Why Diets Don’t Work …and What To Do Instead
If you’ve found this blog post on the vast, wild internet you’re probably looking for answers. Maybe you don’t feel good, or you’re thinking you might want to lose a few pounds. Whether you want to ensure you don’t repeat past cycles of losing weight and gaining it back, or you want to leave the whole toxic culture of dieting behind for good, you’ve come to the right place. So let’s talk about why diets don’t work and what to do instead to get healthy for good.
I’m a dietitian. And most people think that dietitians put people on weight loss diets but that’s actually not true for most. In fact, the diet in dietitian means something far more benign: your diet is simply the pattern of how you eat.
It is a dietitian’s job to help you navigate nutritional science and your body’s own unique needs to find the right pattern of eating that helps you feel your best. It’s why I write cookbooks, advocate for high fibre foods, share evidence-based nutrition information, and create plant-based recipes that are as delicious as they are good for you. It’s also why I created by zero-deprivation January program, the Eat More Plants Challenge, to help you find a supportive community for change.
While many of us are motivated to change our diets in order to change our weight, I am far more concerned with your actual health…which has very little to do with how much you weigh.
Why Diets Don’t Work
Make no mistake: the weight loss industry is worth BILLIONS. And they don’t make money by creating products and tools that actually work. Instead, they make money by telling you their product/diet/book works and then when it doesn’t, blaming you for it and selling you a shinier (but still false) hope.
I know that there are always exceptions. Because some folks do manage to stick with a diet or keep weight off for more than a year. There will always be a few people for whom a diet works, at least in the short term. But no diet is universally successful and most are straight up garbage.
How can I be so sure? Well, I’ve seen it for over a decade in practice and the science agrees. Most weight loss and ‘detox’ diets don’t work because they aren’t designed with A) your actual health in mind and B) are too restrictive to be maintained long term. Here are just a few reasons why diets don’t work:
- They’re too restrictive in types of food or amount/calories Restrictive eating practices lead to preoccupation with food and hunger, which is the opposite of what you need to thrive. If you’re hungry all the time, or missing foods that are important to you, your internal hunger cues ramp up, big time.
- They create fear of food, like high fat foods or gluten-containing foods When we’re fearful, we’re uncomfortable. And you know what is comforting? Food.
- They require too much time and energy to maintain. Because life isn’t getting any less busy…and we only have so much energy to go around. Nope, it’s NOT a willpower issue.
- They don’t allow wiggle room for life, like birthdays or the holidays. Because forever is a REALLY long time to never have cake.
- They aren’t actually designed to make you physiologically healthier. SO many fad diets are ridiculously high in animal products, low in fruits and vegetables or microbiome-boosting fibre (hello, carnivore and keto!). Or they rely on expensive packaged diet shakes or bars which don’t provide the full spectrum of nutrients you need. So you end up feeling like garbage once the initial diet high has worn off.
- They aren’t delicious. Food is one of the great pleasures of life. So no oil regimes, zero fruit or endless rice cakes are no way to live. And yes, there is a way to feed your body as well as you feed your soul.
What Healthy Actually Means
So, what does healthy mean? It’s not a size, that’s for sure. While I was taught that weight and BMI were a critical part of health, there is a much needed movement critiquing the lack of science and determining a new way forward.
Given that now more than half of Canadians meet the statistical definition of having overweight or obesity, I refuse to believe that folks in larger bodies cannot be healthy. For me, healthy is as healthy does. So this dietitian is going to help you build healthy habits, like eating your fruits and vegetables, meeting your fibre needs and encouraging you to move your body and get enough sleep.
If you have actual metabolic issues such as high blood pressure or blood sugars, we’re going to use nutrition to address it to bring them into the healthy range. In making these changes, maybe your weight changes but maybe it doesn’t. What matters more is that you feel good + energized in your body and are lowering your risk of disease.
5 Tips to Make Your Diet Healthier
Looking to ditch all that diet stuff for good? Start with these five simple (and EFFECTIVE) strategies for creating a healthier lifestyle. And if you’re looking for some more guidance, why not join my zero-restriction, Eat More Plants Challenge? Or, get some one-on-one support from a registered dietitian to help you customize a strategy to meet your unique needs?
- Eat More Plants Yep, it’s really that simple. Eating more whole plant foods, including whole grains, fruits and vegetables, legumes, nuts and seeds will help you feel your best. They contain a ton of nutrition to support your metabolism and fibre to boost your gut health while being lower in added sugars and animal fats.
- Drink More Water Why do dietitians talk about water all the time? Well, our body is essentially an ocean. Dehydration can lead to low energy levels, constipation and even wreak havoc on our skin, blood pressure and our kidneys. I like a really big glass first thing when I wake up to help encourage a healthy bowel movement and energize me so I don’t need that second or third coffee.
- Make high fibre swaps Fibre is critical for better gut health and creating a healthy gut microbiome, which supports your immune system and overall health. Swap in sprouted grain bread for regular whole wheat. Eat high fibre chickpeas a few times a week. Enjoy frozen berries in your oatmeal. Snack on apples. Add some ground flax or chia to your daily life.
- Choose 1-2 habits to focus on at a time to make it permanent. Permanent change requires permanent change, so go slow and steady to make sure that it feels easy to change. Once those couple of changes – say a big glass of water in the morning and a handful of almonds each afternoon – feels easy, then tack on another 1-2 habits. What you lose in 7 day ‘results’ you make up for in permanent progress.
- Think more, not less. Restriction is boring and sets you up for deficiencies and hunger. Human cannot live by carrot sticks alone!!! Instead, think of the habits you want to add, instead of take away. Try new foods whenever you can, and explore new recipes which makes healthy eating more interesting…and even your microbiome will thank you! Data from the American Gut Project suggests that folks who eat more than 30 different plant foods a week have healthier microbiome than folks who eat fewer than ten.