WHY DIETS DON'T LEAD TO WEIGHT LOSS ...& WHY THAT'S OKAY
The belief that dieting is the solution to weight management is widely believed and reinforced by health & wellness professionals, but is actually entirely unfounded. It’s estimated that upwards of 95% of diets fail to result in lasting weight loss. At the same time, the diet supplement industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. So how do we account for this vast disconnect between intention and results? For that we can credit the relentless marketing from endless services and products that take advantage of our cultural tendency to equate self-worth with self-weight.
Dieting is different than choosing foods you know will make you feel good from the inside out - it’s following strict guidelines, typically from an outside source, designed to restrict you of particular foods or entire macronutrients (typically carbohydrates or fats), topped off with an infinite array of products and supplements to aid in weight loss. Because the message is clear: you cannot be healthy, happy, humanized or heard if you are “overweight” (compared to what?).
The Health At Every Size movement is an initiative designed to shift the paradigm away from weight-loss and towards health-gain. The belief is not that everyone is at a healthy weight, but that the danger lies instead in behaviours and outcomes that are associated with fatness (for example, high blood sugar). Extreme weight does of course pose a threat in terms of organ health and ability to facilitate movement, but it is not a reliable marker for health. HAES advocates for respect for those of any size and for a change in focus away from changing their size and towards enhancing their self-care so that the weight will fall where it may naturally.
This movement is gaining momentum because dieting to lose weight simply does not work and is focused on decreasing size, rather than enhancing health. If you’ve tried dieting, you’ve very likely realized it does not result in long-term weight loss and health. Here’s why:
Weight does not equate to health. Research shows short-term improvements in health resulting from short-term reduction in weight - however, the patients in these studies are changing their diet or lifestyle habits that result in this weight loss. Independent of weight loss, the behavioral changes in diet and lifestyle have been shown to improve health. This means these studies don’t actually prove that the weight loss itself improves health, with the credit actually due to health-associated behaviors. Several epidemiologic studies have evaluated long-term health after targeted weight-reduction by liposuction, and they have consistently found that there are absolutely no health benefits from simply losing weight. Health improvements can occur in people of all shapes and sizes, regardless of actual weight loss.
Your body is smarter than the diet. f you’ve had success losing weight short-term, you’ve likely been experienced the process of feeling excited, to fear of regaining, to frustration during regain, and shame once you’ve surpassed your pre-diet weight. Our bodies will naturally respond to calorie-deficits in the short-term, but not for long. We all have a “setpoint weight” - a weight range that the body likes to stay within.
Our brains contain an incredibly powerful mechanism that controls our weight. It works like a thermostat. Once our weight drops to the low end of the range, our body initiates physiological processes to gain weight; once it reaches the (much more flexible) top end of the range, it urges the body for weight loss. The low end of the range is very rigid as the body is evolutionarily designed to conserve energy (calories and fat). The energy deficit created by dieting causes your brain to initiate physiological processes designed to conserve weight, including intense hunger signals. The flexibility on the upper end of the range means that repeated dieting will disrupt the signals from your fat stores to your brain, ultimately raising your setpoint.
“For anyone who overeats after ending a diet or finds his or her intake gradually tricking up, it’s a normal and predictable physiological reaction to what the body perceives as starvation. You can only cheat biology for so long before recovery mechanisms kick in”. - Linda Bacon, Body Respect
It’s in your genes. The truth is that body weight is a more inheritable trait than almost any health condition, including breast cancer, heart disease and schizophrenia. Of course, genes aren’t the only determinant in weight, but they can easily override attempts to lose the weight by diet, exercise or lifestyle changes.
Diets perpetuate self-worth and body image issues. Believing that your body needs to look a certain way in order to be happy will leave you almost certainly unhappy. The beauty standards we set for ourselves are usually unattainable and based on how other people, with entirely different genes, portray themselves. The shame that accompanies consistent self-criticism and judgment against arbitrary criteria is soul-eroding. It will create an undercurrent in all aspects of your life, needlessly harming your outlook on life and your interpersonal relationships. Failing to lose weight long-term (outside of extreme starting points) is merely a sign of success of your internal weight regulation mechanisms. It is not a reflection on your self-control or willpower, but given our society’s sizeist attitudes, we are sure to feel shame and self-blame… feelings that are contrary to holistic health.
All of this is to say, it’s okay that dieting does not result in weight loss because the number of the scale does not reflect your level of health. Tricking the body with the latest fad diet will not help you lose weight nor will it make and keep you well in the long term. We are conditioned to believe that weight is everything - that it communicates our level of health, our commitment to our wellbeing, or our level of self-respect. Judgments that we place on others are a reflection on the judgments we place on ourselves. Learning how to love our bodies unconditionally is a process that requires diligent un-learning of many stereotypes and assumptions we’ve picked up throughout life, but it’s actually a key component of truly being well, inside and out.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR…
Kiara Tchir is a Registered Holistic Nutritionist, the founder of hiley, and a passionate believer in plants. A common thread of empowering others to be their best selves emerged while working with disabled youth and those in addiction recovery, before returning to school for Natural Nutrition. Kiara has been studying plant-based diets since 2012 and is a certified Reiki practitioner. Her holistic approach encompasses body, mind and spirit to enable her clients to better understand who they are on a deeply individual level. Kiara loves to empower others to evoke change in their life and will happily tell you how she's done the same for herself. She loves reading, hot yoga, and dogs and is inspired by the power of natural foods to satisfy and promote healing, the bond between person and animal, and the human capacity to change.
Kiara collaborates with TBC’s Mobile Health program providing mobile Reiki and Energy Healing and Nutritional Assessments and Consulting to clients in the comfort of their own home or office. To book a mobile Reiki Energy Healing Session or a Nutritional Consult with Kiara in the comfort of your own home or office, please email firstname.lastname@example.org
Learn more about TBC Mobile Health HERE.