There is a common assumption that anyone who is determined enough can lose weight and keep it off. Research has shown, however, that most people who try to lose weight actually end up regaining it, regardless of the diet or exercise program. Approximately 95% of people who lose weight regain it within 5 years. Some studies even show that dieting, or temporarily restricting food in order to lose weight, is a strong predictor of future weight gain. Here are some of the reasons that researchers have shown that diets don’t work:
- Popular diets that restrict whole categories of food can be harmful because they restrict essential nutrients. Usually these diets last a predetermined amount of time, and after you are done you go back to your normal eating habits. If your normal eating habits are unhealthy, this leads to a cycle of “yo-yo dieting.”
- Restrictive diets can take the pleasure out of eating and enjoying your food.
- Obsessing over your food or exercise can lead to eating disorders. In fact, people who diet are 8 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who don’t.
Dieting also leads to a number of biological changes in your body. First, when you are dieting, your brain becomes overly responsive to food. You are more likely to notice food, and it begins to look more appetizing and tempting. Second, when you lose body fat, your hormone levels change. Hormones that make you feel full decrease, while those that make you feel hungry increase, so you become more likely to feel hungry. Third, your metabolism slows down when you are dieting, increasing the amount of stored fat, making it harder to lose weight.
Diets don’t create long-term, sustainable change. Many nutrition experts and researchers recommend mindful eating, rather than dieting. Mindful eating is an approach that promotes bringing your full attention to the process of eating, including the tastes, smells, thoughts, and feelings associated with a meal. It can also help you develop a positive relationship with food. Mindful eating can be tricky to learn at first, but there are some simple things you can do to start:
- Chew each bite 20 to 25 times
- Hold your fork or spoon in your non-dominant hand
- Put down your fork after each bite
- Try to identify every ingredient in your meal
- Eat without distractions, not in front of the TV or your laptop
These tips can help you slow down, enjoy your food, and become more mindful of your eating habits.