7 Reasons why diets don't work and what they do

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  1. Dieting is against our biology and physical needs.

  2. Unbalances the hormones that control hunger and satiety.

  3. Slows metabolism

  4. Produces rebound weight gain.

  5. Causes the increase of hunger, provoking hunger explosions and binge eating.

  6. Leads to feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence and guilt.

  7. Damages relationship with food, provoking food obsession.

Again and again, we see many cases of people fail in dieting. Unsustainable diets that lead us to feelings of guilt, to feel incapable and destroy our self-confidence. Most of the time, regaining the weight we have lost or even more which in essence is the opposite of what we want to achieve when we start a diet.

It has been demonstrated that over 98% of people who start a diet, don’t maintain the results. Does this mean that such a high percentage of people are not committed enough to achieve it? That they don’t have enough willpower? I don’t think so… In fact diet failure has nothing to do with will power. The explanation lies in the physiological needs of our body, our built in natural survival mechanism and how dieting damages physically and mentally.

1.Dieting is against our biology and physical needs.

Our organism needs 4 important elements, that are vital to our survival, water, oxygen, food and rest. Without any of them, we wouldn’t be able to keep alive. Our body is very intelligent, when it feels its survival is in danger, it activates mechanisms that makes us react in one way or another, reassuring we provide it what it needs to ensure its survival. When our body detects the hazard is bigger, it will find a way to focus all our attention towards what it needs, reaching a point where our will power won’t be enough to stop the physiological need of survival.

Let’s see an example to understand this better. If we try to hold breathing, our pulse increases, our heart beat speeds up, our muscles get tense, the feeling of stress increments, we might start convulsing or having spasms and we would get to a point where we would just think about breathing, our need would become stronger than our will power and we would stop holding it. We would then take the biggest and deepest breath possible to recover the oxygen needed.

Another clear example of this mechanisms are the hallucinations caused by severe cases of dehydration. It is so vital to our organism to have water intake to keep hydrated, that it can cause hallucinations with the purpose of keeping our mind not thinking about anything else than providing the water it needs. This is the reason of the frequent mirages that people suffer in the dessert after hours without water.

Sounds familiar? Anyone obsessed with food thoughts 24/7? Obviously food is not less important. Hypocaloric and restrictive diets produce a lack of nutrients and energy intake to carry out the regular daily functions of our system. Our body sends subtle signals of hunger every time it needs us to provide it with energy. When we are dieting, these signals are ignored, as most of the time we follow scheduled and planned meals that don’t consider our energy or nutritional requirements, they don’t lay in hunger, neither physical needs.

2. Unbalances the hormones that control hunger and satiety.

The signals of appetite, hunger and satiety that our body sends, are regulated by different hormones. When dieting, this hormones become unbalanced. This is the way our body makes us eat more calories. When the hormones are not leveled, we feel more hungry and we don’t get satiated as we would normally do when the hormones are in the right levels.

3. Slows down metabolism

Another side effect of the calorie restriction is the metabolism slow down. This is a survival mechanism that activates to consume less calories daily to be able to survive with the fewer calories we are providing. In other words, if our metabolism consumes 2000 kcal a day and we start restricting calories, it will start decreasing the calories it burns. If we end up burning 1500 a day, we won’t lose any weight despite of eating low calories.

4. Produces rebound weight gain.

To balance the hormones back and reset the speed of our metabolism, we need time. Just stopping calorie restriction is not enough to automatically rebalance the hormones and increase the metabolism. This is the reason why we augment weight once we stop dieting. When the metabolism has slowed down, we will gain weight just by eating a normal amount of calories. This is the popular rebound weight gain the majority of people experience when dieting. Fortunately, this sets back to normal after a while with just a little patience when we stop calorie restriction.

5.Causes extreme hunger and binge eating.

When we ignore hunger signals over a period of time, our body will start finding ways of calling our attention in order for us to provide the energy and nutrients it is not receiving. After a while, and depending on how restrictive we are, those subtle signals will become sudden hunger explosions, we will lose the signals of satiation to make us eat more quantity, we will think about food more often than not and we will experience a higher appetite and gustatory response towards calorie dense foods, such as foods high in fats and sugars.

For this reason, people that are on restrictive diets end up losing control over food, breaking the diet with binges, that can lead to severe eating disorders. The more we try and the longer the periods of dieting are, the worse the consequences.

6.Leads to feelings of low self-esteem, low confidence and guilt.

Losing control over food makes us feel we have a lack of will power, when this has really nothing to do with willpower. We think the problem is us, but the problem is the diet.

We enter a destructive cycle of despair, that wipes out our self-esteem, confidence and self-love, to bring guilt. The more we fail the more we blame ourselves and the worse we feel. Dieting can be very destructive mentally as well a physically. It can lead to serious self-image issues and depression.

7.Damages relationship with food, provoking food obsession.

Pleasure plays an important role too. When we eliminate pleasure from eating, our brain doesn’t register all the signals it should. This, together with the increasing food thoughts explained previously, will make us obsessed with food. When this is combined with the physical need for food and the increased hunger, it creates the ultimate formula that cause food cravings and the loss of control over certain foods.

The damage in the relationship with food doesn’t stop there. Diets are packed with diet rules that mess our brain and confuses us with what we should and shouldn’t eat. We start tagging foods as good and bad, with the second becoming forbidden most of the time. We end up not enjoying food and stressing every time we have to make choices of what to eat.

In conclusion, restrictive diets are counterproductive to weight loss efforts and health. They also cause mental damage and can lead to important eating issues. Stop dieting and forcing your body and learn to work with it instead. Intuitive eating is the way to go. Your body has the tools to know the amount of calories and what nutrients it needs to be healthy and maintain an ideal weight. Learn how to listen to it and work together. Read my article in what is intuitive eating here.

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