Just about any person who's ever gone on a diet can appreciate how difficult it is to both stick with it and lose weight. Sometimes, you might feel like pulling your hair out because you've followed the diet devoutly, and still can't seem to keep off the pounds.
Repeat after us: it's not your fault.
Your weight is largely determined by a unique-to-you alchemy of food intake, energy expenditure and genetics. In other words, how much you eat, how many calories get burned and how your specific genetic package handles those calories.
But even beyond these factors, research shows that diets - that is, temporary and restrictive meal plans for the purpose of weight loss - simply don't work. That's because the act of dieting triggers major biological changes in the body that even the strictest dieter wouldn't be able to outsmart.
Here are a few of the things that happen in your body when you diet:
- Diets Alter Your Brain
Ever feel like your favorite foods look and smell even more delicious when you're on a diet? That's no coincidence.
Dieting actually causes neurological changes that amp up our cravings, making it nearly impossible to resist those donuts, french fries and other temptations. Not only that, your brain increases the reward value so that those foods actually taste better when you do eat them, giving you an even bigger rush of satisfaction.
- Dieting Changes Your Hormones
When you diet, your body's levels of leptin - AKA the "satiety hormone" - plummet. That means you'll need to eat more food in order to feel full. It's your body's way of coaxing you to eat more to ensure you don't starve; great for survival, not so great for losing weight.
- Dieting Crashes Your Self-Control
Dieting causes all sorts of neurological changes, including disruptions in executive function - that is, your body's control center for willpower. So if you find yourself caving and eating one (or two) of the cookies your coworker brought in, don't beat yourself up: major changes in cognition are actually to blame.
- Metabolism is Complicated. Dieting Makes it More So.
And then there are the metabolic changes.
To begin with, all bodies are different in terms of how many calories they use up, and how quickly. People with naturally high metabolisms, for instance, tend to have no problem keeping weight off; some even have trouble putting weight on.
When you're dieting, your body kicks into survival mode, burning precious few calories and reserving as many as possible for future use. The less you eat, the slower your body burns the calories - a cycle that's nearly impossible to break, and for good reason.
In all these ways and more, dieters have the odds stacked against them. Which is why most diets don't work in the long term.
So, what's the solution? For starters, scrapping the "diet" mindset altogether.
Florida Hospital's CREATION Health model supports a nutritious, well-rounded eating plan that aims for optimal wellness, not weight loss. The principles of a healthy eating plan include maximizing plant-based foods (fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes), moderating portion sizes and minimizing sugars, salt, saturated fats, processed foods and animal proteins.
Eating for health - which can happily include many of the foods you love - and making smart, simple changes can help you feel better, be stronger and maybe even live longer. Which is a whole lot more than you can say for skipping meals.
At Florida Hospital, we understand that every person has unique dietary and weight loss goals. Through nutritional guidance, physical fitness and whole-health planning, we're here to help you be your happiest and healthiest. If you're interested in speaking with someone about customized weight management, call us today at (855) 303-DOCS.