Why don’t diets work? Let me paint you a mental picture…
Every day millions of women wake up and vow to “get back on track” with their diets.
They start the day with a healthy breakfast and the motivation to “stick to the plan.”
Their “food rules” tell them that carbs are “bad” so they decide to be “good” and order a salad for lunch. But as the day goes on, stress increases and cravings become stronger.
By the time the afternoon hits, resolve weakens and they “give in” to a snack that isn’t part of their plan. From there, the food struggles grow and the “all-or-nothing” mindset kicks in.
This small “shouldn’t” snack (maybe a bite of a chocolate bar, a handful of chips, or something else from their “forbidden” list) turns into an all out binge.
Instead of making a healthy dinner they decide to grab fast food since they’ve already “blown it.” And, of course, after dinner they head to the pantry to grab something else that they’ve told themselves has been “off limits.” Once it starts, it doesn’t stop.
Can you picture these women in your mind?
Can you relate?
Have you ever found yourself throwing in the towel with goals of “starting over tomorrow?”
Have you fallen into the trap of thinking: “I’ve already messed up the day, I might as well give in. I’ll get back on track tomorrow?”
Then tomorrow comes…
And the cycle continues.
The “all-or-nothing” approach to eating proves a common trap for many women. And I can relate. For years I struggled with the all-or-nothing mindset that kept me from making progress. It wasn’t until I learned how to do diet and fitness better, to find freedom with my food, that I saw my attempt to control food or find a “perfect” way of eating for what it was–an all out sabotage of my own efforts.
The “all-or-nothing” approach to dieting doesn’t work.
Why Don’t Diets Work?
Reason #1: All-or-nothing eating messes with your BRAIN.
Have you ever noticed that the more restrictive your diet is, the more you end up thinking about food? It’s not your fault. The all-or-nothing approach to eating actually triggers survival mechanisms in your brain. It’s a biological fact. When you go on a restrictive diet, your brain goes into protection mode.
Your body does not know the difference between starvation and skinny jeans.
So when you’re restricting food, your body recognizes the energy deficit as a threat to survival and sends chemical signals to drive you to seek out and eat more food. That’s why one small “shouldn’t” snack usually turns into an all out binge. When you’re starving, your brain sends signals to seek out food. And when it gets food, your brain tells you to keep eating in order to prepare for future starvation.
After periods of prolonged restriction, when your body finally gets the fuel it needs, the reward centers in the brain release chemicals that tell you to find more fuel. Once you do, it sends another hit of reward chemicals to your brain that reaffirm the overeating/binging pattern. And it quickly becomes a vicious cycle.
Why Don’t Diets Work?
Reason #2: All-or-nothing eating messes with your BODY.
When all or nothing eating becomes a pattern, you slowly lose your ability to be in tune with your body. Without proper body awareness you lack the ability to determine when your body is truly hungry. Your body is not a machine. If you fail to take notice when your body is sending hunger signals, you risk metabolic slow down, decreased ability to recovery from training or an injury, and many other issues over time.
Many times, hunger and cravings are ways that your body communicates with your brain regarding what it needs to thrive. It feels so easy to fall into the “all-or-nothing” diet trap and ignoring hunger and cravings all together. It proves even easier then to give in to the emotional desire to eat anything and everything you can get your hands on.
Before this cycle cycle begins, stop and ask yourself, “what does my body really need?”
When you feel a craving hit, it’s important to identify if this craving is signaling a need in your body. For example, if you’re craving chocolate, it may be your body’s way of letting you know that you’re deficient in magnesium. If you’re craving cheese, your body may need some essential fatty acids or have a calcium deficiency. If you’re craving salt, it may mean your body needs chloride. Studies show that certain cravings correlate to certain bodily needs.
So, when a craving hits, make this your first step. Identify what your body may need and look for a HEALTHY way to meet that need.
Why Don’t Diets Work? And What Will Work Instead?
If you’ve fallen into an “all-or-nothing” pattern, it can be difficult to change the way you think. But I can tell you from personal experience that with patience and practice, you can change your mindset.
Give yourself grace.
Practice identifying “all-or-nothing” thoughts, and replace them with more balanced thinking. Here are just a few examples:
- All-or-nothing thinking: I love dessert but I am not allowed to eat any dessert–not even a single bite– because sugar is bad for you and keeps you from losing weight. When I do allow myself to have a bite of dessert, one bite quickly turns into the whole cake, pie, etc.
- Balanced thought: I will enjoy small portions of my favorite desserts on occasion. I will practice being in control rather than letting sugar control me, so I will eat slowly and enjoy the dessert without guilt. I will also look for lower sugar ways to enjoy dessert more frequently, as I know this is something I enjoy. Having healthier desserts available keeps me from feeling deprived or restricted.
- All or nothing thinking: I need to work out 7 days per week for at least an hour a day in order to lose weight and meet my goals. Working out less than this won’t burn enough calories. If I don’t work out this much, I need to make up for it by restricting my food.
- Balanced thought: I don’t need to exercise this much–in fact, it may be doing my body more harm than good. Especially if I’m not providing my body with the fuel it needs to complete my workouts. I will get the same (if not better) results by fueling my body and working out 3 times per week with shorter, more intense sessions. 20-30 minutes instead of the 60 minute sessions I’m used to. Instead of restricting my food, I’ll fuel my body with the right nutrients it needs to recover.
- All or nothing thinking: I can’t have any carbs at dinner if I want lose weight. I love carbs, and I feel deprived without having any, but I just need more willpower to avoid them completely.
- Balanced thought: I enjoy eating carbs but know I have trouble controlling my carb intake. I know that when I restrict carbs completely, I end up hungry, with low energy and cravings. In the past, this has triggered overeating. So, instead of avoiding carbs completely, I will enjoy a higher carb intake a few times a week around my workouts. I will choose carbs that allow me the confidence to maintain control over my portions and will focus on higher fiber carbs that help to balance hunger and energy.
Challenge: Put an end to all-or-nothing eating. What’s one all-or-nothing thought that habitually enters your mind? How can you replace that with more balanced thinking?
P.S. It’s time that we change unproductive behaviors and DITCH the DIET once and for all!
Our health and wellness is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being. Not merely an absence of disease. At BeyondFit, we believe in promoting a healthy, happy and balanced life, regardless of size. We’re not just about workouts and outward changes, but about inward changes as well. For many women, part of these inward changes includes developing a healthier relationship with food.
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