Break Up With Your Diet
3 Reasons Why It’s Time to Break Up with Your Diet
How many times this week have you heard someone talking about the latest food they’re cutting out, juice cleanse they recently started, number of steps they’ve taken today, or how they’re just SO BAD for eating [insert food here -ice cream, donuts, fries, etc.]? As a registered dietitian who works in eating disorder treatment, I hear these messages left and right. The problem is I don’t only hear these messages at work! They’re at the grocery store, restaurants, at the gym and even at social gatherings. And they are messages of disordered eating. It. Is. EXHAUSTING. If you haven’t heard yet, then let me be the first to tell you – diets don’t work. They don’t work in improving health and they don’t work in reducing weight long-term (and no, those two don’t always go hand in hand). I know this may sound counter-intuitive – if you’re interested in learning more, I recommend reading Linda Bacon’s books Health At Every Size and/or Body Respect. It’s time to end our obsession with that abusive partner (the diet) and start loving on ourselves. Here are the top three reasons why it’s time to BREAK UP with diets and MOVE ON with our lives:
1. The Diet’s Just Not That into You
The diet industry, a ~$70 billion-dollar industry, thrives on all of us thinking we’re not good enough and that it’s our personal fault when what they sell us doesn’t work. Take a second to think about it – do you know any other industry that blames the user, not the product, when something goes wrong? It would be like a puzzle company sending you a bunch of random puzzle pieces that didn’t fit together, and when you couldn’t fit the pieces together, they’d say “it’s because you didn’t try hard enough.” Um, excuse me?
The diet industry, and the diet culture it’s created, does not have our best interest in mind. Every time we try a new diet (whether it tells us to eat/not eat certain foods, use certain products (like bars, powders, pills or buy some regiment) and it doesn’t work, the diet industry makes MORE money, because we just go to the next diet and spend more money (and not to mention time) on it! Beyond that, it just doesn’t make sense that one certain way of eating or moving would work for everyone. Think of a 6’4” male and 5’1” female. How in the world could one recommendation be effective for both? If your friend told you that going to physical therapy after throwing out their back really helped, would you also go the physical therapy for your back without any back pain? I’d venture to guess the answer is no.
It’s important to remember that the diet industry profits off us hating our bodies, blaming ourselves when their product doesn’t work and our continued belief that there’s a “magical solution” out there. Which brings us to the next point…
Have you ever read a diet claiming you’ll lose X pounds (very large number) in Y weeks (very small number) by just doing Z (very simple task)! Or that “this product will help you fix [insert life problem here] and make everything better!” Or any other claim that seems too good to be true? That’s because (drumroll please…) it is too good to be true.
The research shows that 9.5/10 diets “don’t work” – meaning, 95% of those the temporarily lose weight from dieting will gain it back, and many will gain more back than they initially lost. If a diet claims to solve lofty non-food-related problems, promises to give results that seem unrealistic or claims to have good science to support it…you’ve been warned. There has not been one study out there that shows that a diet can effectively lead to sustained weight loss in most of its participants. *Mic drop*
And for this one, I want to make sure you hear (read) me loud and clear – IT’S NOT YOU, IT’S THE DIET. Any of the following sound familiar? You decide on Friday afternoon “I’m starting [insert diet of choice here] on Monday.” So, what happens over the weekend? Eating anything and everything the diet doesn’t allow, usually in large quantities (we call this the “last supper mentality.”) Then Monday rolls around and you start the diet. It goes very well for a few hours, days, maybe weeks or months, but then it’s your [insert event here: sister’s birthday, cousin’s wedding, friend’s baby shower, etc.] and you decide to “cheat”. Then you feel guilty and think to yourself, okay but that was it. From now on I’m REALLY doing it full out. So you do…for a while. But then you stop seeing [insert “desirable results” here: increased energy, feeling more motivated, weight loss, etc.] and you get frustrated and the cravings get stronger. So then you break the diet again…leading to feelings of guilt, shame, frustration – you name it. Then you start feeling physically worse, maybe even gain weight, and you find yourself on another Friday afternoon thinking, “I’m starting [the next diet] Monday,” meaning the rest of the weekend turns into the last supper…and you know the rest of the story. Here’s what that picture looks like:
And, again, it’s NOT YOU. If this sounds familiar, you’re not alone and this not. your. fault. When the body fights back against diets, it’s actually working exactly as it’s supposed to work. Your brain doesn’t know that it’s 2019 and going on a diet seems to be the coolest thing since sliced bread (side note, bread is AWESOME, please stop demonizing it!) All your brain knows is that you’re taking away food(s) it needs, signaling a state of starvation – meaning it’s going to:
1. Signal hunger cues and cravings to try to get the nutrients it needs
2. Slow down metabolism since it’s not getting enough energy to sustain essential body functions and
3. Store more energy (in the form of fat) to prepare for the next episode of “starvation.”
So next time the diet fails (when, not if) consider that it may be time to break the cycle, break up with the diet and tell diet culture, it’s not me, it’s most definitely YOU!
But wait…now what? Eating without rules might feel overwhelming and confusing. This can be a whole blog post, but there’s a starting point:
Please reach out if I can help get you connected. You deserve it!
Written by Adee Levinstein, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, Instagram: @uhh_d_rd
*Adee Levinstein, MS, RD, CSSD, LD, is a registered dietitian in Austin, Texas working with patients with eating disorders. She completed her undergraduate studies in Medical Dietetics and went on to obtain a Master’s in Exercise Science. Adee’s passion lies in improving her clients’ relationships with food and movement.
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