Before I began writing this piece I sat back and tried to think of all the different diets I’ve subscribed to over the years. It all started with Atkins back in high school, natch. In college I bought the entire Suzanne Somers diet book series. My early 20s were the completely calorie restrictive years, or as I like to call them “the hangry and hungover” years. Oh and more recently I tried intermittent juicing. The only thing these plans have in common—aside from being both trendy and torturous—sooner or later, they all failed me or I failed them. Either way, the point is, fad diets are doomed to crash and burn—stats indicate a 95% failure rate! The majority of them leave us feeling frustrated, famished and like complete failures…Not to mention, no leaner than when we started. In fact, studies show that dieting is actually one of the strongest predictors for future weight gain. #Sabotage!
I’ve only recently come to the realization that a balanced, moderate and forgiving lifestyle is the most effective way to maintain my waistline (and my sanity). And it looks like the research is on my side. Here are all the (scientifically proven) reasons why diets suck!
The “can’t” effect
Most “diets” are characterized by what we can and (mostly) cannot eat. (Think: sugar free, gluten free, dairy free, carb free, taste free, fun free etc.) These strict regimens generally leave us looking at that communal plate of appetizers during happy hour with co-workers thinking, “shit, I can’t have a single thing on that plate.” Fast forward a few tortured minutes and we’ve likely given up the good fight, leaving us double-fisting potato skins and shaming ourselves for it later. But it’s not our fault. Turns out we’re scientifically setting ourselves up for failure by telling ourselves we can’t have something in the first place. Yes, researchers out of Houston found that changing the language from “I can’t” to “I don’t” when it comes to junk food makes us eight times more likely to make healthy decisions. This lingo swap allows us to feel in control and in charge of what we’re eating, instead of feeling forced into deprivation and triggering a total rebellion.
The metabolism effect
When we diet we’re not just missing out on delicious food and a guilt-free existence, we’re also missing out on a valuable weight loss technique. Ironic, I know. The key to slimming down is keeping our metabolisms guessing. When we’re stuck with eating (and not eating) the same things every day our metabolisms can get lazy and complacent. Indulging in some non-diet foods every so often—think salad for lunch and pasta for dinner—drastically improves the speed of our metabolisms by stimulating a hormone called leptin, responsible for sending hunger messages to the brain. This boost forces our bodies to burn extra fat stores (see ya later, saddlebags) and keeps the metabolism motor running. Without that little extra indulgence here and there the leptin plummets and so to do our burning capabilities.
The cravings effect
Ever wake up craving something sweet? Sadly, some days that poached egg or green smoothie just isn’t satisfying, leaving us to go about the rest of the day dreaming of glazed Krispy Kremes. The longer we go without scratching the itch, the louder the longing gets, until we just can’t white knuckle it any longer and we dive into a bag of doughnuts face first. This is why they call it binging and purging; we deprive ourselves for as long as our “willpower” can stand it and then lose complete control. Researchers out of Tel Aviv conclude that those who give into in their sweet cravings immediately have better weight loss success overall. Not just that, but according to these experts, actually having a bit of dessert with breakfast is a beneficial strategy. It takes the snowball effect out of the equation, not allowing the craving to grow until it is impossible to ignore. Chocolate omelette, anyone?
The failure effect
A common symptom of being on a diet is an “all or nothing” mentality. We’re either on a restrictive eating plan or we’re eating everything in sight—no grey area, no margin of error. Researchers agree that when we deviate from “the diet rules” (either accidentally or on purpose) it can make us feel like failures, creating a sense of defeat and causing us to give up and go the complete opposite direction. [See binge eating, above.] This is a major flaw in the “cheat meal” mentality—it associates treating ourselves, from time to time, with doing something bad and being weak. Instead experts say that small indulges should be a part of the every day routine in order to avoid these negative and destructive feelings. This is basically my new excuse for eating a piece of dark chocolate with every meal! Insert the thumbs up emoji, here.