By Alison Halpern, RD, CHES, Wellness Manager
Welcome to the New Year! We’re only a few days in and already ads are popping up everywhere about the newest diet trends and answers for weight loss. Sneakiest of all are the diets disguised as “wellness” and “lifestyle change”. Don’t be fooled – if it promises weight loss, it’s a diet, and if it’s a diet here are three reasons you may want to steer clear.
REASON 1: DIETS DON'T WORK
The obvious number one reason not to diet is this: Dieting does not work. Ever wonder why you have to keep going on a diet every New Year’s Day? It’s simply because food restriction for long-term weight loss is ineffective. It’s not you, it’s the diet. Now, this is something the diet industry knows that people are catching on to, which is why so many programs are being marketed as “wellness,” “clean living,” or “lifestyle change.” There are a ton of biological mechanisms at work to ensure that dieting does not work in the long term. Dieting is basically a form of voluntary starvation, but your body doesn’t know that you’re doing it on purpose. During times of famine your body kicks into gear to conserve energy by decreasing your metabolism, increasing food cravings and the urge to binge eat, slowing the rate of weight loss with each successive attempt to diet, and retaining more fat when you start eating again1. UCLA researchers analyzed the results of over 30 diet interventions and found that one-third to two-thirds of people on diets regain more weight than they lost within four or five years2. Furthermore, evidence suggests that repeatedly losing and gaining weight is linked to cardiovascular disease, stroke, diabetes and altered immune function.
REASON 2: WEIGHT LOSS IS NOT A PREREQUISITE FOR HEALTH
More and more research is emerging that shows weight and health do not go hand in hand. One large study found that fifty four million Americans are labeled obese or overweight according to their body mass index (BMI), but are actually metabolically healthy3. The research shows that weight-driven approaches to health lead to decreased body satisfaction, repeated cycles of weight loss and weight gain, reduced self-esteem, increased incidence of eating disorders, and the perpetuation of weight-based discrimination4. Meaning, focusing on weight as an indicator of health can actually make you less healthy. True health is about so much more than body size.
REASON 3: GOALS ARE MORE ATTAINABLE WHEN THEY ARE BASED ON VALUES
Finally, this new year, think about the distinction between goals and values. Goals are something that you can check off a list, like lose ten pounds, run a 5-K, or go skydiving. Values are intrinsic, they help guide your behavior and define who you are. Values might include adventure, peace, family, friends, spirituality, nature, learning, or health. When your goals do not align with your values, often you are setting yourself up for failure. Diets are rarely based on internal values, rather they are based on external standards of beauty and the perception of health. Setting values-based goals can help you achieve what really matters to you, and your values will outlast willpower, motivation, or fads.
Now you might be thinking, “If I’m not dieting, how can I eat to be healthy in 2019?” The Mount Wellness movement’s Eat Green initiative encourages our community to increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. The fundamentals of a healthy eating pattern have been clear for some time. Eat a combination of foods you like that include fruit, vegetables, whole grains, beans, legumes, nuts and seeds, and water, with or without meat, fish, or dairy. Eat fun foods, eat with people, eat often, and eat when you are hungry. Remember that healthy choices can be hard to make even when they’re simple. Most of all, be vigilant about how the culture of dieting can make you doubt yourself and your choices, erode your values, and derail your journey to true health and wellness.
Alison Halpern is a registered dietitian and certified health education specialist, and is the wellness manager in the Department of Sports and Wellness at Mount Saint Mary’s University.
- Tribole, E. and Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive eating. New York: St. Martin's Griffin.
- Mann, T., Tomiyama, A., Westling, E., Lew, A., Samuels, B. and Chatman, J. (2007). Medicare's search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. American Psychologist, 62(3), pp.220-233.
- Tomiyama, A., Hunger, J., Nguyen-Cuu, J. and Wells, C. (2016). Misclassification of cardiometabolic health when using body mass index categories in NHANES 2005–2012. International Journal of Obesity, 40(5), pp.883-886.
- Bacon L, Aphramor L. Weight science: Evaluating the evidence for a paradigm shift. Nutrition J 2011;10:5.