You found a diet and followed it. You suffered through the hunger and the inconvenience, you followed the plan, and you managed to lose weight.
And then it went wrong.
Perhaps you broke the diet prematurely, or the difficult change in lifestyle provoked binges undoing all your good work. Maybe you stuck to the plan only to discover that after some time it stopped working or worse, you inexplicably began regaining weight. Either way the diet ended and the weight went back on, leaving you demoralized and in a worse state than when you began.
It’s a common story. Though it may not be comforting to know it, you’re not alone. On average those who diet give up after five weeks; one in ten after only one week. Many women who diet do not lose weight, but actually gain it.
So what is going on and why?
The biggest problem with diets is maintaining them. The changes in lifestyle, the lingering hunger and lack of satisfaction, and the often uninteresting and difficult to prepare food sets us up for failure.
People don’t just eat for nutrition and sustenance. We eat for pleasure and to socialise. When we meet with friends or family it is almost always over a meal, a snack, or a drink. If dieting impacts the enjoyable aspects of food and food culture, it becomes very difficult to maintain.
Reduce Calories to Lose Weight… and Friends
Diets work by creating a calorie deficit, which means the number of calories consumed is less than the number of calories burned. The difference between the two is what produces weight loss. It can be a bit more complicated than that due to the effect of metabolism, but weight loss cannot occur without a calorie deficit.
Most diets follow a general pattern with three basic elements – dietary intervention, behavior modification, and exercise. Dietary intervention usually involves reducing your calorie intake through eating less, or eating in an unbalanced way. This almost always leaves you feeling hungry. When combined with behavior modification often requiring a difficult change in lifestyle, time-consuming food preparation, and the need to avoid social engagements involving food, the impact can easily be overwhelming.
The third element is exercise aimed at burning calories. The surprising truth about exercise is that unless you are an elite athlete training for hours every day, you can never burn enough calories to make up for what you eat. It takes about 30 hours of jogging to burn off the same amount of energy stored in 1kg of body fat. Very few of us have the time or determination for such exercise. In the end, you can never out run a bad diet.
So where does that leave us?
The Anti-Diet Solution
Any solution to manageable weight loss involves eating in a way that maintains modest calorie deficit over time without creating undue hunger or requiring difficult lifestyle changes. The type of food eaten should contain a healthy macronutrient balance with a greater ratio of protein and dietary fibre, and a reduction in carbohydrate and fat. The combination of slow release energy from protein and the feeling of fullness from fibre will keep you feeling full longer while reducing the number of calories eaten.
Exercising then becomes about health and fitness rather than weight loss and how to lose belly fat. You should include some kinetic exercise like running, combined with some static exercises such as push-ups to signal to your body that it needs to keep existing muscle and break down your body fat instead.
Such a system of healthy eating and exercise creates a gradual weight loss that does not put undue pressure on your body, and is easier to maintain as it does not require disruptive lifestyle changes.
Diets Don’t Work
Diets by their nature are short-term solutions to a long-term problem. They simply do not work, and there is growing evidence to suggest dieting harms health. To be effective, a way of eating to lose weight and keep it off has to be sustainable for the rest of your life.
Your diet didn’t work not because you did something wrong, or because there is something wrong with you. You diet didn’t work because diets don’t work.