It’s a familiar scenario.  You wake up on a Monday morning after a weekend of overeating feeling sick, bloated and disgusted with yourself.  The first thought that crosses your mind is, “That’s it, I can’t do this anymore.  Time to change my ways!  Today I’m going on a diet, and I swear I’ll stick to it this time!

With renewed hope and optimism, you start your day off with a tiny bowl of fruit and pack a lunch with some raw veggies and lean protein. But by 3 or 4 o’clock you’re famished, and the battle begins. “Should I or shouldn’t I?” The vending machine calls to you, and after struggling with the impulse to resist for what seems like an age, you make a mad dash for a bag of chips.  On your way home, you stop for a burger and fries – because who cares, you blew it anyway.

Before going to sleep, you tell yourself that tomorrow is another day, and you’ll start fresh again…

Let Go of the Struggle

If you’ve tried every diet out there, from faddish to more sensible, you know this routine all too well. And you know that it never lasts.  Sometimes you’re “good” for a week, sometimes you don’t make it past breakfast.  And if you actually manage to stick it out long enough to lose a decent amount of weight, somehow it eventually seems to creep back on.

And here’s the sad truth: 95-98% of all diets fail. If your doctor recommended a treatment with that kind of failure rate, would you eagerly rush in?  Somehow, I don’t think so.

It’s so easy to blame yourself for this neverending yo-yo cycle. After all, it’s YOU who didn’t stick to the plan, it’s YOU who gave in to your cravings, and it’s YOU who’s to blame.  But what if that wasn’t true?  What if you didn’t fail your diet, but your DIET failed you?

Diets Don’t Work

A novel idea, isn’t it?  But here are a few reasons why diets don’t work:

* The reason diets are so appealing is that they make you feel like you’re being proactive.  They give you a bunch of rules to follow with the promise that if you just stick to them, you’ll lose the weight.  But just like any other plan based on optimism and hope alone, the excitement eventually wears off, and so does your motivation.

* The diet mentality is a temporary state of mind, not a way of life.  When you say, “I’m going on a diet,” you’re not trying to make incremental changes.  You’re entering “diet mode,” which is not a sustainable way of living.

* Diets don’t address the causes of weight gain, just the symptoms (the weight itself, and the calories in/calories out balance).  But there are a lot of reasons people overeat that have nothing to do with eating a “sensible diet.” Emotional eating, stress eating, mindless grazing are just a few of the causes of excess weight.

Diets Can Be Harmful to Your Health

If the only problem with diets was that they didn’t work, it might not be so bad.  But research has consistently shown that diets can in fact be hazardous to your health, both physical and mental.

* They turn on “primal hunger.” Diets are essentially a set of rules about what you can and cannot eat, and whenever we feel restricted, our inner “deprivation meter” goes on high alert.  Whether the deprivation is real (in the form of too few calories to sustain you) or perceived (that feeling you get when you aren’t allowed something), it sets off that ravenous feeling of primal hunger that screams, “FEED ME!” This usually results in backlash eating, binging, or otherwise “cheating.” Over the long term, this creates a vicious cycle of guilt, self-loathing and obsessive thinking about food.

* Diets can actually cause you to GAIN weight. One study actually showed that 2/3 of all dieters eventually gained back more weight than they originally lost.  In the author’s words, “dieting is a significant predictor of weight gain.”

* They contribute to the development of eating disorders. Another study showed that preteens who had been on a diet were 12 times more likely than their non-dieting counterparts to develop binge eating problems by the time they were in their late teens.

If I Don’t Diet, How Will I Lose Weight?

With all this evidence against dieting, it would make sense to stop the insanity and find a better way.  And of course it’s important to eat sensibly and exercise.  But an excessive focus on counting calories and restricting yourself is not going to work. So what WILL work?

Looking at the missing ingredient: your relationship with food. In order for your weight to change, so do your thoughts, feelings and actions around food.  And the best way to do that is to develop an intuitive, or mindful approch to eating.  Stay tuned for next month’s article to learn more about this approach and how it can help transform your eating for good.