How to stop dieting- why diets don’t work and what to do instead

Chances are that either you or someone you know is on a diet right now. Billions of dollars are spent on the diet industry every year. And yet, there is a growing amount of research showing that dieting, in an effort to change one’s body size, does not work. 

Dieting can lead to metabolic changes in the body, low self-esteem, and a poor relationship with food (1). So, it’s time that we start to look at dieting for what it really is and say no to the next diet that pops up on our news feed or is presented by our well-meaning friends. 

Keep reading to learn more about how to stop dieting and what you can do instead to feel good and honor your health.

Definition of a diet

A diet is a way of eating that restricts calories (energy) or a specific food group in an effort to change the size or shape of a person’s body. Any time you notice that there are very specific lists of foods to eat and/or avoid, that is a sign it is a diet. 

Unless you are medically unable to digest or consume a specific food, for example, if you have celiac disease or lactose intolerance, there is no reason you need to limit yourself to specific lists of foods.  

Disadvantages of dieting

There are many reasons that diets fail. In fact, there are 150 studies showing that dieting does not work. Initially, dieting may lead to weight loss however, long-term dieting can lead to more weight gain (1). This is referred to as weight cycling. 

Restrictive eating and intentional weight loss can lead to fat overshooting when the diet is over (2). Fat overshooting happens when the body tries to restore energy levels and overcompensates by both eating more food than before the diet started and increasing weight and fat composition beyond pre-dieting levels.

Effects on the body

Diets often don’t consider your genetic body type, muscle mass, energy levels, sleep patterns, or hormone fluctuations which can all impact how your body will respond to changing food intake to meet the diet’s recommendations. 

Mental Health

Thoughts about food can become obsessive and take up more of your brain space than before you started restricting food (2). Many diets promote negative body image and can make you feel bad about the way you look and feel. 

Dieting can lead to increased feelings of guilt and worry about food. It can increase fantasizing about foods as well as obsessing over forbidden foods. Mood swings can occur when restricting food. 

Lack of body trust is increased as someone relies more on what they are told to eat. You may eat differently when around others than when alone or compare your food intake to what others are eating. Binge eating can happen more often due to restriction of food during the day. 

Kids notice

Kids are naturally intuitive eaters (intuitive eating occurs when someone is able to trust their body to eat enough food for their needs and can acknowledge the pleasures of eating). However, when parents restrict food, kids pick up on those habits (3). For example, if a parent talks negatively about sweets, kids may try to hide sweets or become even more interested in sweets. Read this article if you want more advice on raising intuitive eaters.

Weight talk by family members, even when talking about their own weight, can lead to increased dieting behaviors in children or teenagers which is a risk factor for both eating disorders and increased weight gain (4). 

How to stop dieting

Learning how to eat intuitively can help you become more in-tune with your body’s energy needs and rediscover the joys of eating. One way Evelyn Tribole defines Intuitive Eating is, “Compassionate self-care eating framework rooted in dignity and respect for all bodies.”. 

The 10 principles of Intuitive Eating are: 

  • Reject the diet mentality
  • Honor your hunger
  • Make peace with food
  • Challenge the food police
  • Discover the satisfaction factor
  • Feel your fullness
  • Cope with emotions with kindness
  • Respect your body
  • Movement- feel the difference
  • Honor your health- gentle nutrition
10 principals of intuitive eating written on an image

All ten principles of intuitive eating are equally important and you can dive in by reading the book, Intuitive Eating: A Revolutionary Program that Works by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. But if you’re eager to get started right now. Here are the first few things I encourage clients to start with.

1. Notice diet culture

Start paying attention to the way the media talks about food, health, and body size. Notice the way that your friends and family discuss dieting and health. Start to reject the idea that you have to be on a specific diet that will change your body size in order to be healthy. This is not true. Start catching yourself when you label foods as “good” or “bad”, “healthy” or “junk”. Remind yourself that all foods can fit. 

2. Nourishment as self care

Begin to view food as a way to provide nourishment to your body. Eating a variety of foods that please your taste preferences and honor your health is a form of self-care. Ask yourself, “what foods sound good to me?” and “how do I want to feel after eating this meal/snack?”. These two questions can help you decide what type of meal/snack best meets your needs. 

3. Eat consistently

Set yourself up for success by eating consistently throughout the day. Some find it easier to eat 6 small meals throughout the day, while others enjoy 3 meals and smaller snacks between meals. No matter which schedule you prefer, start your day with breakfast within an hour of waking and then plan food to be spaced somewhat evenly throughout the rest of the day.

Consistently feeding yourself helps your body to tune into hunger and fullness cues. It also helps reduce intense cravings so its easier to make balanced food choices. 

4. Make peace with your body

To truly be able to eat intuitively, you need to make peace with your body. You don’t necessarily need to reach a place where you love everything about it. However, practicing body neutrality and appreciating your body is essential. Start by actively noticing when you think or speak negatively about a part of your body, begin trying to stop those thoughts. Instead, replace negative thoughts with an appreciative or neutral thought.

For example, if you notice that you don’t like the way your arms look in a t-shirt, think about all of the things your arms allow you to do, like hold your kids when they need you or carry in a load of groceries. Don’t force positive thoughts if you aren’t ready, overtime making peace with your body will make it easier to be kind to yourself.  

Final Thoughts

Dieting is woven into our culture and the idea is sold to many who believe they need to change their body shape in order to be healthy. 

There is a growing body of research showing the many negative side effects of dieting and how dieting can actually lead to poorer long term health outcomes. 

Choosing to learn how to eat intuitively by trusting your body’s internal hunger and fullness cues, understanding the complex reasons why we eat, and nourishing ourselves as a form of self-care can lead to a healthier life and a more positive relationship with our bodies and food. 

What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear what you think about dieting and intuitive eating. Comment below to start the conversation.

This information is for educational purposes only and is not meant to be a substitute for medical treatment or diagnosis. You should consult with your doctor before changing your diet or starting supplements for any health condition.

1 thought on “How to stop dieting- why diets don’t work and what to do instead”

  1. Love this! I love the positive thoughts when we reflect negative on our body parts! I’m going to train my brain to do that! Great article!

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