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Diets Don't Work: Understanding the Science

Diets; the biggest scam of the century.

Marketed to us as the quick fix to achieve the body ‘of your dreams’ with the emergence of the late 20th and early 21st century, diets have risen in popularity at an unprecedented rate.

People like to think of diets as health interventions - practised for the sake of ‘becoming your best self’. However, the truth is, the unsustainable and restrictive diets like the ones we have today wouldn’t be so popular.

But they are, so why is that?

It all comes down to monetary gain. We live in a capitalistic world - if something can be profited off of, it will be. And that does include our insecurities. Ultimately, beauty standards and diet culture have teamed up to create the billion dollar diet industry that has our society in a chokehold.

So, knowing that diets aren’t created in order to help people, one might be prompted to ask; “Well, why do they work, then?”

The answer is simple - they don’t. Diets are temporary fixes. They focus on restriction and deprivation, which is simply unsustainable in the long run. So, let's ditch the diets and focus on sustainable, healthy lifestyle changes instead. Who's with us?

Before we dive into why diets don’t work, we need to look at the science behind weight loss. Diet culture likes to teach that it is as simple as calories in, calories out.

If you consume more calories than you burn, you gain weight. If you burn more calories than you consume, you lose weight.

And while that is true, there are many more factors that affect weight gain and loss.

A few include your metabolism, the rate in which your body burns calories; genetics, which can affect metabolism speed, hunger levels, and body fat distribution; as well as the release of certain hormones that have effects on appetite and satiety.

Now, knowing this, advertising a diet as a ‘one size fits all’ is ignorant and foolish; every body is uniquely different and will have a variety of needs that differ from person to person.

And yet, despite this, diets are still advertised and sold to the public for the pretty prospect of becoming your smallest self. And the unfortunate reason why diets still play this massive cultural role in our society is because they do provide the results they promise.

But there is always a catch.

To achieve these results, oftentimes one must either eliminate or severely restrict entire food groups, (As seen in the Atkins and Keto Diets) strictly limit caloric intake (seen in the HCG Diet) or cut out ‘processed foods’ entirely (The Paleo Diet).

Frequently, all three.

This is not only extremely unhealthy and dangerous, but unsustainable as well; research demonstrates that participants who engage in very low calorie diets regain an average of 15% of weight lost after one year. And that is not an isolated statistic; overall, only 20% of dieters can maintain their weight loss long term.

Because of these high failure rates, dieters will fall back to what they know, and end up in vicious weight cycles; they will engage in a restrictive diet, lose the weight and then satisfied, go off the diet and regain it all again. And then the cycle continues.

This is incredibly harmful, as your body is not built for your weight to fluctuate so intensely. Increased risk of digestive issues, changes in blood pressure and cholesterol levels and an increased risk of heart disease are all side effects of rapid weight gain and loss.

However, the focus shouldn’t be on weight; the fact of the matter is that studies have shown that restrictive diets are impossible to maintain in the long term. Our bodies are not built to only consume a select few foods and live in a constant state of restriction.

This leads us onto our next point - diets are not only problematic in that they are restrictive, but they also interrupt our natural hunger and satiety cues.

When you are in a state of restriction, your body will enter starvation mode and will release chemicals and hormones that promote hunger. The idea is that you listen to these cues and eat, resulting in weight gain. However, diets encourage us to ignore these hunger cues, and soon enough you learn to distrust your body.

When you lose that connection, you no longer can eat intuitively and in accordance with your body’s hunger cues; as far as you know, those cues simply aren’t there. Being out of touch with your body’s cues can lead to over and undereating, nutrient deficiencies, and puts you at a high risk of developing an eating disorder.

Eating disorders are an unfortunately common result of dieting; the intense focus placed upon your body’s aesthetic appearance, how you should modify your eating and exercise patterns to improve that appearance, restricting certain foods/food groups and applying moral value to them…whilst those traits do describe people with eating disorders, they also can apply to people that diet.

Because the two really aren’t that dissimilar.

Diets promote all the ideals that eating disorders value, however are deemed more acceptable in society because of their pretty packaging.

Studies have shown that 1 in 12-14 dieters will develop an eating disorder in their life, and whilst not everyone who suffers from an eating disorder has a history of dieting, dieting most certainly predisposes you to a higher risk of developing one.

So if not dieting, what can you do to maintain a balanced lifestyle?

There are many accessible options and ideas that you can implement into your day to day life to lead a balanced lifestyle.

By mending your connection with your body, you can get back in touch with your hunger cues and body signals; this is so important because believe it or not, you do not need some fad diet telling you what you need to eat - your body does it for you! By listening to your hunger and satiety cues, you can avoid over and undereating, and nourish your body with a variety of foods from all food groups. Mindfulness is a great strategy that a lot of people use on this journey, as it is the practice of being present in the moment and paying attention to the cues your body gives out; such as hunger and fullness.

Focusing on improving your overall health and wellbeing without placing a heavy focus on weight loss is the goal; prioritising self care in whatever form that takes.

There is far more to diets than meets the eye. While they may offer results in the short term, those results are often temporary. In the long term, diets lead to the uprooting of hunger and satiety cues, an increased risk of nutrient deficiency, digestive issues and heart disease, as well as predisposing you to eating disorders.

The diet industry has no intention of helping people improve their health and wellbeing; it simply exists to profit off of insecurity.

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