When my clients learn that the ‘odds are against them’ when it comes to trying to control their weight, they freak out. Anxiety. Panic. Stress. Intense Fear.
…All of which I totally get because I once used to be a ‘pro’ at dieting. When I was in my mid-late twenties I was at my ‘diet peak’, meaning I could stick at dieting for years. However the more I tried to diet the worse I started to get…..barely seeing 4 months through, then 5 weeks then around 3 days.
It goes without saying that I got to the point where I couldn’t even go a day without immediately craving food that was out of bounds.
Through the many years of my disordered eating I have learned one very important thing about dieting:
….Every time I have ever tried to control what I eat for whatever reason, I’ve ended up eating in some way that goes completely against the ‘diet’ in the first place.
Be it diving head first into the pantry and eating all the chocolate
Scoffing the bag of nuts in front of me
Virtually having to tie my hands up because I can’t keep away from the bread and butter
Every single time. Without fail. Nothing you’d ‘expect’ would make a difference either:
…No amount of greater self control or willpower
…No amount of motivation
…No amount of peer support
…No amount of believing these will work either:
- ”Abs are made in the kitchen”
- ” Train like a beast, look like a beauty”
- ”I don’t diet…I just eat according to my goals”
- “Do it because they said you couldn’t”
If you think this certainly won’t happen to you because right now you associate yourself with having a ton of willpower, can withstand any craving, have motivation to kill….think again.
In other words I’m here to tell you that the odds are against you despite willpower and self control.
Through the number of articles I have read, women I have coached, people I have spoken to, other professionals I have liaised with, I have learned that this pattern of slowly becoming less and less able to control food (and anything else for that matter i.e. exercise), even for short periods of time is VERY common.
So common that about 95% of people will rebel against pretty much any form of weight control within five years, and, more often than not, will regain more weight than they lost.
Furthermore research that followed people on diets for two to five years reported that most of the people would have been better off not going on diets at all. (reference: April issue of American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association).
Some more evidence that diets are a successful weight management strategy:
“Although weight loss can usually be achieved through dietary restriction and/or increased physical activity, the overwhelming majority of people regain the weight that they have lost over the long-term.”–The Defence of Body Weight: A physiological basis for weight regain after weight loss, Sumithran & Proietto, 2013
….Hence the saying “diets don’t work.”
The question I want to discuss is if diets fail for a significant proportion of people, why is that? What is the reason? What are the specific mechanisms at work?
Because I don’t buy the fact that weight is a product of self control and will power, I read up on some of the science behind why diets don’t work.
And for those wanting to take my trusty word for it, diets don’t work because of biological roots.
First up I want you to know when we restrict food we go against the natural biology of our bodies. Our body basically thinks it’s entering starvation mode and wants to ‘horde’ food for survival.
Secondly, this natural biological response in the long run is only very rarely overcome by self control/ willpower. We know this because of the stats out there that show us diets DON’T work in the long run. Which highlights that no amount of willpower or self control is going to support us.
…..The bottom line is we are not capable of controlling our food. You might be able to do it for a short period of time, but eventually, you’re going to start launching for the cupboards after work, getting stuck into the ice-cream and other ‘restricted’ foods. When the body goes into thinking it’s in a do or die situation, our willpower is rendered useless.
Put perfectly: “A threat of food scarcity will always trigger hoarding, with or without your conscious permission or control”- Isabel Foxen Duke.
…Furthermore there’s another great way of explaining why diets don’t work known as the ‘weight set point’ theory.
The weight set point theory is the idea that the body naturally and automatically controls your weight. It suggests your body has an ‘ideal weight range’ that it likes to keep you between and the range can be anywhere from a small amount up to about 15-20kg and is often estimated as roughly 10% of your body weight. So for a 60kg person this would be around 6kg, for 150kg person this would be around 15kg.
Most people will fluctuate up and down within this range on a regular basis however moving out of this range is much more difficult.
Personally speaking I know that my body was functioning well even when I was 4 kg’s less than I have genberally maintained for most of my life…. UNTIL I got to a certain point (which funnily enough- I didn’t know about the weight set point theory at the time- was below 10% of my body weight). THEN I started to lose my period, developed severe adult acne and certainly got signs that my body was NOT healthy.
My advice to you? We can’t control the internal wiring of our complex bodies. You can try but in the long run we know what happens to those who keep on fighting…significant health and medical conditions.
Acknowledge the reality that, in the long run, you simply don’t have control — regardless of what you do to ‘gain’ control.
And furthermore I want you to think about the fact that trying to control the uncontrollable (aka the obsessive need for control due to poor self worth), is likely the root cause of all of this rebellious eating that almost ALL restricted eaters experience eventually (which is experienced in proportion to their dieting severity and history).
Which means that your most successful bet in the long run- even if you still do want to lose weight, is to stop controlling your food.
…Give yourself permission to naturally gravitate towards and eat food which your body wants, needs and desires. And I bet you will notice a difference to what it really wants when you give it a chance to actually be heard (which to do so you’ve got to eliminate threats of food scarcity from your life).
Like this post? Comment below and let me know what resonated with you the most. Has the penny dropped? Are you ready to give up dieting and try to let your body find its natural weight?
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