Ain't Got No Satisfaction - Why Diets Don't Work Long-Term
When you eat what you really want, in an environment that is inviting and conducive, the pleasure you derive will be a powerful force in helping you feel satisfied and content. By providing this experience for yourself, you will find that it takes much less food to decide you’ve had “enough”. -Intuitive Eating
So, what's the definition of a diet? To put it simply, it's any form of eating that has restrictions and rules. Have you ever been on a “diet” for weight loss purposes and TRULY felt satisfied after your meals? Were you able to sustain that diet long-term and make it a lifestyle without rebounding and gaining weight back? If so, maybe this article isn’t for you and also you might be a unicorn. Maybe you are like I was and you weren't ready to hear this information when first presented because of your tight grip on your way of eating. That's fine too. I got sick of feeling like food has any amount of power over me.
When it comes to food, feelings of pleasure and satisfaction are truly important. Dismissing the fact that human beings need a certain amount of pleasure and enjoyment from food and eating would just be irresponsible and is one of the main reasons why restrictive eating isn’t sustainable.
Dieting causes feelings of deprivation that can maybe be pushed aside at first, but we all know that feeling of frustration when you are really craving something and you talk yourself out of it because it’s not “healthy.” This commonly leads to a diet-overeat or diet-binge cycle. I’ve personally experienced this and I’ve heard many of my clients describe this as well. Guilt and shame then surround the act of eating and it sucks all the joy out of it. Before you know it, you've blacked out and you find yourself at the bottom of a box of Thin-Mints.
Our bodies are adaptation machines
Our bodies are beautiful adaptation machines. In prehistoric times, this is what kept us alive. You can bet our ancestors had times of feast and times of famine, so in order to make it through that time of famine, the body evolved to figure out a way to survive without the constant supply of energy coming in.
This explains why I’ve had clients and friends that eat a very low-calorie diet and can’t seem to lose weight or maybe *GASP!* they are even gaining weight. When you continue to restrict caloric intake long term, your body responds by slowing down your metabolism because it doesn’t want you to starve. Your body down-regulates to adapt to the amount of food you are eating and your activity levels. Isn’t that incredible? It highlights how intelligent our bodies are and why you can’t ever defeat your instincts. This is why dieting is a losing game.
Chronic dieting slows the rate of weight loss with each successive attempt to diet and it teaches the body to retain more fat when you do start eating normally again. According to the book Intuitive Eating, by Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch, low-calorie diets double the enzymes that make and store fat in the body, which is a biological compensation to help the body store more energy, or fat, after dieting. On top of the physical implications, the psychological and emotional damage from dieting is even worse, in my opinion. The stress hormones that your body secretes from the negative self-talk surrounding eating "bad" food is actually worse for your body than some sugar. Especially if you stress about it for DAYS after the fact, like I sometimes experienced.
A case against cheat meals
I might get some backlash for this one...BUT...I don't care. Cheat meals are disordered eating. Imagine (or maybe you know what it's like) living your whole life obsessing over food and feeling shackled to a list of foods that are "good" and a list of foods that are "bad" and an absolute NO. Or maybe you do what I did when I THOUGHT I healed my relationship with food, which was to allow myself to have "cheat" meals. Cue massive eye roll.
Even the phrase "cheat meal" irks me to my core. It implies that you are doing something wrong and you should feel bad after it. When I participated in cheat meals, I'd practically starve myself all day (a common practice encouraged by some "nutrition" coaches) and then I'd allow myself one or two meals a week of complete food freedom. The problem was that I would go overboard because I didn't know when I'd be able to eat it again. I'd feel sick and stuffed after, not to mention guilt and shame.
Now, maybe this does work for some people. It didn't work for me, nor do I think over-eating in that manner displays that you have a healthy relationship with food.
Obesity and disordered eating have deep roots
I want to mention that obesity and being overweight is often times a deeper issue than simply eating junk food and overeating. It is NOT just because of a lack of willpower. That's horse shit and you can stop feeling bad about yourself because you have no willpower. There is a link between early life trauma and obesity and it can be a coping mechanism that was put in place and has served a purpose to that individual. If this is the case, simply trying to diet and exercise really won’t fix anything. Curiosity, gentleness, and most importantly self-compassion are absolutely key.
The same goes with disordered eating. I’ve gone through years of disordered eating because of childhood traumas that I’ve now made peace with. That’s not to say that old programming doesn’t rear its head - sometimes it feels like an uphill battle - but just as anything else, it ebbs and flows.
Being body positive and having a good relationship with your body is a CONSTANT practice. It’s helped me to think about how much better I feel when I release the grasp on trying to control and notice that my old habits creep up when I’m experiencing stress. I’ve found healthy ways to dealing with stress now instead of restricting and binging.
There is a lot of shame surrounding both overeating AND undereating and it varies on an individual basis. No two situations are exactly the same and I’m really going to drive home the importance of being gentle and kind with yourself when trying to heal.
Work WITH your body - not against it
The practice of Intuitive Eating is the only way to truly work WITH your body and make peace with food. If you’ve been down the path of the restrict/binge cycle and you’re sick of not getting the results you want, obsessing over food, having poor body image, and not feeling connected to your body...I’d highly recommend diving into this world.
It’s life-changing for those of you that are ready to reject diet culture and begin to trust your body. You might gain weight, you might lose weight. It doesn't matter in the end. The relief that you feel from LIKING yourself and your body no matter what it looks like is so incredibly empowering that you'll look back and wonder why you stressed yourself out so much over 3lb.
The power of freedom
Now, by no means am I saying that you should just go eat cake and ice cream all day and you're going to feel like a million bucks. But if you haven't had that stuff in years, maybe you should and that can start the process of healing. Let yourself have what you want for awhile and practice eating to satisfaction. Eat slowly and truly savor every bite. Tell yourself nothing is off limits and get curious about the way things make you feel. If something makes you feel like shit, don't eat it. It's not the end of the world and it's just feedback from your body. Moral of the story: eat ice cream with friends. It doesn't make you a monster. Maybe a lion though.