We Shouldn’t Be Setting “Weight Loss” or any “Body Change” Goals
Personal trainers may not be exactly advocating the cabbage soup diet and exercising 3 hours a day, but they are still firmly stuck in the diet mentality. They are still setting weight loss or body change goals and recommending people change how they eat and to increase exercise for this purpose.
The “Wellness Diet”
Even if the message is well-meaning and wrapped up as “health” or “wellness” this is still putting a client on dieting. And we know dieting doesn’t work. So why are personal trainers still dieting themselves and sending their clients this futile and damaging path?
“Sensible Weight Loss” is Still Dieting!
We all have an “appetite”. Our appetite is the amount and type of food we must eat in order to be sufficiently satisfied (physically and mentally) to be made to stop eating.
We were all born with a natural appetite that would keep us at our “natural weight range”. We were all born as Intuitive Eaters. Whatever that natural weight range was (or is) would be the healthiest weight for us because to maintain this weight didn’t take any external (mental) control of our eating. Our eating was completely controlled from within and we just got internal messages telling us when, what and how much to eat which we just naturally followed without making any more conscious decisions about eating.
Stress and Health
You see, mental control of our eating is very stressful (unhealthy) way to conduct ourselves. It means using the brain in a way it was never intended to be used. Like if you asked your brain to control your breathing. It would get very stressful indeed.
But after a natural start to our appetite in life. Then came dieting. Restricting, in some way, when, what or how much you ate (or all 3!). Eating control comes in for one of many reasons. It could have been because you didn’t like your natural weight; a parent decided it was a good idea to “be more careful” with food to “prevent” weight gain in the future.
Mental restriction interferes with our natural internal control of our appetite and so we no longer are forced to only eat when certain bodily conditions exist (when we are physically hungry); eat certain foods (the ones we are naturally drawn to because of the nutrients match our natural needs); and be forced to stop eating when we naturally sense we have had enough nutrients and pleasure to reach satisfaction.
Without these natural and automatic instincts, we are wide open to developing an insatiable appetite. This then clearly needs controlling because we are trying to prevent our weight from increasing.
The Willpower Trap
They are stuck a willpower trap. Having lost all their natural protection against overeating means they are forced to mentally control the eating using willpower. Dieting has created an insatiable appetite and having to try and control this artificial appetite with willpower (dieting).
Because this is all so uncomfortable for the brain, they begin to feel very uncomfortable (stressed). And then they also turn to food to help ease the discomfort of managing the their acquired artificial appetite in this way. They then also use food to ease the stress of normal daily life because the brain is full to capacity of having to restrain the eating all the time.
Dieting has a lot to answer for. It makes us unhealthy because of how we are now using the brain to willpower control our eating. The brain was not designed for this and the stress of asking the brain to do this all day every day has a very detrimental effect on our health. The effect of this stress on our brain and our body far outweighs anything that “keeping the weight down”, “healthy eating” or exercise can counter.
Stuck in dieting because you are stuck with this unnatural appetite means the thought of stopping dieting fills you with dread of uncontrollable eating that will be allowed to surface. More on how to stop dieting later.
Why Dieting Cannot Work
Let’s look at the biological and health damage that dieting causes. Dieting is a form of starvation (even if it is semi-starvation) and our bodies are equipped to combat the effects of starvation at a cellular level. Human biology is designed to protect us from weight loss from potential starvation. You can’t fool mother nature. Our bodies are driven to stay in “homeostasis”. Which means our bodies are going to correct mistakes so that we can survive. When you diet your brain-chemicals alter the way your weight is regulated by several mechanisms.
Changing Biology and Psychology
One is by stimulating more appetite. Secondly by signalling to protect its fat stores in a more aggressive way, after all, if you lose too much fat you are going to die. So, your brain chemicals are there for your survival. You brain chemicals sense the organism is in danger and they will do everything they can to protect you. You are going to end up being hungry all of the time and end up thinking about food all of the time.
Dieting is also going to teach your body to store more fat when the diet is over. This happens because the enzymes that make and store fat in the body are doubled. Hormones that control your appetite (Leptin and Ghrelin) are also shifted.
Dieting will also slow the rate of weight loss that you have with each diet. Every time you go on a diet you are going to less and less weight. This primarily happens by decreasing your metabolism. Your body becomes more efficient at utilising calories because your body’s needs for calories is lower. For example, you go on a diet, you lose weight. Suddenly you weigh less so your body needs less calories. And then you start to eat again, even if you are eating the normal amount you used to eat. Your metabolism is slower and you gain weight more easily.
Dieting also increases binges and cravings because it increases brain chemicals like Neuropeptide Y which is secreted when your brain chemicals sense you’re not getting enough calories and carbohydrates. This literally causes you to feel cravings.
It has also been shown that dieting increases your risk of premature death and heart disease from all of this weight cycling due to yo-yo dieting. Notably, the risk for heart disease due to weight cycling increases no matter what you BMI. Diets can cause your body shape to change as well. After each diet you increase more fat in the abdominal area which is also dangerous for health. Diets can also give you headaches, menstrual irregularities, fatigue, dry skin, hair loss, your nails can become brittle and finally, diets cause your satiety cues to atrophy. Your just not going to feel hunger and fullness in the way you did before.
Stress and Appetite
If that isn’t enough, let’s look at the psychological and emotional damage that dieting can do. Firstly, every time you go on a diet it increases your stress and it makes you feel more vulnerable to the effects of stress. You are not getting the nutrition you need for your nervous system to work properly. Also, the stress of dieting may actually affect the neurochemical circuits that control appetite and satiety.
Secondly, there are horrible feelings of deprivation that come up every time you diet. It’s hard to imagine how damaging these feelings of deprivation can be. In order to understand deprivation, we can look at the work of psychologist Abraham Maslow who talked about our hierarchy of needs. His basic and most simple statement is that we are driven by our unmet needs. We actually seek what we do not have. If you put a selection of toys in front of a child and tell that child he can play with anyone of those toys except the box they came in. Which toy do you think that child is going to want to go after?
So of course, when we can’t have we end up feeling so vulnerable to the loss of control when we do go after that which we don’t have. And along with that loss of control comes feelings of failure and lowered self-esteem and even social anxiety. You might be afraid to go out and eat at a party or a wedding because you might feel out of control and people might see you eating that way. You can see how this would erode your self-confidence and your self-trust. In fact, you might even have the belief you have a fundamental character deficit. People end up thinking something is wrong with them because they can’t stay on a diet. And of course, diets are linked to serious life-threatening eating disorders like Anorexia, Bulimia and Binge Eating Disorder.
Success In Everything But Dieting
Since we’ve been talking about psychology, let’s look at the psychological reasons why diets don’t work. This is the nuts and bolts of why diets don’t work at a psychological level. The first one has to do with willpower. So many successful people from all walks of life and are so happy in all areas of their lives but they feel like failures when it comes to dieting. Everything is working for them except they just can’t stay on a diet. Why is this? Why can’t this super successful and motivated person not stay on a diet?
It’s Not About Willpower
Well, in other areas of their life they have a purpose that has meaning and is consistent with their own deep values so of course they are disciplined to do the work they need to do their job or stay connected to their family members. But, when they go on a diet they are trying to apply the same sense of discipline they call willpower. But willpower is really something very different, it’s an attempt to counter the natural desires that you have and replace them with prescriptive rules. When you are a naturally internally controlled eater (Intuitive Eater) you are listening to your personal signals and these will reinforce your natural instincts rather than fighting them. This will become a deep and meaningful value for you, you won’t need to apply willpower to be an Intuitive Eater. Deprivation is a key psychological reason why diets don’t work.
Rebellion is Normal
The other key psychological factor considered another main reason diets can’t work due to human psychology is due to autonomy. When you go on a diet your need to assert your autonomy is stronger than your need to lose weight! This has to do with the internal violation that dieting represents and the emotional boundary issues that ensue. But what are boundaries? Robert Frost once said “Good fences make good neighbours”. We know that fences set up the boundaries to keep people in and out of your back garden perhaps.
As an adult, you have a sense of freedom and autonomy. You set up your own psychological boundaries about what to think, what to believe in and what to eat. In the world of dieting the external rules of the diet cross over the boundary into the private place that protects all of your personal eating wisdom. When you are told what to do you give a great big, protective “NO!”
No diet or diet counsellor can possibly know when you are hungry, what you feel like eating and when you are satisfied. The simple act of stepping across your personal psychological boundary can trigger so many thoughts and feelings and actions of rebellion. You’re being told what to do and you react against it.
Failing at Dieting is Normal
There is absolutely nothing wrong with you when you ‘fail’ at a diet. You’re actually psychologically very healthy. You’re protecting your personal wisdom when you react against the diet with rebellion. Of course, diets won’t work if your main goal is to protect your autonomy, feel assured that you are psychologically healthy if diets don’t work for you.
Are you Convinced?
So, are you convinced now? Do you feel better? Do you have enough facts about the damage dieting does? And do you understand now why diets don’t work so you can make an informed choice and stop dieting right now?
Remember, when you do decide to let go of dieting you may go through a process of mourning. Dieting has meant something to you. There have been many pay-offs for you and these are the things that you will be losing right now. Understand it is normal to feel sad when you let go of dieting. Please remember there is no failure in the process of getting back to Intuitive Eating, only learning. Each experiential task we do is just an opportunity to work out what works for you and what doesn’t. Come from a place of curiosity not judgement. This is a process with its own path. The more you try to control it the more difficult it will be. Let it happen in its own way. Just being mindful and observant, not controlling.
Outside-in to Inside-out
One last suggestion to help you reject the diet mentality which is all about getting rid of those dieter’s tools. As a dieter you’ve probably relied on external forces to regulate your eating. Get rid of any of those so-called tools that you thought would help you stay on your diet and control your eating. They don’t work because they come from the outside in and that includes the scales or any other measure of body size or shape (including comparing how tight clothes feel!)
Let go of coming from the outside in and instead come from the inside out. Intuitive Eating tools are empowerment tools coming from the inside wisdoms of your own body that if you can learn to stop controlling will flourish.
Help for Fitness Professionals
If you are a fitness professional with a disordered relationship with food and/or exercise don’t hesitate to get in touch. I am here to help.
HFI Training and Try Freedom Founder and Owner