Why Most Diets Fail

Why the percentage of diets that fail is growing and people giving health a real chance are finding dieting doesn’t work and worse losing weight isn’t making people happy.

It’s the age old question. Does losing weight really make you happy?

The dieting industry would like you to think so. They make billions of dollars a year off your insecurities about your weight. They pump millions of dollars into advertising campaigns to make you fear your weight. They want to convince you that you’re eating the “wrong” foods. They want you to come to the conclusion that you’re desperately unhappy and the way to change that is to shrink. That, of course, involves buying their product or subscribing to their exercise program.

Humans are, more often than not, self-conscious creatures. We care about our image because that’s what we are initially judged upon. We tend to care about what other people think. These dieting giants are very clever. They use human insecurity to their advantage.

So, does losing weight make you happy? Perhaps in the short term because you’ve been conditioned to believe that losing weight equals health and fitness. But long term, absolutely not. Losing weight and going on a diet is not the answer. Here’s why.

First of all I think it’s important to look at the “set point theory”.

The Set Point Theory

The human body is pretty awesome. It’s been developing and evolving over thousands of years. Your body’s job is to regulate itself. To send you signals when you’re hungry, thirsty or tired. It does this not just to keep you functioning productively but also so you can survive. Think about it, if we never felt the physiological effects of hunger, we would starve. If we never felt thirsty, we would dehydrate and eventually die.

Deliberately messing with our body’s signals is a modern phenomenon. Dieting wasn’t around thousands of years ago because humans were more concerned about surviving and passing on their genetic code than what they looked like. Dieting and weight loss has only taken off more recently.

It has now come to light that our weight, like our height, is largely determined by genetics. Our body, according to the Centre for Clinical Interventions, has “a natural weight range that it is genetically predisposed to maintain.” This natural weight range is know as your “set-point”. They go on to state that, “if on one hand you don’t eat enough to maintain your weight, then your basal metabolism slows down to spare the available calories.”

Essentially this means that tampering with your body’s natural mechanisms and signals doesn’t benefit you at all.

Deliberately eating less and relying on calorie restriction messes with your body’s natural practises. Calorie and food group restriction can therefore result in a preoccupation with food, constant hunger and changes in mood.

Consider for a moment a Professor at a University. This Professor has been in their chosen field for many years. They’ve read widely. They have extensive experience and knowlegde. They know their niche topic like the back of their hand.  If this Professor taught you about a chosen topic, would you stick up your nose and claim you know better even though you know nothing about the subject? Would you scoff at their knowledge and claim they’re ignorant? Of course not.

Your body is like a Professor. It’s a specialist in its field. It knows what it’s doing. It is ignorant and disrespectful to interfere.

Relying on restriction is never healthy

Many diets rely on either reducing the number of calories you consume or reducing/eradicating particular food groups. The paleo diet cuts out grain products such as pasta and bread. The vegan diet eliminates animal products including meat, eggs, yogurt and honey. The 5:2 diet relies on massively restricting calorie intake 2 days out of 7 every week. “I Quit Sugar” eradicates sugar completely.

Every diet claims to provide health benefits and “success”.

Restricting food groups is unhelpful for two main reasons.

i) The more you restrict, the more you crave.

There is nothing wrong with having everything in moderation. Remember, your body is a professional at processing food. That’s what it does. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t eat nutritious foods. Balance is important to ensure you’re getting the right nutrients to function. Instead of labelling foods “good” and “bad”, think of them as “everyday” foods and “sometimes” foods.

For example, vegetables and fruit are everyday foods because they’re highly nutritious. Carbohydrates are also everyday foods because they provide the body with its main source of energy.

ii) Restriction impacts your physical, social and emotional health

Calorie restriction and weight loss can have substantial impacts on all areas of your health. Playing with your body’s natural systems via calorie restriction can influence your metabolism, your energy levels and bone mass.

Calorie and food restriction will also impact your mental state, causing a preoccupation with food and a degradation in your mood.

It also effects your social health. As your obsession with food becomes more intense, your ability and motivation to socialise becomes compromised.

This week the ABC ran a panel on body image called Hack Live on Body Obsession. One man on the panel, Bryce, admitted to food obsession and opened up about how it impacted his social interactions.

“I can’t go out to social events because I can’t eat whatever it may be,” he said.

Having specific food rules and restrictive tendencies doesn’t only impact your physical well-being, it also substantially affects your social and mental health.

Lastly we need to look at what provides us with happiness.

What makes us happy is not determined by our weight.

Visualise the happiest moment of your life. If you’re a parent that may be the moment your child was born. If you’re recently married that may be your wedding day.

The happiest moment of my life, so far, was having an article I wrote published by a reputable media business. Did my weight have anything to do with that happiness? Absolutely not.

The idea that when we are slimmer we will be happy is flawed. The idea that diets can change our lives is flawed too. Because we are the ones that determine our own happiness. What we look like doesn’t make us happy. Things we do and people we see make us happy. Being with our family and friends provide us with happiness. Food makes us happy.

It’s important to recognise that food is not the enemy here. Your body and your weight does not deserve to be punished or criticised. It’s just a part of you. It doesn’t define who you are of what you’re capable of. It doesn’t determine whether you’re a good person.

Everytime you see an add on TV or in magazine that claims weight loss will be the key to your happiness I want you to remember this moment. I want you to remember the happiest moments of your life and whether your weight had anything to do with it. I’m almost 100% certain you’ll find that it doesn’t.

Everytime you see these ads I want you to remember how the dieting industry makes money. They are using your insecurity to sell their product. They’re not interested in your happiness. They’re interested in your money. They are lying to you.

So, the age-old question has been answered. Will weight loss make you happy? No. Not now. Not next week. Not ever. Because only you can determine your own happiness.

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Posted by Sophia Hatzis

Sophia is a Law and Communications student at UTS and has been a passionate writer her whole life. She runs a blog called The Beauty Breakdown which aims to educate young people about the importance of positive body image. Sophia writes openly about her struggles with mental health problems having battled with an eating disorder and anxiety for most of her adolescence. Sophia is a strong advocate for a holistic approach to health and wellness which is drawn from her own experiences.