Why diets don't work

Hey guys, I’m back with a post that I’m very passionate about. It is quite long, so get a cup of tea and get comfy! 

Diets are often promoted as a quick fix to lose weight and I’m against them for a number of reasons.

Short answer:
Diets don’t work.

Long answer:
  •     You gain the weight back after
  •      Any dietary changes need to long term and sustainable
  •     They demonise certain food groups
  •     They encourage restriction which can lead to disordered eating
  •      Weight doesn’t always indicate health
  •      They don’t help people understand nutrition

What are calories and how do we gain weight?

To make everything easier I’m going to explain what calories are. Calories are a unit of energy. They are often displayed as kcal. The average adult man needs 2500 calories and the average adult women needs 2000 calories a day. This gives us the energy to keep our body working on a daily basis. 

These figures are an average so each person’s individual needs will vary based on things like age, physical activity, and health. Every food and drink has calories, apart from water. The calories in foods and drink come from macronutrients or alcohol. Every food is comprised of one or more of the macronutrients - carbohydrates, fat, and protein. 

They give us energy in the form of calories as shown:
  • 1g of protein has 4 calories
  • 1g of carbohydrates has 4 calories
  • 1g of fat has 9 calories
  • 1g of alcohol has 7 calories
Weight gain is very complex, and many factors can affect it but to simplify it, it's calories in versus calories out. So if your body needs 2000 calories a day and you consume 2000 calories you will maintain your weight. If you need 2000 calories and consume 2500 calories you will gain weight. If you need 2000 calories and consume 1500 calories you will lose weight. 

vintage weighing scales

This weight change happens over time so having one day of excess calories won't lead to instant weight gain. Just like how a quick fix diet won't work either with instant weight loss. 

You actually need to consume about 3500 excess calories to gain 1 pound in weight. You need to have a deficit of 3500 calories to have 1 pound of fat loss. But, this number changes as your weight changes.And the amount of energy you need daily depends on your body weight so it’s not that simple.

Now, onto why I don’t like diets...

You gain the weight back:

This is often called ‘yo yo’ dieting where your weight fluctuates up and down like a yo yo. There's a never ending cycle of losing weight, so you think the diet is working and slip back into old eating habits, then you regain the weight, start a new diet, lose weight and so on. 

This is also because most diets are essentially trying to get a calorie deficit – where you consume less calories than you need to maintain your body weight. And once you stop this calorie deficit and start eating more calories as you did before, the weight will come back. 

This links to my next point about making a sustainable change that you can do for a long time.

You need to make sustainable dietary changes:

By definition, diet is the food a person regularly eats. But it is now known as a restrictive eating pattern to lose weight. The problem with this is that it implies that you go on a diet to lose weight, and then go back to your normal eating habits and this just doesn’t work. 
a rack of toast

For example, if you normally eat bread, pasta and rice and then go on a low carb diet and drastically cut them out of your diet for a month you're going to struggle. How long will you be able to cut them out for before wanting to eat them again? Will you stop eating them forever?  This isn’t a long term solution to weight loss. 

You shouldn’t have to completely cut out foods you enjoy which diets often tell you to do. You shouldn’t have to be desperate for a cheat day or waiting for your diet to end. You should enjoy your food. Making changes to your diet that you can maintain the long term is the best way to lose weight. So it can't be anything too drastic

This leads to my next point about demonising food groups.

They demonise food groups:

Let me just clear this up now, there is no such thing as bad food. Yes, some foods have more nutrients than others, but this doesn’t mean they’re bad. Food is so much more than the nutrients it contains. It can be a way to socialise, bring people together, or simply for enjoyment.

Low carb diets ignore the fact that our body runs on the energy from carbohydrates and they also provide nutrients like vitamin B and fibre. Low fat diets ignore the fact that we need fat for the absorption of vitamin A, D, E and K and that fat is an essential part of every cell in our body. Fat also makes food taste nicer and products that are labelled low fat often have extra sugar or salt added to make up the taste. 

Demonising foods is not the answer. A healthy diet includes all foods and we shouldn’t have to cut things out. Cutting foods out unnecessarily can do more harm than good and could lead to nutrient deficiencies.

They don’t help people understand nutrition:

No matter how healthily you eat, if you have excess calories, you’ll gain weight. Certain diet programmes, say you can eat unlimited amounts of what they call ‘free foods’ or foods in a 'green' category without having to track them. This is usually foods with a lower calorie density like lean meat, fruit and veg, eggs, and pasta. This idea of letting people eat whatever they want as long as it’s in a certain category doesn’t help people understand what they're eating or the calorie value of foods.

Calorie counting diets don’t think about nutrients, but nutrients aren’t the be all and end all. For example, you could have 100 calories of grapes or 100 calories of ice cream. They are worth the same amount of energy, but the grapes will have vitamins and minerals that the ice cream won't. But you might not have had ice cream for a while and find it more enjoyable to eat. 

It also doesn’t look at the volume of food. 100 calories of grapes are about 50 grapes (or half a 400g punnet) while 100 calories of ice cream is roughly one scoop. Simply reducing food to calories in versus calories out doesn’t do it justice. It doesn’t help you understand the different nutrients food can have or the feelings linked to the food.

For my other two points, you can find the full posts:
  • How diets are a form of restriction and can lead to disordered eating here
  • How weight gain isn’t always bad here

I hope you’ve enjoyed this post and it gave you some food for thought about diets and why they're not the miracle fix they're claimed to be.

Bye for now! 👋



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