Why Diets Don't Work
By Debbie Bowman, RHN
On-Staff Nutritionist for Edible Island Whole Foods Market
Diets are made to fail. I say this with confidence because statistically it's true - ninety five percent of the people who start a diet won't lose weight or keep it off.
But we are ever hopeful. Like our waistlines, the list of diet books on display at the local bookstore or on the top ten list is ever expanding. Every day people start a new diet, firmly believing that this time, this diet will actually work.
So what's wrong with this picture? Why do so many diets fail and what can we do to turn those statistics around?
Diets fail for three main reasons:
1. Diets are too strict.
What happens the minute you tell yourself you won't ever have sugar again? You start to want it more and more. After several days it's all you can do to resist. This way of thinking isn't something that can withstand the ups and downs of life and it doesn't lead to a joyful and healthy respect for food.
Instead, you can change the 'I can't' to an 'I can…but'. I can have that brownie, but I choose to not have it right now. This subtle shift in your perception of food puts you in control, not the other way around.
A good rule to follow is the 80/20 rule. You will eat a healthy diet eighty percent of the time, but you will allow yourself to indulge in your favourite treats twenty percent of the time. What does this mean in real life? Well, you may see that brownie and really want it. However, you know you are having a girls night on Saturday, and your best friend is bringing a tray of her famous brownies - so you decide to save your indulgence for that evening. When the evening comes, you can have a brownie without guilt or remorse.
The interesting thing is that the more you adopt a healthy diet, the less you will crave those foods that seem so important in the beginning. With time you may decide that the way those foods make you feel isn't worth consuming them at all.
2. Diets are centred around an all-or-nothing philosophy.
Imagine this scenario….You are on day six of your diet and things are going well. Unfortunately, it's your co-worker's going away party and everyone expects you to have some cake and a glass of champagne. You succumb with guilt and afterwards you feel like your diet has failed. In fact, you didn't even make it a week. You might as well have a second slice of cake.
Once again, the 80/20 comes into play, as it allows for the occasional slice of cake or glass of champagne. Setting aside days where you can indulge helps to keep you and your goals on track. Before you know it, your diet is no longer a diet, it's a lifestyle change. Which leads me to the last reason why many diets fail.
4. Diets are not meant to last a lifetime.
Diets are usually created around a span of time, or they are so restrictive that most people can't continue them for long.
Saying goodbye forever to the foods we love isn't something that makes us smile - it's downright depressing and it sets us up for failure. Instead, we should crowd out the things we know we shouldn't have everyday by adding in more healthy foods. Fill that shopping cart with fresh vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, whole grains, wild fish, and free-range eggs - you'll find you don't have as much room or inclination to add the unhealthy foods.
At meal times, cover your plate with colourful and exciting salads or roasted vegetables. You won't have as much room - on your plate or in your stomach - for those other, less healthy foods.
Stock your pantry and your fridge with healthy snacks such as fresh fruits, artisan cheeses and delicious pre-sliced veggies - having the good stuff on hand means less likelihood of grabbing something you shouldn't.
Notice the difference? We aren't cutting things out. Instead, we are adding things to our menu - healthy foods that nourish, sustain and satisfy. By adding in more, we are not necessarily taking things out, we are just making better choices. Those other foods are still there, but they no longer have a hold on us.
This philosophy is different from the many restrictive diets that are popular these days. This is a positive lifestyle change that can be maintained and enjoyed for a lifetime - and it's one that set's you up for success.