Updated: Oct 23, 2020
Sorry about the click-baity title. Genuinely interested to see whether it makes a difference to how many views my posts get, what can I say - 5 posts in and I've already sold out... But anyway, will your diet fail? Almost definitely, according to statistics. I've been doing some reading about dieting, eating, exercise, health etc. recently and I have been quite shocked by what I've read. It has all kinda confirmed my suspicions that the wellbeing, fitness and diet industries are held up by pillars of absolute tosh that we're all still falling for in ever increasing numbers and with ever increasing cost to our mind, body and pockets. But in all honestly, some of what I have read has left me reeling and I will leave a list of sources and books at the end of this post. I would seriously recommend looking into this yourself too, especially if you read this and think that I'm just being a little millennial snowflake!
According to a lot of different estimates, between 90-97% of diets will fail. Simply put, between 90-97% of us that attempt a diet in order to lose weight, will gain all of the weight back within five years, if not end up being heavier than when we started. To be honest, I think a lot of us might have heard this kind of thing before - failed diets, short term weight-loss and yo-yo/chronic dieters are mentioned in hushed terms, or with a raised eyebrow. Some people always seem to be on a diet of some kind. But I can't think of any other product or service that only works around 5% of the time that continues to make upwards of £2bn in the UK (2019) and $190bn worldwide. every. single. year. There'd be lawsuits, sanctions, boycotts, protests... at least widespread scepticism and awareness. But there isn't. We're still obsessed with dieting and losing weight. We're even being prescribed diets from doctors despite so much evidence that they actually harm the body more than they help.
Doing a bit more research on this has been really interesting. Probably only about 3 months ago, I was having a frustrated argument with an eating disorders Dietician who was trying to explain to my tired, sad, hungry brain why my body wasn't losing weight when I stopped eating. Over a decade of eating in a very weird way has meant that at the first sign of food shortage, my body slows its metabolism, limits as many functions as possible, in order to basically protect as much weight at all costs despite (and because of) my increasing frustration with it. Caroline Dooner explains:
Do me a favour an imagine that you are in a real-life famine and you have access to very little food. Just imagine what would happen. Immediately, everything in your life would become about food. . . at the same time, your metabolism would slow down so it can resourcefully use and store the nutrients you are eating. As you are forced to eat less, you would probably lose weight, but at the same time your metabolism would slow down so you don't loose too much too fast [and die].
Dooner goes on:
Before our current diet culture, the only reason you ever would have eaten less than sufficient food would have been if there was a shortage: famine. Eating less than you are hungry for triggers your body's survival mode, changing your hormones and brain chemistry, which then lowers your metabolism and makes you biologically obsessed with food.
Hunger is caused by hormones and neurotransmitters. It's not just a 'feeling' which we can ignore. The hunger hormone is called Ghrelin and it's secreted by the stomach, the small intestine, pancreas and the brain. It gets produced in greater amounts when we are deprived of food (for obvious reasons). The less food you eat, the more it is produced - your body is literally driving you to eat, and if you go through a long period of under-eating, the hormone remains elevated in your body for up to a year after a diet (which is why, after a year most people have put all the weight back on). We also have a neurotransmitter in our brains which specifically make our body crave carbohydrates. It's called Neuropeptide Y. It is a powerful little molecule that lets your body know that it requires more blood sugar as soon as possible. It works in conjunction with ghrelin to shift your brain's priority to searching for food above all else.
The restriction-bingeing cycle that so many of us may well be trapped in for our whole lives (our whole lives...), is just an updated version of the feast-famine existence that our ancestors were forced to live through. We are constantly punishing our bodies which, in turn, are fighting back with all of the biological power they possess in order to keep us alive. Your body doesn't understand that you're dieting in order to look slim in Instagram pictures or in order to wear a crop top, it is simply programmed to keep you alive until there is a period of time where food is in such stable abundance that it can repair and recover.
Think about every other species on the planet; the absolute fundamental aspect of survival is procuring enough energy. Not enough energy = not functioning or thriving properly and then eventual death. But westernised humans love not getting enough energy! We pay actual money to not get enough energy! Our species will accept the low moods, irritability, lower brain function, physical damage, etc. etc. that come with not fuelling ourselves because our species, unlike any other, has become obsessed with appearance over existence. We've become so disconnected from our natural state and place on this earth. Oddly enough, fitting into size 10 jeans is not our body's priority no matter how much we believe it should be.
And this is why dieting doesn't work. We simplify diets into assuming that if our bodies are working in a calorie deficit, we will lose weight. Fundamentally this works - we lose weight! But the issue comes later as the equation of calories out > calories in, doesn't take into account the biological and chemical stress that this less-than-subsistence lifestyle puts on our bodies and brains. After a while, when your metabolism has slowed down, you're experiencing hunger cravings and feeling absolutely pants, you decide that you're going to have a 'cheat day' or simply you just 'lose control' and eat everything in sight. You feel like a failure but actually it is the diet that has failed you. I saw a TikTok the other day of a woman diving into a tub of ice-cream after her Slimming World weigh in. It was funny and relatable and the comments were FULL of other people saying that they did exactly the same thing week after week. And it illustrated the point beautifully! If you restrict certain foods from your diet, your body is chemically wired to crave those foods more. It's not your fault, it's not in your control, it's literally biology. We ignore all the evidence that our bodies experience neurological, hormonal and chemical changes when we stop providing them with food. Most of us are not even educated about it.
There is so much to say on this, and there are also brilliant dieticians, doctors and psychologists who explain everything much better than I do. But as I've said from the beginning, I want this platform to reflect the education and journey that I'm going on personally in terms of recovering from a very disordered relationship with food, and learning to challenge the systems of diet culture that permeate so many aspects of our lives. I know that a few months ago I would have listened to this and assumed that it was being written by a chronic dieter that wanted a convenient excuse to stop. I was as sceptical as anyone. But I promise you, once you allow yourself to think about your own experiences and perhaps the experiences of the people around you, you will start to see the light...! The diet industry works off the back of failure. Would we keep going back to Weight Watchers if it actually worked? Would you start a new diet on the 1st January every year if they were actually sustainable? No. Should doctors be prescribing weight loss as the answer to all medical problems regardless of what they are if you happen to fall into the 'obese' BMI category? No, because all of the evidence shows that the patient has a 90% chance of ending up putting on more weight in the long term.
A lot of Personal Trainers (if not most), will provide nutrition guidance for weight-loss to clients alongside physical training sessions. I get it - food and exercised are linked. You need to fuel well to exercise well! But more often than not, the nutrition advice provided by PTs is completely tied up with diet culture (because more often than not, so are the PTs themselves). If you're not eating enough, exercising like mad and then bingeing as a result, the one person you're not going to point your finger of blame at is your Personal Trainer - why would you, they've given you all the tools you supposedly need to achieve the body of your dreams! But you've failed. It's completely irresponsible for PTs to be encouraging restrictive diets and only traps clients in an even more damaging diet cycle. I think it's essential to ask clients what their relationship/history with food is, and also make sure they are fuelling properly for sessions, but the line should be drawn there. Help your clients focus on all the vastly more important and tangible benefits of exercise than losing weight!
Have a read of these - they are all very recent publications too:
1. Ge, Long et al. “Comparison of dietary macronutrient patterns of 14 popular named dietary programmes for weight and cardiovascular risk factor reduction in adults: systematic review and network meta-analysis of randomised trials.” BMJ (Clinical research ed.) vol. 369 m696. 1 Apr. 2020.
Summary: An in-depth medical study of 21,942 'overweight' or 'obese' adults over the course of a year following 14 of the most popular diets. Conclusions: 'Moderate certainty evidence shows that most macronutrient diets, over six months, result in modest weight loss and substantial improvements in cardiovascular risk factors, particularly blood pressure. At 12 months the effects on weight reduction and improvements in cardiovascular risk factors largely disappear.' - Progress noted at 6 months had largely disappeared at 12 months.
'When you get cold, you shiver. That's how your body keeps you warm so that you can survive. And when you're restricted or deprived of food, your body turns up the food-seeking signals because it wants you to survive. It pumps out the hunger hormones, turns down the fullness hormones, and lowers your metabolic rate, all in the service of keeping you from starving. This isn't a failure of your mind to control your body; this is your body taking care of you.' (p.95)
'In fact, research consistently shows that exercise, unless fairly extreme (i.e. disordered) doesn't actually result in significant weight loss for the majority of people. If you have to force your body into extremes of exercise and engage in disordered eating behaviours to maintain your weight, then it's not the weight your body was intended to be at. It's just not what our genetics have in store for us. Lucky for us, the benefits of exercise aren't contingent on weight loss.' (p.312)
'The diet industrial complex is made up of weight-loss programs (like WW and SlimFast), pharmaceutical and medical companies that make weight-loss drugs, supplements, or procedures, and any other company selling beauty and 'health'. These companies thrive on people believing that they are addicted to food, and that weight loss is the answer to all their problems. And they benefit from all of us feeling insecure, hating our bodies, and believing that we are just five pounds away from becoming the woman that we are meant to be. . . No matter what they want you to believe, these are businesses, not philanthropic charities. They do not care about you. They make no promise to do no harm. And these businesses each make hundreds of millions because their products and solution don't work long-term.' (p.33-34).
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