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New Year, New Diet, Same Weight? Why Diets Don't Work.

Dieting, What is it Good For?

When was the last time you weren’t on some kind of diet? Also, when was the last time you were perfectly satisfied with your body and weight? For many of us, we’ve been dieting for so long, we can’t remember a time in our adult lives when being on some form of a weight loss regime wasn’t a given.

For centuries, men and women have been trying to mold their bodies (and clothes) to fit in with the perceived beauty standard of their time. At one point in human history, being plump was a sign of health, beauty and even wealth. Then the 90’s happened and it seems we’ve just been getting skinnier ever since. Never in history have people spent more time and money trying to be thin than they do today and yet this is the fattest and unhealthiest we’ve ever been. It doesn’t seem to make sense does it? Every new diet is purported to be “the one and only, best way to lose weight” as the previous “best diet ever” conveniently is never mentioned again. Remember the Atkins diet when carbs were the Devil and it was supposedly healthy to cut them out completely and eat pounds of red meat every day? More recently, we have the Paleo diet which was modeled after a time when people lived to about 30 years old, and let’s not forget about the Lectin Free Diet where vegetables your mother has been forcing you to eat as a child are suddenly all toxic. Wait what? The list of diets seem to be never-ending and ever-devolving into a rabbithole of confusion. Most of the time, the same four diets are in circulation but slightly re-branded and re-named and 99% of them have one thing in common - misery and starvation.

Bizarre Diets and Diet Cults

Let’s not forget all of the bizarre diets out there that have seduced so many - like the “Ear Stapling Diet” where you literally put a staple through a pressure point in your ear to supposedly curb your appetite - or the “Banana Diet” which involves only having a glass of water and a banana for breakfast, blended, squished, sliced, grilled, frozen, baked, and sometimes even straight out of the peel and then eating whatever you want for rest of the day.

It sounds a bit culty if you ask me. Which reminds me of my favorite story of the german nudist August Engelhardt (far right), who started a spiritual cult in the south pacific which believed that coconuts were the sacred pathway to Coco-nirvana. Unfortunately for him and his followers, he died at the age of 44 of ulcers and extreme malnourishment. But I digress. My point is that diets are a lot like religious cults, and conspiracy theories. Though some may have some truth to their core, the human ego eventually requires that it is novel, and special, and especially prophetic and its scripture must be followed through the desert.

The Science Behind Dieting

The sad truth about dieting is: DIETS DON’T WORK. Oops. Yup, I said it - diets don’t work and there are plenty of actual scientific studies that support that statement. Like any radical idea, they work for a brief time, but in the long run, most diets will fail. In the vast majority of cases, there is an initial significant amount of weight loss that happens when you stick to basically any diet on the market for at least 6 months but over time, people gain the weight back and often do some damage to their body and/or metabolism in the process.

According to Traci Mann, UCLA associate professor of psychology and lead author of a study about the efficacy of diets, “You can initially lose 5 to 10 percent of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back. We found that the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more. Sustained weight loss was found only in a small minority of participants, while complete weight regain was found in the majority. Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.”

One study of dieting obese patients followed them for varying lengths of time. Among those who were followed for fewer than two years, 23 percent gained back more weight than they had lost, while of those who were followed for at least two years, 83 percent gained back more weight than they had lost, Mann said. One study found that 50 percent of dieters weighed more than 11 pounds over their starting weight five years after the diet, she said.

Is Sustained Weight Loss Possible?

Based on the information I’ve provided so far, you might be tempted to throw in the towel and stop trying to lose weight all together. The silver lining is - diets are no fun and are often stress inducing and socially isolating so maybe it’s time for a permanent break-up. Maybe you don’t mind dieting but then at least know that it’s much less about which diet you decide to go with and more about actually sticking to something - until death to us part kind of deal. So, at least pick a diet that allows you to eat foods that you enjoy eating.

Although difficult, sustained weight loss is possible. The key is that it’s not about the latest fad diet, it’s about a permanent lifestyle change. It’s about choosing to take care of your health first and having weightloss be a byproduct. It’s also about being honest with ourselves about what a realistic weight is for our bodies. If you’re 40, trying to squeeze into your 18-year-old selfs’ jeans - it might not be the most realistic goal. Our bodies change and we generally gain some weight as we get older - especially if we have had children. Be kinder to yourself. If being a size 4 or 6 means that you have to live the rest of your life feeling like you’re starving to death, ask yourself, is it really worth it?

Personally, it begins with a change of perspective. The question isn’t “how do I look” but rather “how do I feel?”