Why Dieting Doesn’t Work

Mar 9, 2015 //

“Let’s face it: If diets worked, we’d all be thin already.”
— Sandra Aamodt

Trying to lose weight through dieting alone can often lead
to a cycle of weight loss followed by weight gain and feelings of failure. This
process of dieting, losing weight and then gaining it back has been termed
“yo-yo dieting,” and it can elevate the body’s levels of stress hormones,
leading to negative long-term health effects. Why don’t diets work? Instead of
looking at your body, the answer may actually be in your brain.

The Brain-Weight Connection

The brain controls the process of hunger and energy use
without your conscious awareness, just like it tells your heart to beat and
your lungs to breathe. The area of the brain that regulates body weight is the
hypothalamus, and it works in conjunction with over a dozen chemicals to signal
your body to gain or lose weight by adjusting hunger cues, metabolism and
activity levels.

Sandra Aamodt is a neuroscientist and author, whose TED
talk on why dieting doesn’t work
has been viewed over two million times.
Sandra knows exactly why your brain won’t let you diet your way to permanent
weight loss.

According to Aamodt’s research, your brain has a “set point”
– it’s own range of what your body should weigh. This range can vary by 10 to
15 pounds, and the choices you make moves you up or down within that range but
rarely take you outside of it. If you do lose a lot of weight, your brain’s
response is that your body is starving, and it will try to make you gain it

Even a successful diet attempt that leads to weight loss
doesn’t lower your set point. Your brain will attempt to get your body back to
this set point, even after a period as long as seven years.

Losing Weight – and Keeping It Off

Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University has found that
successful dieters who have lost 10 percent of their body weight will have
suppressed metabolisms that burn up to 400 calories less per day. In order to
maintain that weight loss, these dieters must consume that much less food for
the rest of their lives to keep that weight from coming back.

UCLA researchers performed a meta analysis of 31 long-term
studies on weight loss. They found that five
years after a diet, most people will regain all of the weight they lost
while nearly half will have gained even more. They determined that participants
would have been better off maintaining their weight, rather than adding stress
to their bodies by losing it and gaining more back.

One of the study co-authors, Janet Tomiyama, stated “Several
studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future
weight gain.”
In one study, participants who had taken part of a formal
weight-loss program experienced more significant weight gains than those who
hadn’t over a two-year period.

What You Should Do Instead

If dieting doesn’t work, is there a way to break bad eating
habits and reduce
body fat

Yes, and it may involve letting go of some control. Psychologists
classify people into two types of eaters. The first type is “intuitive eaters”,
those who listen to cues from their body that they’re hungry, and respond to
those cues. The second type is “controlled eaters”. Controlled eaters try to
use willpower, schedules or restrictions to influence what they eat. Controlled
eaters are found to be more vulnerable to overeating and are more likely to
binge than intuitive eaters, who spend less time overall thinking about food.
By listening to your body’s cues for hunger, and then eating mindfully, you can
transition away from being a controlled eater and gain an intuitive eater

Another way to help make positive changes in your
relationship with food is to break away from foods that have addicting effects
on the brain, such as sugar. Research has shown that sugar leads to
addictive behaviors
similar to those druge abusers display, including
binging, withdrawal and cravings. Excessive sugar intake is thought to have the
same neurochemical effects as drugs in the brain that lead to dependency.

Add In Exercise

Diets may not be effective for lasting weight loss, but that
doesn’t mean you can’t reduce fat and get to a healthy body mass. Researchers
have found that physical
exercise is associated with better health
and reduced risk of diseases like
type-2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, dementia and obesity. High
Intensity Interval Training
(HIIT) in particular has been studied and found
to have promising results in abdominal fat loss,
in addition to dramatic effects on insulin sensitivity and increased muscle

It’s time to replace a “diet” mentality with a healthy
lifestyle and intuitive, mindful approach to food. Diets don’t work. Paying
attention to your body, eating only when you are hungry, avoiding addictive and
harmful sugary foods, and getting plenty of regular physical activity are the
keys to fat loss and achieving the healthy weight at which your body and brain
want you to be.

Melissa Zimmerman

Melissa Zimmerman is a freelance writer specializing in health and nutrition writing. A California native living in Central Oregon, Melissa enjoys the outdoor adventures and beauty of the Pacific Northwest. When she is not kayaking on the river, you can find her in a yoga studio or practicing asanas outdoors. Melissa is a big believer in the power of yoga and healthy food to radically improve anyone's quality of life.

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