Why “Diets” Backfire

Why “diets” backfire

There are many theories about why diets don’t work; today I want to discuss one of them, as it makes a lot of sense to me. 

There was a famous study done in the WWII days when starvation became a reality for many people around the world called the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (done at the University of Minnesota) that looked at the effects of caloric restriction. The idea was to examine the physiological and psychological effects of severe dietary restriction. 

The participants in the study started out by eating a 3,200 calories a day diet, but were then reduced to just 1570 calories. They started losing energy and strength and reported feeling tired and lethargic. Their heart rates also started to slow considerably, sometimes to as low as 35 beats per minute, their blood volumes dropped and their hearts shrank. Emotionally, they lost interest in politics, sex, romance, all the while becoming obsessed with food. 

When they returned to normal eating, 3,200 calories, which satiated them before the diet, was no longer enough for them to feel satisfied. It took around 4,000 for most of them to feel satiated, while some ate more than 5,000-plus calories a day. This trend continued for months after the experiment and was very difficult for them to reverse. 

I’m sure many people who have done a short-term, super strict diet can relate to this. You’re mentally resilient for 30 days of super clean eating, but you become obsessed with all of the delicious foods your body is craving, and the moment the challenge is over you let yourself have all those foods and sometimes let go completely and start eating more and worse foods than the pre-diet you did. Eventually you feel guilty enough to embark on a new restrictive short-term diet. 

Hence the term: Yo-yoing dieters. 

An alternative approach: Small habit changes over the course of one year, the goal being to create more sustainable, lifelong change. It’s an approach the well-respected Precision Nutrition (precisionnutrition.com) takes with their clients. 

Try this:

Make a list of 12 to 24 actionable habits you’d like to develop in your life:

They can be as simple as drinking a glass of water every morning when you wake up so you feel less ravenous for breakfast. Or it can involve cutting our sugar from your morning coffee, food prepping lunches for the week every Saturday or Sunday, or reducing your meals out to once a week. The idea is to select small, actionable, measurable habits that you know will benefit your overall health, and that you can take on one or two at a time without feeling overwhelmed. 

Once you come up with 12 to 24, start by tackling one or two small ones each month for the next 12 months. Generally one habit a month is more manageable, but if they’re small and easy you might be able to tackle two. 

Pretty soon, many of these habits will be as automatic as showering. You don’t have to convince yourself to hop in the shower or brush your teeth every day: You just do it because you know it’s good for you and probably makes you feel better, or at least cleaner.

That. Being. Said… Don’t expect to be perfect. Though you may decide to eat out just once a week, if you mess up and go for that Sunday brunch with your friends after also going out for dinner on Friday night, enjoy the meal and move on. You have probably forgotten to brush your teeth before, right? And you likely don’t guilt trip yourself about it and stop brushing your teeth for a week because of it… Make a mistake. Note it. Move on, and continue making small, manageable change. 

No, you likely won’t drop 20 lb. in 30 days, but by the end of the year, you might be 25 lb. lighter and will be on a path to even better health than the previous year.

Contact us if you want more direction making lasting nutritional and lifestyle changes.  

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