Why Many Diets Fail

An advocate for body positivity suggests a better way.



The following is an edited excerpt from the e-book Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!), a free guide which helps people overcome body shaming and low self-esteem.

Extensive research supports the argument that measurements of physical activity and metabolic fitness, such as blood pressure, blood lipids, and blood sugar levels, are far better indicators of physical health than body size¹.

You may have heard diets don’t work, but it is hard to believe if all you see in the media is an emphasis on thinness and the glorification of anyone who accomplishes this goal. Apparently, we should all be able to lose weight and keep it off with willpower and self-discipline. Why, then, do most people on restrictive diets regain the pounds they lose—and often more?

The answer lies in the physiology of the human body. The body is genetically programmed to hold on to weight for evolutionary purposes associated with surviving during times of famine. In effect, the body cannot recognize the difference between a diet and a famine. When we go on a restrictive diet, our energy-regulating systems slow down to conserve every bit of fuel that comes in. Every calorie-restrictive diet triggers a famine response because the body senses a state of starvation.

Through the process of reclaiming your health, you have the opportunity to become the authority—the expert—of your own body. This process begins by telling your “body story,” which means you consciously examine the messages you receive about health, weight, and identity that affect your current-day relationship with your body. Once you clearly identify the messages, you can begin to think critically about which ones work for you. If particular information is intriguing, try it out to see how it makes you feel. If you adopt a behavior that leads to better physical and/or mental health, and it is something you can sustain over the long term, keep it in your toolkit.

From this same observant position, you can also identify the messages you receive that trigger guilt or shame. If the information doesn’t make you feel better or is a behavior you can’t maintain over time, discard it and return to what you know to be right for you.

I want to be clear here that I’m not telling you to ignore what your doctor or other health practitioners tell you. Instead, I’m saying it is vitally important to conduct personal experiments to find out if specific advice you are given is appropriate for you. Over time you will get more closely in touch with your intuitive wisdom and be able to more easily discern how best to care for your body. And remember – how you care for your body is more important than a number on a scale.

We agree with author Connie Sobczak that you should follow medical advice and work with a medical professional to decide what treatment will work best for you. To read the complete eBook, go to http://www.thebodypositive.org/.

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Have Type 1 Diabetes? Try Insulin Nation, our sister publication.


¹ Bacon, L., & Aphramor, Lucy. (2011, Jan. 24). Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence For a Paradigm shift. Nutrition Journal. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/10/1/9

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Connie Sobczak co-founded The Body Positive in honor of her sister, who struggled with an eating disorder; she is now the organization's executive director. She is the author of Embody: Learning to Love Your Unique Body (and quiet that critical voice!).