Why Dieting May be the Worst Thing for Weight Loss
Last updated: April 2022
As someone living with type 2 diabetes, you may have been told by your doctor that you should lose weight.
Sounds easy enough to do when you read a success story in a magazine or watch a weight loss show on TV, right? Eat less, move more, restrict this, eat plenty of that, count calories or carbs or protein, and magically the weight will fall off forever.
Is dieting causing more problems than solutions?
But that’s not really how it works. In fact, a growing body of research shows that dieting is actually more likely to cause weight gain in the long term.
In one review of multiple studies about the impacts of dieting, the authors concluded that there are two general findings when it comes to research on dieting: Diets do lead to weight loss (about 5 to 10% of body weight) in the short term, but that these losses do not last. The authors also determined that the benefits of dieting are too small and the potential harms of dieting too great to recommend it as a way to control obesity. They did, however, suggest that exercise, regardless of weight, may be effective at improving many conditions, including type 2 diabetes.
In another study, this one called “Does Dieting Make You Fat? A Twin Study,” the authors established, (can you guess?) that dieting leads to weight gain. Yup, they studied over 2000 pairs of twins and found that intentional weight loss (uh, that’s a fancy way of saying dieting) predicted faster weight gain and increased the participants’ risk of being overweight. When one twin dieted and the other didn’t, the dieting twin was more likely to be heavier at age 25 than the non-dieting counterpart. Lastly, twins who dieted gained progressively more weight over time than those who did not.
If you’re interested in reading about even more studies that show the correlation between dieting and weight gain, you can check out this great article by one of the founders of the intuitive eating movement.
What is intuitive eating?
Speaking of intuitive eating (IE), practicing this way of eating may be the key to having a healthy relationship with food and maintaining a lower weight. Studies done on IE have shown that it leads to lower incidences of disordered eating, lower body mass index, and better cholesterol levels.
Intuitive eating isn’t a diet, it’s a way of life. Here are a couple of key components to get you started:
- Give yourself unconditional permission to eat when you are hungry. Diets insist that you can’t trust yourself and your own hunger signals, and that they know best, teaching you that even if you’re hungry, you shouldn’t eat! Intuitive eating gives you the freedom to truly give your body what it needs when it needs it.
- Take care of emotions without food. Intuitive eating means eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full—not diving into a pint of something cold and creamy when you feel upset—because that wouldn’t be honoring your hunger and fullness signals. Yes, it means you have to learn new ways to deal with the stresses of life, but it will be worth it.
- Get back in touch with the hunger and fullness cues you were born with. I have a two year old, so I see it in action all the time: If she’s not hungry, she won’t eat, and even if she’s eating chocolate cake, she’ll stop when she’s had enough. If you have young kids, you’ve probably seen this yourself. So what happens to this innate ability? A variety of factors get in the way, including parents forcing us to eat everything on our plate, feeling guilty about throwing away food, and (of course), dieting. It takes time to regain these skills, but you can do it.
Next time you’re tempted to go on a diet, remember what the research says, and try intuitive eating, instead.
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