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    « How to Avoid Feeling Hungry | Main | The Quick Fix for your Diet »

    Why Diets Don't Work

    Throughout the history of, I've struggled with keeping certain negatively charged words at a minimum in my writing. One of those words, to which almost EVERYONE has a visceral negative reaction, is 'diet'. In a website like mine, it's nearly impossible to avoid the use of the word 'diet'. The problem is that the word expresses ideas that most of us just disagree with: starvation, elimination, hunger, deprivation, etc. Because of that fact alone, I use the word 'diet' as little as possible.

    It's worth discussing, then, why we should avoid using the word:

    • "Diet" implies a temporary change. People go on a diet for a time in order to achieve a certain goal they have set for themselves. 'Bob' might go on a diet in order to lose 20 lbs, and he's very likely to achieve that goal as long as he stays dedicated to his diet. What then? If 'Bob' ends his diet and returns to his previous patterns of eating, he's very likely to gain the weight back (plus a few pounds). The temporary nature of the diet concept is a major failing.
    • "Diet" implies starvation. Truth be told, most people haven't a clue as to what a sound nutritional program should involve. When 'Bob' starts his diet, the first steps he'll take will likely be reducing calories to ridiculously low levels by cutting portions, replacing higher calorie foods with low calorie alternatives, and eliminating between-meal snacks. The body's first reaction to this new plan is to feel hungry and urge 'Bob' via grumbling hunger pangs to eat. Because 'Bob' is steadfast in his diet, however, he ignores the pleas of his body. The diet works in terms of the initial goal (to lose weight), though not because 'Bob' is doing things right; he is forcing his body to consume itself, usually in the form of muscle depletion, to function. After a while, 'Bob' is tired of feeling hungry all the time, so he starts eating more and subsequently gains weight.
    • "Diet" involves the wrong type of goal. As Alice pointed out in her article, "Why Do You Train So Hard," people who set weight-loss goals are setting themselves up for failure because that goal has such a narrow focus. My personal goal weight is in the mid-170's (I'm currently 184). I could stop eating today and reach my goal sometime next week, but that's not a healthy plan. A healthier approach is to set a different sort of goal - overall fitness, being able to perform certain activities (running distance, speed, etc.), weight training goals, and the like. With those types of goals, there's no defined end point at which we would psychologically (and physically) stop working to become better. If I can bench press 60lb dumbbells today, I can strive for 65 tomorrow. This is a better goal than saying, "I want to weigh 176 lbs."
    • "Dieting" is martyrdom. People like the attention they get when they're on a diet. I've witnessed examples of people who order just a salad at a steak restaurant because they are "on a diet." Everyone in their party 'oohs' and 'ahhs' over the dieter's determination to lose weight, and the dieter's ego is stroked. However, since most diets cannot be sustained over the long term, the dieter eventually falls away from the "plan" and starts eating again. I've discovered that a lot of people notice me now because I'm nearly 40 and in pretty good physical condition. It's a bigger ego stroke (though I'm careful to keep my head on straight over it), and I'm not starving myself (literally) for the attention.
    • "Dieting" does not achieve the desired fat-loss result. Dieters are often just people who realize the fact that they have excessive fat and want to do something about it. Their first course of action, then, is to "go on a diet". Since we already know that the "diet" concept usually involves calorie restriction, the first thing the dieter does is stop eating as much. It doesn't take long for the body to realize that there are fewer calories coming in. The body perceives a famine state and shuts down metabolism to conserve energy. Rather than go after fat for fuel, the body resorts to consuming muscle tissue while saving fat for emergencies. The dieter loses weight, but the weight isn't in the form of fat - which is what the dieter wanted to eliminate in the first place. Prolonged occurrences of caloric deprivation can be physically harmful or, at worst, fatal.

    While it's sometimes impossible to avoid using the word 'diet', I think it's worth pointing out that we should refer to diet solely as a way of eating and not as a lifestyle choice. Wherever possible, we should refer to a 'nutrition plan', which doesn't carry the same baggage that "diet" does.

    Be well!


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