Diets. The word most of us don’t want to hear. Restriction, stress, and boring foods is probably what springs to mind. Perhaps you’ve had success from a diet, but if you’re part of the majority, diets haven’t worked for you.
According to the CDC, half of all adults in the U.S. are currently on a diet. That’s 56.3 percent of women and 42.2 percent of men. But despite these high figures of dieting, nearly half of the population is obese and an additional 32 percent are overweight. If diets worked, these figures wouldn’t be so high. What the figures of obesity show is that diets are in an ineffective way to manage body weight. So why do diets not work? Here’s what we know, and what you can do about it.
Diets Confuse People
There’s always a new diet on the scene: the Atkins diet, South Beach diet, Vegan, Ketogenic, Paleo, The Zone diet, The 5:2 diet… you name it. These dies float in and out of popularity. For example, in 2020, the Ketogenic diet was the most Googled food-related topic in the world, with more than 25.4 million searches.
But each year, things change. Nutrition knowledge constantly changes. One minute you’ll see a headline entitled “Why carbs are bad”, the next, it’s “Why carbs will help you lose weight.” This is because results from studies and research can be skewed and biased. Not to mention the fact that an incorrect interpretation of the data can spread like wildfire on the internet, particularly if it's controversial.
So that’s the first reason why diets don’t work. They confuse people. There is too much conflicting information out there, and more often than not, it leads people feeling lost. They might try to stick to the diet plan for a short while, but as soon as they start hearing new information about other diets or ‘new research’, they decide to give up.
Eating well shouldn’t be confusing.
Diets Focus on Restriction
It’s well-documented that caloric restriction is the only way to lose weight, and every diet is only as successful as the deficit it creates. But with that being said, starving yourself isn’t going to get you the body you want.
When you drastically restrict your food intake, you’re more likely to obsess over food. Your brain is programmed to stay well-fed, it’s part of human evolution. So when you don’t eat enough, you start to compulsively focus on food - particularly high-calorie foods. Your body needs nutrition, and a diet that focuses on drastic restrictions is not effective. Research shows that what ends up often happening is a period of starvation followed by binge behavior.
Instead, focus on creating a small deficit of 200-300 calories per day if you are overweight. Listen to your body, don’t try to restrict yourself.
Diets are Hard to Maintain
Diets are often unrealistic and unsustainable. The Ketogenic diet involves consuming very high amounts of fat - 85 percent of your total caloric intake. For most people, this is extremely hard to maintain. We have jobs, social lives, and responsibilities. It’s difficult to grab a ketogenic snack when you’re on the go or out with friends. For this reason, diets with strict guidelines have a high failure rate.
Do All Diets Fail?
This answer depends on how you interpret the word ‘diet’. A diet is what you habitually eat. It’s not a fad diet that lasts a week before your vacation. It’s not what you eat around Christmas. If you want to lose weight, it’s a sign that you need to readjust your entire lifestyle and eating habits.
Obesity happens when individuals make unhealthy food choices, and eat too much, in relation to their activity levels. In this case, a conventional ‘diet’ is not what is needed. A lifestyle change is.
You don’t need a diet, you need a lifestyle change. You don’t need to restrict your food intake, you need to change your food intake. You don’t need to feel guilty and ashamed, you need to feel empowered to transform your life.
A healthy diet that you could try to adopt and maneuver into is the Mediterranean diet. The Seven Countries study was the first major study that connected diet and disease across a range of people, ages and cultures around the world. The goal of the study was to find the healthiest diet in the world.
The study found that the Mediterranean diet was the healthiest. The diet itself is high in plant based foods, like fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes and nuts. It is high in healthy fats, particularly extra virgin olive oil and avocados. The main protein source comes from fish, some poultry and occasionally red meat. Red wine can be consumed in moderation, and herbs and spices are used in cooking more so than salt.
If you’re struggling with your weight, perhaps try to eat more of a Mediterranean style diet to get the best results.
The Most Effective Way to Lose Weight
So we’ve come to the conclusion that diets pretty much suck. So what can you do instead if you need to lose weight?
In one line: Lift weights! Eat whole foods! No aggressive cuts! Nourish your body!
Changing your diet is just one component. You also need to start exercising effectively. This is summarized in a 2015 meta-analysis of over 200 studies. The study discovered that diet brings about the most change to body weight, but when combined with exercise - specifically weight training - the body is healthier overall, and weight loss is sustained over the long term.
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Your dream life is waiting for you. Kick the fad diets to the curb and start to nourish your body with good food.