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Do Diets Work?

Image courtesy of nixxphotography; freedigitalphotos.net

Thinking of going on a diet? If so, you’re not alone. Losing weight was the #1 New Year’s Resolution for 2014, and “staying fit and healthy” was #5. What are your motivations for going on a diet: Do you feel bad about your body? Are you hoping a change in diet will solve your problems or improve your happiness?

And how will you choose which diet to try? Is it based on the latest Netflix documentary you watched or magazine article you read? You’ve certainly got lots of options: there’s the Zone. Paleo. Atkins. Dukan. South Beach. Weight Watchers. Mediterranean. Raw food. Nutri-System. Juicing. HCG. Jenny Craig. Intermittent fasting. Alkaline. Blood type. Gluten-free. Dairy-free. Vegetarian. Pescatarian. Vegan. And many, many more. (Read our previous post to see our nutritional expert’s response to controversial claims about eating a gluten-free and grain-free diet.)

Is your head spinning yet? There’s a lot to think about here.

Don’t forget to consider the science behind all these diets. Turn to the left, and there’s an expert saying, “Diet X is the healthiest, most effective diet on the market!” Turn to the right, and a different expert is saying, “No one should ever do Diet X! It could kill you!” (Maybe not quite so dramatic, but you get the idea.)

It seems Americans are fascinated by diets and quick fixes. Who wouldn’t want immediate results with the least amount of effort? But despite our obsession with diet fads, the American obesity epidemic persists. And every time we turn around, a new diet trend is on the horizon. Why is that? Do diets even work?

Do Diets Work?

One hundred million Americans are trying to lose weight. According to an article from nextavenue.org, Suzanne Gerber states:

A peek at the statistics clearly shows that something is terribly wrong. Marketdata Enterprises, a niche-market research firm, says that in our efforts to shed pounds, we spend upwards of $65 billion annually on everything from weight-loss programs and diet products to gym memberships. And yet, according to the Centers for Disease Control, 69.2 percent of Americans over age 20 are overweight or obese.”

If any one diet worked, there would be a generally approved consensus as to the “right way” to do nutrition. Instead, we have a million different diets, and constantly more up-and-comers, all making different claims and having different “experts” and “science” to back them up.

Here are some of the potential reasons diets don’t work:

  • They aren’t sustainable for the long-term – too much deprivation or not enough variation in the diet
  • There are other root issues affecting our happiness
  • We don’t understand our bodies and how they work
  • Environmental factors – social, family life
  • Individuality – some bodies respond differently than others

Here are some ways to make nutritional changes more effective:

  • Define your goals. What is it you are trying to accomplish? Do you want to lose weight? Do you want your clothes to fit better? Do you want to feel better about yourself? Define your goals and really try to understand whether nutrition or weight loss is going to lead to accomplishing them.
  • Eat a variety of foods for a variety of reasons. Food is about more than nutrition; it can evoke memories and even bring us comfort. Yes, it is important to eat a nutritious diet, but you also don’t want to eliminate comfort foods – the trick is learning to consume them in moderation. If you are having trouble doing so, there may be an underlying psychological or nutritional issue for which you should seek professional guidance.
  • Focus on your whole self. That means not just physical health, but mental, emotional, social, and spiritual as well.

Are you dieting for the right reasons?

It’s okay to change your nutritional approach if it is 1) balanced and 2) necessary, either medically or psychologically. But be aware that even with medical or psychological reasons, changing your diet may not totally change your life.

If you are depending entirely on a diet/weight change to improve your self-confidence, dating life, etc. there are probably a lot more factors affecting your happiness than just your food intake or weight that should be addressed.