As a dietitian, the most frequently asked question I receive is, “what’s the best diet?”
As I scroll through social media I see advertisements for detox teas, cleanses, keto-friendly foods, intermittent fasting tips and tricks – you name the diet, it’s promoted somewhere. What’s so funny is that every diet seems to promise the same thing. “If you can just cut out these things, you will reach your dream weight, and live your dream life, and be happy forever.” Each diet promises to have “the answer” and yet, how many of us have tried every. single. one. And still come up short?
As soon as the low-fat diet gets old, we might move to the ketogenic diet, where we can eat all of the fat that we want! When dieting for an extended period of time becomes exhausting, we might move on to a 3-day cleanse because at least after 3 days, not only will we be “refreshed” and “rejuvenated” and “beautiful,” but we can then go back to eating the same way we were before. When the cravings kick in for sugary, high-fat foods (due to the extended restriction of those foods) we might give intermittent fasting a try because NO foods are cut out then! But all of the sudden we find that we’re hungry before noon, so that isn’t working either.
Maybe this is you. And that’s okay. Because we are surrounded by diet advice everywhere we go. And when you really start paying attention, it will blow your mind how much people talk about their diets, as well as how many commercials, books, apps, Instagram influencers, celebrities, neighbors, WHOEVER, swear they have the dieting answer.
Here’s the thing, research shows us that in the long term, diets (usually) don’t work. When we look at weight loss studies, long-term results aren’t promising.
In 1992, the National Institutes of Health reported that 33-40% of adult women and 20%-24% of adult men were actively trying to lose weight. Majority of weight loss methods included eating fewer calories, and/or increasing physical activity, with dietary change being the most commonly used strategy. They found that most weight that was lost during interventions was all regained within five years, with one-third to two-thirds of that weight regain being in the first year.
Attempts to lose weight have not declined since then. The 2018 Food and Health Survey found that 36% of US adults reported following a specific eating pattern or diet in the past year. Despite these continued weight loss attempts, data still suggests that most dieters regain the weight that they lost, if not more. In fact, one review suggested that “the more time that elapses between the end of a diet and the follow-up, the more weight is regained” (Mann et. al, 2007).
A 1999 study (Jeffery, Simone, & French) followed participants for three years. Participants were separated into three groups (1) no-contact control group, (2) group received monthly newsletters, (3) participants received education plus incentives. Essentially, this study used different levels of education to promote behavior and weight change. Despite some positive behavior change, weight change was not significantly affected. Results of the study showed that 37% of participants maintained or lost weight, and 63% of participants gained weight. In fact, many studies indicate that a history of dieting is associated with future weight gain (Mann et., al, 2007). Not to mention the association between dieting and development of eating disorders. But we’ll save that for another blog post.
You don’t have to live the rest of your life spinning in the hamster wheel of diets. You don’t have to feel like you’re “bad” or “off-track” for eating pizza, burgers, or dessert. You don’t have to cleanse, or detox, or cut out carbs just to find yourself binging on the weekends. It doesn’t have to be like that because you don’t have to diet. You have the power to say ‘no’ to the dieting conversation. I understand that this post may have left you with more questions than answers. But don’t worry, as I’m exploring and learning, I’ll be sharing it all with you along the way!