhausting. However, when you start to land in your own body, with your own thoughts, and your own connection to hunger and fullness and satisfaction- you’ll start to realize just how much dieting was running your life.
The best part about coming through the other side is feeling like you have your life back again. You’ll notice how much space dieting was occupying on a mental and energetic level, and suddenly have a surplus of energy for you and your relationships.
Breaking up with dieting can be the hardest break up of all. Trust me, I know. But it’s so worth it, my friends. Promise.