The truth is, if you follow a diet you probably will lose weight, at least in the short term. The best evidence we have suggests that weight loss is possible for a maximum of about 6 months. After 6 months, it is extremely likely that you will start to regain the weight you have lost.
We are so sure of this in fact that the Australia National Health and Medical Research Council considers this to be “Level A” evidence which is the strongest level of evidence that that can be awarded in science.
But why is this? Is it just that people can’t stick to their diets – that is to say no-one is disciplined enough to tough out a diet in the long run? Absolutely not.
Diets fail because they trigger starvation mode
Starvation mode is a biological stress response which is triggered by the body when it receives insufficient energy. Whenever you diet or restrict your food intake the body thinks it is starving and triggers off a whole lot of processes that are designed to help you gain weight. These include:
- Increasing the amount of time you think about food
- Slowing down your metabolism
- Increasing your levels of hunger
- Rerouting energy expenditure
What this does, over time, is increase your body’s set point. You set point is a weight range of 5-7kg that your body operates best at. It is a genetically determined weight range and has nothing to do with the BMI. You cannot manipulate your set point lower, but you can make it higher by restricting your food intake via weight loss dieting. Once the body is triggered to increase your set point, it is almost impossible to encourage the body to lower it again.
Diets do permanent damage
Recent studies conducted on past The Biggest Loser contestants suggest that it is really hard to revert metabolism levels back to pre-diet levels once they have been significantly lowered via weight loss dieting. That is to say, once the metabolism is slowed it is very hard to get it to speed up again.
It is common among diet companies and medical professionals to hold the false belief that making a fat person thin means that their body behaves exactly the same as someone who was never fat. This is simply not the case.
The very act of dieting / restricting food intake raises levels of inflammation in the body and while these levels may decrease when the diet is stopped, the damage that the inflammation has done remains and increases the risk of many disease including heart disease.
Large fluctuations in weight (commonly seen during a diet) have also been associated with an increased risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
Diets mess with your head
In addition to this, diets do a lot of psychological damage to a person. Typically, someone on a diet will experience an increase in:
- Body dissatisfaction
- Food obsession and worry
And a decrease in:
- self esteem
- feelings of self worth
- self efficacy
Perhaps most significant is the likelihood of a person developing an eating disorder because they have dieted.
Eating Disorders affect all ages, races, sexes, genders, social classes equally and without discrimination. Once an eating disorder is established recovery is a long and complex process with a significant risk of relapse. Eating Disorders are a complex mental and physical disorder which carry the highest risk of death out of all mental illness.
Paradoxically, engaging in dieting behaviors makes people exercise less, eat less healthy foods and makes practicing good self care really hard.
So what can you do instead you might be wondering? You health and well being is important to you and you want to know that you can be doing things that will add to your health.
Enter: the Non-Diet Approach
The Non-Diet Approach offers a gentle, compassionate and holistic alternative to dieting.