This article is for all serial dieters. If you’ve been dieting on and off for years yet never achieved or maintained your “goal” weight, you’ve been handcuffed to the multi-billion dollar diet industry. I’m here to tell you why you need to break free and how to do it.
Why You Need to Break Free From Dieting
If you are a perpetual dieter, in search of the latest magic weight loss diet or pill, you may be doing more harm than good.
Dieting Slows Your Metabolism
Losing weight leads to a drop in the amount of calories you burn each day so you need to cut your calories even more after you lose the weight to maintain your new weight. This happens even if you preserve muscle (each pound of muscle burns about four more calories per day then a pound of fat) (9). This is termed metabolic adaptation and the reasons for it aren’t entirely clear though the decrease in metabolism is correlated with how many calories you cut and changes in the hormone leptin. Leptin is a hormone secreted by fat cells; it helps regulate body weight and energy balance (7, 8).
The more you cut calories the more your metabolism will drop.
Rapid and massive weight loss seems to lead to the greatest drop in metabolic rate.
Though this happens, it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t lose weight if needed for health reasons. However, the “Oprah” cycle of repetitive low calorie dieting followed by weight regain needs to stop.
Diets Over Promise and Under Deliver
Diets promise you’ll get ripped in no time. Research tells us you won’t lose all of the weight you expect to lose (1). And that’s ok. However, unrealistic expectations are a problem because they make you want to ditch the diet or worse, binge eat because you are pissed off that you’ve been lied to.
Reign in your expectations with these validated weight loss calculators:
Pennington Biomedical Research Center Weight Loss Calculator
Your Life Won’t Magically Change
Dieting tells you your entire life will get better once you lose 10 lbs. Sure, you might need to hem a few pairs of pants and your self esteem may improve a bit. However, you won’t turn into a GQ or Sports Illustrated swimsuit edition cover model. Your boss will treat you the same, your relationships won’t magically improve and everything else in your life might appear to be static if you are waiting for fireworks.
There are many times I run into people who want to lose weight and as I start asking questions and digging I realize they are attempting to control their weight and hyper control their food intake because there is something in their life that is out of control. They are transferring the focus on their body, food and exercise to calm their brain down and decrease anxiety about parts of their life that are raveling out of control.
Don’t use dieting as an excuse to avoid major life issues.
Dieting Tells You “You’re Not Okay”
Many popular diets, pills and programs marketed through airbrushed ads tell you one thing “there is something is wrong with you and this book, program or pill can help you fix it.” They are preying on your vulnerable self-esteem. Taking the bait is like jumping into a dark and depressing pit over and over, attempting to crawl out, losing your grip and getting kicked right back down. Every time you gain a little weight back or judge yourself based on the bathroom scale you’ll feel dejected.
“Where there is perfectionism there is always shame (guilt, regret, sadness),” Brene Brown.
Consistently feeding your mind with a diet of “I’m not good enough” is no way to live. Treat yourself with some respect.
“I’m not good enough” is also a mental roadblock to achieving your goals. One day you’ll have a tough day, come home and say “F this. I’m fat, I might as well eat this whole package of Milky Ways.” Next thing you know you feel like a failure and fall into the ultimate Feedback Loop from Hell. “Why can’t I stick with a diet? I suck.” Once stuck in this mindset, it’s hard to recognize there could be something wrong with the diet itself and the promises (lies) you’ve been told if you just follow it.
I’m here to say you are okay.
Letting Go of the Diet Crutch
If you’ve been dieting on and off for years, recognize that you will have some anxiety in letting go. That’s okay. There are steps you can take to combat anxiety over time and still achieve good health.
What if You Want to / Need to Lose Weight?
If you need lose weight for health reasons, yet you’ve dieted over and over in the past, without reaching your goal, it is time to do something different. Here are steps you can take to a healthier weight and life without dieting:
• Get Support – research shows people who have support are more likely to take weight off and less likely to gain it back.
• Keep in mind moderate weight loss can make a tremendous difference in health. Even small amounts of weight loss can lower blood fats (triglycerides), cholesterol, blood sugar, risk for diabetes and other chronic diseases.
• Start with exercise while focusing on the immediate benefits of exercise – improved mood, improved memory, greater self esteem.
• Be proud of small “wins.” If you haven’t exercised since recess in elementary school, it isn’t necessary to jump right into high intensity interval training three days per week. Start small and be proud of your changes along the way. Even 5 to 10 minutes of exercise each day plus one diet change will help build healthy long-term habits.
• Realize that nobody is looking at you in your bathing suit on the beach and judging your body. We are the harshest critics of ourselves. Someday you will look back and regret not wearing that bathing suit and enjoying the water.
• Go on a diet from the media. Constantly viewing “ideal” body images reduces body satisfaction. In other words, the more you look at popular magazines with airbrushed pictures the worse you will feel about yourself (2, 3, 4). This is true for both men and women.
• Find a physical trait you love and focus on it daily. You will feel better about your body when you focus on the parts of your body you like the best. Conversely, focusing on the parts of your body you do not like will increase body dissatisfaction (5).
• Check out the Happiness Trap – an empowering self-help book based on behavioral psychology.
Follow This Approach
The best approach to not dieting is called Intuitive Eating. Intuitive eating breaks the dieting cycle and teaches you how to feed your body based on hunger and satiety cues. There are number of intuitive eating counselors who can help you with this.
I use diets, when warranted, and prescribed the right way for those who are not perpetual dieters and don’t have eating disorders or disordered eating. I do not recommend them for people who have gone on and off them for years and have a poor body image. I will never forget the time I counseled a woman in her 30s who had been on and off Weight Watchers since she was a pre-teen. She said, “it works for me.” She was surprised at my response “no, it hasn’t worked for you because if it did you wouldn’t be sitting in front of me today.” She said she was ashamed about how she looked. My response, “let’s work on that. It’s time to let go, break free, give up emotional overeating and body shame.” That’s no way to live.
1 Dhurandhar EJ et al. Predicting adult weight change in the real world: a systematic review and meta-analysis accounting for compensatory changes in energy intake or expenditure. Int J Obes (Lond) 2015;39(8):1181-7.
2 Morry MM, Staska SL. Magazine exposure: Internalization, self-objectification, eating attitudes, and body satisfaction in male and female university students. Can J Behav 2001; 33: 269–279
3 Grabe S, Ward LM, Hyde JS. The role of the media in body image concerns among women: a meta-analysis of experimental and correlational studies.
Psychol Bull 2008;134(3):460-76.
4 Agliata D, Tantleff-Dunn S (2004) The impact of media exposure on males’ body image. J Soc Clin Psychol 23: 7–22
5 Smeets E, Jansen A, Roefs A. Bias for the (un)attractive self: on the role of attention in causing body (dis)satisfaction. Health Psychol 2011;30(3):360-7.
6 Lowe MR et al. Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite 2006;47(1):83-90.
7 Zhou Y and Rui L. Leptin signaling and leptin resistance. Front Med 7: 207-222, 2013.
8 Knuth ND, Johannsen DL, Tamboli RA, Marks-Shulman PA, Huizenga R, Chen KY, Abumrad NN, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic adaptation following massive weight loss is related to the degree of energy imbalance and changes in circulating leptin. Obesity (Silver Spring) 22: 2563-2569, 2014.
9 Johannsen DL, Knuth ND, Huizenga R, Rood JC, Ravussin E, and Hall KD. Metabolic slowing with massive weight loss despite preservation of fat-free mass. J Clin Endocrinol Metab 2012; 97: 2489-2496.