I’m sure this title is catching some of you off guard. It certainly appears if you look around my site that I run a diet website. But that misses the purpose of this website. The tagline for this site is:
Eating for health, happiness, and longevity
That is what I study, and what I am trying to understand how to accomplish. Oftentimes a diet is counterproductive to one or many of these goals.Many people begin a diet for very human reasons. They want to look sexy. They want to be skinny. They want to fit into a wedding dress. There is absolutely nothing wrong with desiring these things, however, focusing exclusively on achieving these goals can be counterproductive to health as a whole. I have personally fallen victim to this trap many times.
There is a commonly spread statistic that 95% of diets fail. This does not seem to be completely true, and it misses a simple fact. People do not fail diets. Diets fail people. If a diet is so hard to stick to that 95% of people fail to accomplish it then the diet was constructed poorly.
For example the original study that found the 95% figure can be found behind that link. If you read the study you can see that all their intervention consisted of was giving the 100 obese patients a diet and sending them on their way. This completely fails to address many of the underlying problems inherent in any attempt to improve weight or health.
What this study shows us is that we must really try to understand more of the mechanisms behind our eating. And that we cannot expect a short term diet to help us either lose weight or improve weight. And there are several things I believe contribute to this.
There is a common misconception that people fail diets because they lack the necessary willpower to stick to the diet. This shows a lack of understanding about how our self control works. Let’s say hypothetically you want to remove processed sugar from your diet, but when you’re at work someone brings in a box of donuts. It’s easy enough to say no initially. But you don’t have to say no only once. You have to say no continuously throughout the entire meeting. And if you fail to say no 1 time then you failed completely. This is why complete elimination of common foods can be very difficult for people to keep with.
2. They suck
Anyone here who has ever been on a diet can confirm without a doubt that they can suck. It is not easy to restrict yourself, and your body and brain both rebel against it. One trick I learned from Ramit Sethi in his Ultimate Guide to Habits (free ebook), is that a small unhealthy reward can help you establish a healthy habit. For example a small square of chocolate after a workout will help you establish a workout habit. Noting things like this is why I try to focus on positive change, and not negative change. Meaning it is easier for someone to follow through if they are told to eat more vegetables, than it is for them to eat less chocolate. Many times if you make the positive change the negative change will follow.
3. They Ignore Health
One of my biggest problems with many of the diets that people follow now is that they focus on weight loss instead of health. I want to look sexy and skinny just as much as you do. Honestly probably more. But, that is not a goal that is worth sacrificing health for. Especially since these diets are often not sustainable and result in gaining all of the weight back. That is why you will not ever hear me advocate for severe calorie restriction or for what I think are unsustainable changes. Health has to be our primary goal when we are trying to change our diet.
Setting out on a traditional diet, especially one where you are setting out with a very short timeframe in mind, is a futile exercise. Best case scenario is that you temporarily change the number on the scale. This however completely misses the purpose of eating. We eat for enjoyment, we eat as a social event, we eat for health, and finally we may eat for weight loss. Focusing on the weight loss eliminates all of the enjoyable and useful parts of eating. That is why dieting is futile.