Diets don’t work. Yes, I said it. Now let me clarify…. technically, diets work. If you restrict your calories to 1200, eat minuscule amounts of food and exercise 2 hours a day you will lose weight, it’s science. When you adopt these behaviors you are creating a deficit in calorie amount that your body will use energy from other places (fat reserves) to fuel your body.

So if my goal is to lose weight, why is that bad?

Let’s get real for a minute, when you follow a very restrictive diet there are a few things that come with that much desired weight loss:

  1. HANGER. And I mean, don’t make eye contact, don’t eat food around me, don’t bump into me HANGER. This makes you a mean mom/dad, friend, spouse and general human being and that is NO GOOD. We all have responsibilities and we need to fuel our bodies for them to perform–more on this later.
  2. It’s very difficult to sustain this type of eating behavior.  This is a big one. Who has ever been on a diet, been super successful, and then 2 months later ended up right where you started (can I get a Hallelujah from the crowd). It is GREAT to give up all alcohol, sweets, and eating out for 6 weeks of your life (actually I wouldn’t know because I haven’t ever accomplished it), but when that 6 weeks is up what happens? For the rest of your life will you say no to girls night out or date night with your wife? Or will the reality be that you go back to doing those things, yet you still haven’t learned how to make the right choices on the menu or limit the amount of days you drink alcohol or eat dessert per week because you had zero control over it when you were on your diet. Your only option was none, zero, can’t do it until the 6 weeks is up. So now the 6 weeks is up and you have a toddler, and a stressful job and now you start adding all those things back into your life but you didn’t learn how to control them.
  3. Depending on the specifics of your diet, your body may be starving. If your body is starving, it is focusing on only one thing–when it’s next source of energy is coming. So instead of getting a PR on a workout or knocking the socks off the group ex class, you slump around all day feeling mad and hungry but maybe a little trimmer around your waist. Your body is now taking every bit of food you consume and reserving parts of it for later because it doesn’t understand that there is actually more fuel available, you are simply choosing not to use it.
  4. Diets are mainly testing your mental toughness not supporting actual change. Diets make you feel guilty when you slip up or can’t complete the challenge and can trigger bad behaviors directly following the completion of the diet (or on “cheat days” during the diet–don’t get me started). You are not a lesser person if you need 1 teaspoon of creamer in your coffee once a day, you are not a lesser person for needing a glass of wine or a beer after a long day or simply to enjoy with a friend (slow clap for those who don’t). Life is meant to be enjoyed, and (with the exception of a few things) you should be able to incorporate all things that make you happy into a healthy lifestyle. 

You may be wondering– if diets don’t work, what does? Lifestyle change works. This is a gradual process and it is actually harder than a diet because instead of giving up fast food and soft drinks (or whatever your vice may be) for 4-6 weeks you are choosing to give up this behavior forever. You are saying that fast food and soft drinks are something that your doesn’t need EVER (because really, it doesn’t) and you are choosing to fuel your body the right way.  You are learning to listen to your body, eat when you are hungry, and eat the right things at the right times. You are choosing to fuel your body with whole grains and complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, high quality proteins, and healthy sources of fat. You are making one better choice per day until that becomes routine, and then you make one more change until it becomes easier and then you realize this eating healthy thing is not so bad and actually you FEEL GREAT! Those workouts that used to drain you of energy now make you feel empowered to take on your day and to eat the right things so that you can get up tomorrow and do it again.

Let’s be honest, life is way too short to not enjoy it. Make the right choice 80% of the time and let the other 20% of the time take care of itself. Your body is resilient and knows how to handle a cookie every now and again. To be successful in the healthy eating game we have to have a healthy relationship with food. If you feel guilty every time you eat a piece of bread or a serving of dessert there may be a deeper issue. Food is neither a reward nor a punishment, there are no good foods or bad foods–there are simply better choices. Should I choose whole grain toast over white toast, yes. Should I choose black coffee over a latte, yes. Should I go jog 4 miles because I ate a piece of cake, no. Don’t punish yourself for food you already ate, move on and make a better decision next time. It’s the small choices we make daily that can make a huge difference on our diet, lifestyle and wellbeing. Help your body and mind perform at its best by fueling it with all the right things!

Let me be clear, if you are on a diet and you are succeeding…keep on keeping on! Remember to translate those behaviors into your life structure post diet so it isn’t a “diet” anymore, it’s a way of life.

If you need that post holiday nudge–no more new year diet, call it a new year RESET and get back to being your best self!

Joanna Gregg, MS, RD