Updated: Jul 14
The idea of a non-diet approach to nutrition has become pretty trendy in the last few years.
Any nutrition professional who’s not an ass-hole probably agrees that extremely restrictive, low calorie diets aren’t the answer.
What’s at the heart of this slow shift towards a non-diet approach? Over time we’re beginning to recognize that restrictive diets simply aren’t effective in the long term.
And guys, this isn’t just me and a few other nutrition recluses screaming RIOTS NOT DIETS. It’s science. Sure, there are lots of short term studies that show that calorie and/or carbohydrate restriction can result in weight loss. Most of us have experienced weight loss by following a traditional diet of some kind. But what happens in the long term? Study after study has shown that diets consistently end in increased weight gain. Diets disrupt our metabolic functions and put our bodies into starvation mode. These metabolic changes lead to weight plateaus followed by rapid weight regain. Weight cycling (or yo-yo dieting) leads to increased weight gain from baseline. And engaging in dieting behavior in adolescence is strongly correlated to obesity risk later in life.
If you’re relatively new to dieting, you may find you lose weight quickly. Maybe it’s been a few years since your last diet. You decide to try Paleo and you drop 8 pounds in the first month which, of course, you think is awesome. It’s also confirms in your mind that Paleo is an effective diet for weight loss. So after your weight loss you go back to your previous eating pattern. But ok, actually you eat a lot of pizza and ice cream for a few weeks because you were really missing those foods while you were dieting.
A few months go by and you realize you’ve gained 10 pounds. Yikes!
So you decide to go Paleo again. But this time it’s harder to give up the foods you love. You remember how restricted you felt last time and you’re struggling to maintain your motivation from day one. But you stick it out for a few weeks convinced you’ll feel better once you drop some weight. Only you aren’t losing weight as quickly this time. Maybe you aren’t losing weight at all. You feel like a failure and give up on Paleo. A few more months go by and you decide, yet again, that it’s time to lose weight.
You find a new diet and jump in head first thinking –
This time will be different
This time I’ll be good
This time I’ll keep the weight off
But it’s just more of the same. Restriction, deprivation, hunger, frustration, and feelings of failure.
And now you’re in a cycle of chronic dieting. Trying a new diet every few months. Then every few weeks. And nothing is working! And you keep gaining weight! And you’re freaking out because wtf is happening you’re doing ALL the diets and thinking about food constantly and you’re always hungry and you always want a donut and you don’t even like donuts and oooooh there are cookies in the break-room but no you can’t eat those but you want them so bad but no you’re too fat stop thinking about those cookies . . . .
This is dieting. It leads to weight gain, not weight loss. Period.
Nutrition professionals, to our credit, have recognized that the traditional approach to dieting just isn’t working. So, we’re coming up with all kinds of new solutions to help people lose weight. But the problem here is that any pattern of eating designed with the goal of achieving weight loss is a diet. It may not be a formal diet. It might not have its own trademarked name. But it’s still a diet. Over the next few weeks I’ll be looking at some actually-diets that are masquerading as non-diets. Because no matter how “realistic”, “individualize”, or “livable” a diet is – it’s still based on restriction. The only way to truly heal our relationship with food is to re-learn how to trust our own bodies. And we simply can’t do that when we’re on a diet.
Blomain ES, Dirhan DA, Valentino MA, Kim GW, Waldman SA. Mechanisms of Weight Regain following Weight Loss. ISRN Obesity. 2013;2013:210524. doi:10.1155/2013/210524.
Mann, T., Tomiyama, A. J., Westling, E., Lew, A.-M., Samuels, B., & Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3), 220-233. http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220
Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Larson NI, Eisenberg ME, Loth K. Dieting and disordered eating behaviors from adolescence to young adulthood: Findings from a 10-year longitudinal study. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. 2011;111(7):1004-1011. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2011.04.012.
Strohacker K, Carpenter KC, McFarlin BK. Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk? International Journal of Exercise Science. 2009;2(3):191-201.