It’s one of the most popular Google searches!
With the overwhelming choice of diets, meal plans and magic pills out there, You’d think we’d all be dieting pros by now. There are countless experts telling you they know the secret to getting slim by eating this or avoiding that. And then there’s the old “calories in versus calories out” equation that seems so simple at the surface, but is much harder when putting in practice. And with 45 million people in America alone dieting each year and most people failing at those diets, it’s obvious that there is so much more going on underneath the calls to snack on kale chips and forget the calls of McDonald’s.
I want to talk to you about what I wish I had known about diets 20 years ago… Diet’s don’t work long term!
With all the dieting I have done in my life, I always ended up bigger and heavier than I was before I started! I use to think it was my lack of willpower and my weak will to be able to stick to anything but now I know the dirty truth…
This is what happens to your body when you restrict calories…
It all starts with your brain which in case you forgot, is the culprit to why you do what you do! At the heart of the matter is a little thing called set point weight. Bodyweight is regulated by the brain. If you don’t know that, you’re going to be surprised when your brain and body start fighting back against weight loss. This is at the heart of why diets don’t work, whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will intervene to push it back to what it thinks is the correct weight for you. And you might not prefer the same weight your brain prefers. Many of us don’t.
The entire process is like a thermostat. In your house, this device measures the temperature in your home and helps regulate it so that it stays stable. When the temperature goes up, the heat goes down and vice versa. In your brain, your thermostat is in the hypothalamus. Your hypothalamus will activate physiologic and behavioural responses to maintain your body temperature. For instance, if you’re cold, you may shiver or put on a jumper.
A similar thing happens in your brain when it comes to how much body fat you’re carrying. Your brain measures the level of body fat using leptin, a hormone that is secreted in your bloodstream in proportion to the amount of fat you carry. Higher levels of leptin in your bloodstream mean more fat on your body. You may have heard of leptin before, called one of the hunger hormones, along with ghrelin. In terms of leptin, it decreases your hunger. Whenever your weight changes too much, your brain will instruct your hormones to send signals to your body to make you hungry and/or crave certain foods (usually high sugar high-fat foods).
Before you start cursing your body with abusive thoughts just hang on a hot minute. Your body is doing this is protect you… When we were living as nature intended us to live, any drop in body fat or food restriction would cause your body to take this action in order to save your life…
If your body just sat there and thought, meh, she’s losing weight fast and not really eating like she used to but never mind, she probably wants a 6 pick or something… then you would most likely starve to death! So although in this modern world with all of the convenience foods thrown in our face this response is very unhelpful, your body doesn’t know the difference. And just a heads up… Nature will always win!
So going back to what happens… As you lose weight, the amount of leptin in your bloodstream drops — and that’s where the trouble starts. It sends a signal to your brain to help you fight to bring that fatback. Of course, that’s the exact opposite effect that you’re going for. But it’s hard to beat our biology. This is a classic starvation response. Your brain responds by upping hunger, making those stale doughnuts in the break room that have been sitting out for four hours look actually tempting, and ensures cravings are impossible to ignore.
Physiologically, your metabolic rate slows so you can conserve energy and send it right back into building up fat stores. As a 2011 study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows…
These Compensatory Mechanisms Driving Weight Regain Actually Last For At Least One Year, A Long Time To Spend Battling Your Body!
Your brain wants you to cheat on your diet
You can imagine then why it’s so hard to lose weight — and even harder to maintain that weight loss. You can do it for a time, but eventually, your brain will win and you’ll stand in your kitchen eating Ben & Jerry’s straight from the container! That’s where binging comes in. Whereas you might never have considered polishing off a whole pack of Oreos in the past, your dieting self feels like it’s necessary.
In lab experiments, when scientists want to induce rodents to binge eat, the most reliable method for doing it is to reduce food intake until they’re at a lower weight and then expose them to super tasty food, like Cocoa Puffs or Oreos. In human research, some studies that look at the brain show that this type of junk food activates reward centres even more fiercely in those who have lost weight. Repeated dieting makes the brain more vulnerable to binging behaviour even after the diet is done… Is it all making sense now? IT’S CALLED YO-YO DIETING FOR A REASON!
It turns out dieting is one of the best ways to … gain weight!!!
Dieting is stressful, and it triggers an increase in stress hormones, which are linked to weight gain (particularly visceral, or belly, fat). It also makes you suppress and ignore your hunger. Over time, that can make you less responsive to your natural hunger cues, making it harder to listen to your body and allow it to regulate your weight. You become more at risk of emotional eating, eating out of boredom, and are more vulnerable to environmental cues that tell you to eat more than your body actually wants. Cue post-diet weight gain (and then some). In fact, some studies have found that repeatedly going through these starvation cycles prompts your body to gain more weight.
What’s a girl to do?!
If you’ve followed my work for some time, you will know my stance on striving for weight loss purely from an aesthetic standpoint…
It won’t work!
If you still want to drop a few pounds (or 50) this doesn’t mean that you have to abandon your get-healthy pursuits. (Although it’s worth saying that being slim doesn’t automatically equal being healthy – definitely check out Health at Every Size or Body Respect both by Linda Bacon.)
What you have to know is that the answer is simply not to diet. Do that and you’ll butt up against that starvation response — and you will lose… again… An easier and more sustainable method is to do things that make your brain more comfortable at a lower weight. Ultimately, you can lower your set point weight so that your body is happy carrying around less fat. Listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues – that is, practising intuitive eating – is the greatest way to do this.
Another great idea to add to Intuitive Eating is to SLOWLY incorporate healthy habits into your life. If you pick one healthy habit a month and then move on to another, you’ll have 12 healthy habits incorporated into your life after a year!
By taking it slow you will MUCH more likely actually stick to the change you’re making. If you’re freaking out about your body size, give this a read.
Nobody wants to hear that simplicity is key and that the little things you do each day make up who you are. It may sound boring and far less flashy than most diets but this also involves skipping the calorie counting (so many of us are so bad at it anyway) and letting those unconscious circuits in your brain take cues from your diet and exercise habits and naturally lower your weight for you. When we eat when we are hungry and stop when we are satisfied whilst focusing on eating our veggies and mainly whole foods when possible, lowering your set point weight is simple.
Other important non-diet factors key to weight loss include regular physical activity, managing your stress, and getting the right amount of sleep, (That’s seven to eight hours for most adults. Sacrificing sleep in an effort to pack in more in your day will work against your fat burning ability.) It’s also important to ask yourself if losing weight is a reasonable expectation… This may surprise you but sometimes the answer is no. You may overestimate how much health danger your weight actually poses or you may not even need to lose any in the first place.
We would all be healthier if we focus our efforts on healthy behaviours rather than weight. I can show you how to do this. I was a yo-yo dieter for 20 years and when I was at my heaviest ever weight (ironically this was AFTER all the diets and I wished at the time that I was the same weight as when I started my first ever diet!) I decided enough was enough. I worked on my mindset and making peace with food and my body first and then I focused on building healthy habits into my life. Now my lifestyle is that of a healthy, fit and happy person. I have no food police in my head and I have never been so mentally healthy and happy. I still regularly enjoy my old ‘trigger junk foods’ without guilt or binging.
I want to show you how you can achieve this too! Let’s have a chat to find out what’s a good fit for you right now.