Why Diets Fail

The Dieting Dilemma

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We’ve all been told that dieting works. If a diet fails, it is because the dieter “cheated”. The idea is that if you restrict food intake to less than your body needs at its current weight, you will lose weight and keep it off. All this is predicated on the idea of “calories in, calories out”. We know, however, that diets fail (that is, all weight lost is regained) 95% of the time. Of those who regain the weight, 75% gain back even more. So are 95% of dieters failing, or is there something wrong with the whole idea?

The truth is our bodies respond to dieting as a threat. If we restrict our eating in a way that ignores our body’s hunger and fullness cues, the body begins to react to protect itself by going into “storage mode”. This is a natural, and valuable, reaction. In fact, our bodies don’t know the difference between a famine and a diet. If we were actually able to stay on a restrictive diet for very long, our species would have died out long ago. Instead, when we go on a low calorie diet (one that requires “willpower”, meaning hunger cues are to be tolerated and not addressed), our brain literally responds by releasing neurotransmitters that make us focus on food! Our brain is trying to get us to do whatever is necessary to obtain food. And some studies suggest that, while on a restrictive diet, the brain may make us focus on foods that are the most quickly digestible, namely highly refined carbohydrate. These tend to be the very foods we “forbid” ourselves on diets, which further intensifies the craving. Following the diet becomes much harder.

Most people (95% of dieters) go “off” a diet within 4 months. Being “off” a diet often means overeating; this is occurring at a time the body is at the height of “panic” mode and is storing all it can. Thus weight gain following a diet is fast and furious, even more so than prior to dieting at all! This weight gain is often what precipitates another attempt at dieting, and the cycle begins again.

To make this situation even more concerning, yo-yo dieting is statistically more strongly correlated with health problems than obesity.

Behavior changes associated with dieting include:

  • overeating and cravings
  • decreased metabolic rate and lower energy
  • increased rate of food storage (and propensity toward weight gain)
  • increased preoccupation with food and eating
  • increased feelings of deprivation
  • increased sense of failure
  • decreased ability to detect fullness
  • increased body dissatisfaction

head_highYo-yo dieting and exercise dangers:

  • body retains fat most when people begin to eat more after the diet ends
  • each successive attempt at dieting results in a slower rate of weight loss, and typically more restrictive attempts at weight loss
  • increased risk of premature death and heart disease/damage
  • increased fat storage in the abdominal area, which is associated with an increased risk of heart disease

In addition, there are considerable emotional effects of the yo-yo dieting roller coaster:

  • dieting is highly correlated with the development of eating disorders
  • independent of body weight, dieters quickly feel failure
  • erosion of self-trust and self-confidence
  • depression/hopelessness (caused by dieting itself, not weight gain)
  • sense of loss of control when diet ultimately fails
  • increased social anxiety, whether weight is lost or gained
  • increased negative body perception
  • a deeper “buying in” of the cultural messages about body shape and eating

The core of Hungerwise is about creating a whole different paradigm! Your history of yo-yo dieting is not about your failure. It is about a system that was essentially set up in a way that goes exactly against your body’s natural rhythms and wisdom. Time for something that works!