Ditching the Diet!

I am a really positive person and don’t like to get bogged down in negative stuff but I can’t sit quietly and watch when I hear of people I know (and those I don’t) getting caught up in the diet trap. And just to be clear, when I say diet I mean any kind of eating where you are not listening to your body, eating intuitively and eating all food groups.

Whether you call it a diet, or a juice cleanse, or intermittent fasting, or ‘cutting out sugar/carbs/eating after 6’, or ‘eating healthy’ or making a lifestyle change, they all have the same result and simply won’t achieve what they are setting out to do in the long term.

So, here’s 5 good reasons to ditch all kinds of restriction when it comes to food (allergies and medically diagnosed intolerance notwithstanding).

The only correlation that diets have is with weight gain

That’s right, diets only correlate with weight gain not loss. Whilst in the short term (i.e. whilst you’re following the plan) you may see weight losses, once you stop following the plan your body will begin to gain weight.  And not only will you gain weight, you will quite possibly end up heavier than you were before.

This is why we see so many ‘yo-yo’ dieters. The gains outweigh the losses, resulting in increased weight and therefore people return to their diets to lose the weight. The likelihood is that you won’t lose enough to get back to the lowest weight the first time and the cycle starts over again, each time with you gaining a little more weight and ending up heavier.

What most people won’t tell you is that this constant restriction is damaging your body’s ability to regulate your weight and is increasing the likelihood of it storing fat.

And even more devastating is that you are not really ever likely to be able to get down to your ideal weight and stay there. Those that do, never eat normally again, they simply stay ‘on a diet’ for life, worrying about every little morsel and weighing themselves regularly.

There are slim people who have never had a weight problem, never had to diet and who eat whatever they want.  Whilst their diets may include fewer takeaways and more fruit and veg than some overweight people, the truth is that they can eat far more than those few who have lost weight and are maintaining at their ‘goal / target / ideal’ weight.

You may know one or even two people who lost a load of weight and stayed there – let me tell you, they are the exception and not the rule and just because they can doesn’t mean you can.

Diets focus on calorie restriction

Early diets were almost exclusively based on the old ‘calories in vs calories out’ model.  There are still a number of people basing their advice, methods and systems on this model and promoting the idea that you need to exercise to ‘work off’ the ‘bad’ food (I could also talk about use of language around food but that’s for another day) or even that if you exercise you somehow ‘earn’ more food. This is outdated and plain wrong. Many of the ‘big name’ diets using points / sins / units are still basing their allowances on the calorie model.

We know now that calories are complicated.  Much of the food we eat is used, not for energy as such but to repair and grow our body.  At the same time, our bodies do discriminate between different types and quality of food and use them in different ways, so calories are not equal when it comes to usage.  Finally, the ways in which calories are burned and measured for the sake of food packaging does not precisely replicate how our bodies burn the fuel  we take in from food, so the calorie count we take in may not be quite as we think.

Our bodies can also adapt to using fewer calories and still retaining fat.  It’s an evolutionary thing.  Again – it’s complicated and no-one really knows exactly how it works yet.

All diets lead to a skewed and disordered relationship with food

Any kind of restriction creates a disordered relationship with food. Things that are forbidden or seen as out of bounds make you want them more. I call this your ‘inner teenager effect’. The minute you tell yourself you can’t have something, your inner teenager is going to start wanting it, craving it, driving you mad thinking about it all the time. Remove the restriction, and you remove the attraction.

For example, I love burgers. Not the rubbish cheap ones that you get in fast food restaurants but the big, juicy kind you get in restaurants or when you make them yourself. So, I happened to mention to Mr S that I like burgers. And he stocked up with the Taste the Difference ones he found on the reduced counter in Sainsbury’s (he’s a sucker for a bargain).  So we now have a freezer full of burgers that I’m really not sure I want to eat.  Because after a few, I’ve kind of lost my taste for them.

When you stop building food up in your brain to be something that it isn’t, like it’s something that should only be used as a treat, or it’s bad or you shouldn’t have it, then you want it badly.  When you make it something you can have any time you want it, then it suddenly loses its appeal.

Diets start with the premise that you should want to lose weight

There are all sorts of reasons why you may think you want to lose weight. You may have been told it’s healthier, you may have low body confidence and think thinner is more attractive. But the common assumption that fat / overweight is bad just isn’t true. And in fact is leading us into less healthy behaviours.

When it comes to your health, there are other approaches you can take to  improve it; increasing your movement, counting steps, adding in more foods of a greater variety, working on mood.

The body shame factor is far more insidious. It’s seeping into everyday life, it’s in magazines, it’s all over social media.  There is a very real belief that you can only be happy / confident / healthy / successful / worthy / beautiful /spiritual if you are thin. There’s a belief that, particularly women, should be striving to become thin and therefore more worthy of the space they take up.  There is a real fear of women strong enough to love themselves enough to be happy as they are.  Which brings us to our final point.

Diets don’t fully address the real reasons you eat and in fact compound them.

The majority of the women I work with, know what constitutes a balanced diet, other than a little confusion caused by the wealth of info out there.

The majority of my clients eat well balanced meals.  They just end up reaching for the odd takeaway after a stressful day, chocolate to see them through the evening or comfort food when something goes wrong.

What starts as excess eating through a tricky patch becomes a reason to ‘go on a diet’ rather than address the issues. Diets focus on the food aspect only, reducing food intake and restricting certain foods which leads to all sorts of other emotions when you eventually fall off the diet wagon. Now, mixed in with sadness or grief or stress or boredom, you also have guilt and shame.

So, instead of fixing the original problem, dieting has simply added more emotions into the mix. That you can now suppress with chocolate. 😉

My way of working with clients is to address the relationship between emotions and food as well as addressing the emotions you’re feeling and working on new ways of dealing with them.

If you’re interested in finding out more about my approach to food and emotional eating then do join me over at www.rachel-swann.com and look for the Free Support page!