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Why Diets Don’t Work and What Really Does

Before you add a diet to your New Year’s resolutions, read this and reconsider. 

“One-third of all women and one-quarter of all men in the USA are on a diet.” -Colorado University

Diets are not only notoriously frustrating and confusing, they actually do more harm than good.

“Up to two-thirds of those on a diet will regain more weight than when they started.” -Hungry for Change

I see three main reasons as to why diets are built to fail:

One: weight is a symptom.
I’ll only touch on this briefly. It’s not about the weight or the food. During most of my health coaching sessions, I end up speaking with clients about what’s not working in their career, relationship, finances, home, etc. No amount of broccoli will make you healthy if you don’t have friends.

Two: food marketing is misleading.

“More than 60 billion is spent each year on diet and weight loss products in the US.” -Market Data Report

The claims on packaging are crazy. “Healthy” and “Natural” are meaningless and “Fat Free” or “Low Fat” usually means it’s packed with sugar (or, worse, aspartame). Sugar—not fat—by the way, will make you fat. And all those chemicals will just make you crazy, seriously. I won’t say much more about this right now; my main advice to wade through the food marketing BS: don’t count calories, count chemicals. However, be careful with how much you count anything, bringing me to my third reason of why diets don’t work.

Three: diets are built on the idea that something is wrong with you that must be changed.
What’s worse is that many people use their “flaws” as motivation to restrict or punish themselves. There are so many reasons why this does not work in your favor. First, the more you take action based on a thought, the more that thought will grow. For example, dieting or working out obsessively in response to “I’m fat” or “I’m not good enough” actually reinforces those seed ideas. So, you could achieve your ideal perfect body and still think “I’m fat” or “I’m not good enough.” At worst, this can be deadly with eating disorders like anorexia or bulimia. At best, you will just never be satisfied or happy. At best. The most probable is that those mean, “fat” thoughts will just have you back eating cookies again and you’ll gain twenty pounds after losing ten.

And this can be very sneaky too. Diets come in many forms. Always naturally thin, I didn’t grow up dieting. Yet, when I gradually swapped out processed food for plants in a quest for true health, I also found myself at my skinniest ever, and suddenly I was checking the scale every day. I wasn’t following a diet book or program, yet I mentally restricted myself from eating “bad” foods and obsessed over what I would eat. More on this orthorexia here.

The other half of the issue with restrictions and obsessive dieting is more scientific. Cortisol is a stress hormone that, in the cave man days, was produced when the body was in survival mode — i.e. either running to catch food or running away from being someone else’s food. It, therefore, signaled for the body to actually hold onto as much fat as possible, as it was unclear when the next meal or time of rest would be. While our stress these days is often not life-or-death, our bodies can’t tell the difference, so it still triggers a hold-onto-fat response. So, it’s actually counterproductive for someone to be unhappy or deprived on a diet or an extreme exercise regime. Don’t you know those people who work out all the time yet are always working on those last 15 pounds to no avail? Or people who eat salads all day with no physical results? Don’t get me wrong, I love exercise and I love salads. They’re just pretty much useless when coming from the context of “something’s wrong with me.”

So where does that leave us? Am I saying you should put on your sweat pants and hunker down with a pint of ice cream? No, not every day. I am all about eating well and doing what makes us really feel good. The secret is….

LOVE. And I mean true love, true self love. It really is possible to eat what you want, do what you want, and be at your ideal weight. But it must come from love. When you really, truly love yourself, you tap into intuitive eating and intuitive exercise, basically knowing exactly what your body wants and needs and giving it just that.

The trick here is that it’s totally individual. This is one reason why I can’t just list out  things to do, to eat, to not eat, etc for you here. Because I actually don’t know! I know what works for me (or I’m constantly discovering it really), but we are all unique. What I do know is that everyone has the key to their own health and happiness inside of them and it’s just a matter of discovering it. This is both good news and bad news. The good news is that you really can be healthy and happy and free of food concerns. The bad news — or let’s call it an opportunity for patience — is that it can take some digging, some time, and some support (you got yourself to where you are now with what you already know; if you knew how to get to the next step, you would).

Okay, so here are some fundamental things that I know work for everyone, which you can implement this New Year to get yourself started on the path to food freedom:

1. Tell yourself “I love you” as much as possible. Out loud. (Even if it feels like a lie at first.)
2. Treat yourself like a dear friend / family member. Would you call a friend and say, “Hey, you’re looking a little chubby lately. I’m only letting you have two tiny meals now a day.” I hope not. On the flip side, would you tell a friend, “You know what? You’ve done enough in life. Slide on those sweat pants and park yourself in front of the tv with a bag of chips.” No, you wouldn’t be a very good friend (the only temporary exception being immediately after a breakup).
3. Do the things you would do if you were your goal weight. Dance, date, sing, travel, whatever it is for you. You’ll find the pounds actually melt off without you trying.
4. Sleep. No amount of kale can make up for a lack of sleep. Trust me, I’ve tried.
5. Smile. Happy people do what makes them feel good. Happy people don’t binge eat. Happy people people follow their passions which makes them even happier. It’s a beautiful cycle and very contagious.

So here’s to a Happy New Year and and a Happy, Healthy You!

carlynoelWhy Diets Don’t Work and What Really Does

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