Why diets don't work
Updated: Oct 17
The truth about weight loss
Have you followed all the diet trends but still struggle to maintain a healthy weight?
Research undeniably shows that diets are unsuccessful. Diets focus on calorie restriction and the elimination of certain foods. Restriction, at best, can make you miserable and, at worst, can lead to bingeing and disordered eating.
For me personally, it wasn't until I stopped dieting that I reached my healthy weight. See more of my story here.
Why do I gain the weight back?
Sure, most diets work in the short term – you restrict calories and lose weight.
However, diets are unsustainable and unsocial and eventually you will go back to the way you were eating before the diet. As a result, you naturally start to put the weight back on.
According to research studies, 95-98% of dieters regain the weight. That’s a pretty big statistic that a lot of people aren’t aware of! However, there is a biological reason for this.
Set point theory and the science of weight loss
Science has shown that genetics are involved in determining a healthy weight for our body. We each have a natural weight range called our ‘set point’ that is determined by our overall build, bone structure, metabolism, and amount of lean muscle. Just like it keeps our core temperature and blood pressure within a certain range, our body uses regulatory measures to maintain our healthy weight.
If we overeat, or eat too little, hormones and chemical signals are secreted that speed up or slow down our metabolism and influence our hunger and appetite. Our weight naturally fluctuates within this set point range.
Have you ever put on a couple of extra kgs when you’re on holidays, but once your back home, eating and exercising normally again, your weight naturally settles back down? Or have you lost weight when you’ve been unwell or highly stressed, but it fluctuates back up to the usual level once you’ve recovered? This is an example of Set Point Theory.
How does dieting affect your wellbeing?
You can diet and restrict food and drop well below your body’s natural set point (just like you can overeat and gain weight if you continue to consume excess calories for a period). However restriction comes at a price. Your body will respond by increasing your hunger signals and lowering your metabolism. As a result, preoccupation with food becomes overwhelming!
This is one of the reasons why dieting is unsuccessful. The restriction, deprivation, increased hunger, and constant thoughts about food can make you vulnerable to episodes of binge eating.
On top of all of that, cutting certain foods or food groups from your diet (to lose weight), can negatively impact your gut microbiome, sleep quality and mental health.
Can I lose weight without dieting?
I'm here to tell you that you absolutely can. Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight is predominately about lifestyle and behaviour change.
Firstly, ensure you are eating the recommended intakes of macro and micronutrients, consider the food choices you are making (where you are getting your nutrients from), and whether you are moving your body regularly. Then, look at the factors that may be holding you back from achieving a healthy weight:
Stress and/or emotional eating
Inflammation/ inflammatory foods
Address each of these areas (some of which may require the support of a registered Nutritionist or health professional).
Then you can begin to make small, sustainable changes to your nutrition, lifestyle and mindset.
What is the healthiest way of eating?
Countless research studies demonstrate the benefits of following a Mediterranean style of eating that is high in plant food, extra virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, legumes and whole grains. Fibre is incredibly important for supporting a healthy microbiome and can be easily obtained from a diet that is high in plant food. Eating a wide variety of different plant foods provides an array of health-promoting vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.
Make sure you consume adequate protein for immune support, healthy neurotransmitter function and to keep you feeling full for longer. Aim for approx. 20g of protein per meal (dependant on age and weight) from a combination of plant and animal sources.
Healthy fats from avocado, nuts, seeds along with omega-3 fatty acids found in oily fish, are important for keeping your cells healthy, reducing inflammation and supporting cognitive function.
How do I make peace with my healthy weight?
Perhaps your set point weight range is higher than average, higher than you’d like it to be, or higher than others (your friends, the media) have suggested it ‘should’ be. Then what?
Then it's time to focus on your mind-body connection and work on self-awareness and self-acceptance. You cannot change your genetic makeup, but you can change your negative thought patterns and self-defeating behaviours.
Back in my teens and 20s, I was on a mission to achieve the perfect body. A mission that frequently involved unsustainable restriction, always involved mood fluctuations and self-loathing, and often lead to bingeing. It makes me a little sad to think about all the things I missed out on when my mind was too clouded by thoughts of food, hunger and achieving an elusive goal weight.
I now know, from personal experience, that when you stop focusing on the number on the scales and start focusing on your health, you can find a way back to your happy self.
You don’t need a diet.
Maybe, you just need the right guidance and support.
*Until 30 November, you can access my new course 'You Don't Need More Willpower' at 40% off while I gather feedback! Join me and learn research-based steps for overcoming resistance, staying motivated and achieving your wellness goals.