Warning: Dieting Increases Your Risk of Gaining More Weight

By Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD

If dieting programs had to stand up to the same scrutiny as medications, they would never be allowed for public consumption. Imagine, for example, taking an asthma medication, which improves your breathing for a few weeks, but in the long run causes your lungs and breathing to worsen. Or, imagine taking a medication to unclog your arteries, but ultimately causes increased blockage. Would you really embark on a diet, even a so-called “sensible diet”, if you knew that it could cause you to gain more weight?

Many Commercial Diets Are Ineffective and Counterproductive

Here are some sobering studies indicating how dieting promotes weight gain:

A team of UCLA researchers reviewed 31 long term studies on dieting and concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain – up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost. (1)

Research on nearly 17,000 kids, ages 9 to14, concluded that “…in the long term, dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain.” (2)

Teenage dieters had twice the risk of becoming overweight compared to non-dieting teens, according to a five-year study. (3) Notably, at baseline, the dieters did not weigh more than their non-dieting peers. This is an important detail, because if the dieters weighed more, it would be a confounding factor, (which would implicate other factors rather than dieting, such as genetics).

Studies aside, what has your own dieting experiences shown you? Many of my patients and workshop participants say their first diet was easy. The pounds just melted off. But that first dieting experience is a seduction trap, which launches the futile pursuit of weight loss via dieting. I say “futile” because our bodies are very smart and wired for survival.

Biologically, your body experiences the dieting process as a form of starvation. Your cells don’t know you are voluntarily restricting your food intake. Your body shifts into primal survival mode. Metabolism slows down and food cravings escalate. And with each diet, the body learns and adapts, resulting in rebound weight gain. Consequently, many of my patients feel like they are a failure, but it is dieting that has failed them.

Not only do diets not work, they increase your risk of weight gain.

It’s easy to get caught up in the enthusiastic hoopla of the New-Year-Dieting-Season, with celebrity testimonials and promises anew. Instead, how about embarking on an inner journey in pursuit of becoming the expert of your own body. It takes listening and inner attunement.

Isn’t time to get to know yourself, your wants and needs, what you like to eat, what tastes good and satisfies. But it’s hard to listen to your body when you are following the external directives of a diet program, which is why the first principle of “Intuitive Eating, is Reject the Dieting Mentality.”

(1) Mann, T. Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer. Am. Psychologist, 2007; 62(3): 220-233.
(2) Field AE et al. Relation Between Dieting and Weight Change Among Preadolescents and Adolescents. Pediatrics, 2003 112:900-906.
(3) Neumark-Sztainer D. et al. Obesity, disordered eating and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: How do dieters fare five years later? J. Am. Diet Assoc. 2006; 106(4): 559-568.

DISCLAIMER: The information is intended to inform readers and is not intended to replace specific advice from a health care professional.

Copyright © 2011 by Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD. Published at www.IntuitiveEating.org

Evelyn Tribole, MS, RD is an award-winning dietitian with a counseling practice specializing in eating disorders, “Intuitive Eating,” and Celiac Disease in Newport Beach, California, where she helps clients create a healthy relationship with food, mind and body. She was the nutrition expert for Good Morning America and qualified for the 1984 Olympic trials in the women’s marathon. Although she no longer competes, she runs for fun and fitness. For more information, please visit www.IntuitiveEating.org

The articles written by guest contributors are the sole responsibility of the individual writers in terms of factual accuracy and opinion and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher of this blog.

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