Diet’s don’t work: Why you’re better off being fat and happy

Photo by Min An from Pexels

Diets don’t work
97% of people who go on a diet regain the weight and more, after a few years.


  • Because diets are restrictive and people simply cannot maintain them for very long. In some people they can lead to disordered eating patterns and binge eating. A 2017 systematic review and meta-analysis (one of the best types of studies you can get) looked at the effectiveness of commercial weight loss programs and found they were unsustainable and there was no clinically meaningful weight loss. Meaning, people didn’t lose weight and couldn’t stick to the programs!

  • Because when you restrict your calorie intake, your body thinks it’s in starvation mode, due to famine! Hormonal and metabolic changes occur that cause your body to hold onto your body fat and increase your hunger. This was great for our ancestors, who actually lived in times of scarcity, but not so great for us. If you restrict your intake and go hungry, your body will do anything it can to get you back to your original weight. There are many studies, such as the Minnesota starvation experiment, Fothergill’s study on the biggest loser contestants and studies on pregnant women during the Dutch famine, that all show permanent physical and psychological damage from restricted calorie intakes. Dieting is essentially a form of starvation and your body won’t like it.
  • Not eating enough food can lead to nutritional deficiencies. This happens when there are not enough vitamins and minerals being eaten to maintain good health or when the body struggles to absorb enough nutrition. The symptoms of a deficiency vary depending on which nutrient you are lacking, but the most common symptoms which occur with dieting related nutrient deficiencies are:

fatigue, weakness, food cravings, hair loss (also called telogen effluivium), constipation, feeling dizzy or fainting, depression, poor concentration, difficulty sleeping and menstrual issues, such as skipping periods, periods stopping altogether or very heavy periods.

These deficiencies can be avoided by eating enough! Eating when hungry and stopping when you’re satisfied. And focusing most of your food choices around nutrient dense foods that you enjoy, think wholefoods, such as fruits, vegetables, eggs, fish nuts, seeds, legumes etc. This doesn’t mean you can’t eat your favourite foods that are maybe not particularly “nutrient dense”. Allowing yourself to eat these foods and whenever you want, is the first step to eating healthily and not dieting.

  • Because diets can lead to weight cycling and weight cycling can make you sick. Weight cycling is when a person has diet induced fluctuations of weight. A person diets, loses weight, eats normally gains weight and repeats the exercise over and over. Weight cycling is common in people that diet. It’s estimated that around 20 to 50% of people have weight cycling patterns. Weight cycling does not just happen to people in larger bodies, but in lean people too, and is just as damaging. Weight cycling can put pressure on our heart, kidneys and blood vessels, this may lead to increased risk of weight gain, heart disease, kidney disease and it’s thought weight cycling can increase a persons’ risk of some types of cancer. In a very recent study, they found that crash diets (eating very small amounts or liquid replacements- 600 to 800 calories a day, for 8 weeks) can be potentially dangerous for people who have previous heart conditions. As fat is lost from the body and the liver, during the calorie restriction, amounts of fat INCREASES by 44% around the heart and leads to poorer heart function!
  • Because when we “aren’t allowed” or “can’t have” a certain food, we want it more.
    One of my favourite foods is papaya. Obviously, it doesn’t grow in NZ and the imported ones taste horrible. So when we went to Fiji, I made sure that I made the most of it. I ate at least 3 whole papaya every day. On our last day, I looked at my papaya and felt sick … but ya know what? I still ate it! Why? Because when we “aren’t allowed” or “can’t have” a certain food, we want it even more. And I knew it would be years before I got another papaya, so I ate it anyway. Even though just looking at it made me want to hurl.
    It’s the same when we diet. When we restrict our food intake and we tell ourselves that we are never going to eat *insert certain food items here* then we are:

a) more likely to want and crave that food even if we don’t want it b) more likely to eat that food
c) more likely to binge on that food or eat that food in large amounts

Part of a healthy diet is including those favourite foods. If you allow yourself to eat them, when you want them, that food will become less desirable and hold less power over you. And, ya know what? You’re less likely to want it or eat it if its an “allowed food”.

Case in point: Pictured: On the left is me, aged 18, with a BMI of 24.5 and on the right is a picture of me when I was 23, with a BMI at 18.8. Despite the difference in weight (over 15 kilos and 4 dress sizes difference)…I was HEALTHY at both these weights.

Body composition is how much fat and muscle you have on your body. Body composition is more important and a better indicator of health, but the only real way of knowing your muscle and fat mass is by dissecting you and weighing your fat and muscle tissue. Who’s up for that?! This picture (below) shows 2 different people with the same BMI (of 30, so they will be labelled as “obese”), but with different body compositions. The yellow represents fat mass and the orange represents muscle mass (or lean mass). Both people have the same BMI and may even look similar body weights, if you met them on the street. But having more muscle mass, is better for our health and ageing. It is NOT about looking ripped with abs, or having a low amount of body fat (these are obviously men, women need more body fat). It IS about being able to function, being able to lift and move your body with ease, about being able to do those daily activities of life, and ageing well. You can’t tell by looking at someone or at their weight or BMI how healthy they are. Having both muscle mass and fat mass is crucial for our health. And muscle weighs more than fat, so the scales aren’t necessarily the best way to measure your body.

I pinched this pic off a Dietetics page I follow, that was talking about a presentation they saw at the ESPEN conference. So credit to them for the image!

Health behaviours are more important

Studies show that health behaviours are more influential on our health, than our total weight. For example, a massive study that followed millions of people, found that the more health behaviours people practised their risk of death decreased. There were four main health behaviours, eating 5+ a day, not smoking, drinking less than 1 glass of wine a day and having leisure time and physical activity on a regular basis. When people had all 4 health behaviours their risk of death was more than halved and there was no difference between those in larger bodies or in smaller bodies. We also know from other studies that you can’t tell what a person eats or the quality of their diet, by the size of their body. A high quality nourishing diet doesn’t necessarily = thin body and a poor quality diet doesn’t necessarily = a fat body.

Moral of the Story?
Weight is not a good measure of health. There are so many healthy weights we can be, but we often get obsessed by a particular number on the scale. Better measures of health are our blood pressure, cholesterol readings, liver and kidney function, mental health etc.
It is much better for our health to remain a stable weight, then to lose weight and regain it again. Especially if you are calorie restricting so much your body goes into starvation mode and you end up with nutrient deficiencies, fatigue and hair loss.

Weight does not equal health. There are many important aspects of health, not just our physical health, but our mental, social, spiritual, environmental and emotional health. All are fundamental factors to our well-being. Diets are, by nature, restrictive and focus on what you can’t have or aren’t allowed, this is not fun and this approach is not good for your emotional, social or mental health. Especially if it leads to feelings of guilt, inadequacy, or disordered eating patterns.

So if dieting doesn’t work, WTF do I do?!
First, focus on your relationship with your body and food. Accept your body for how it is and what it looks like. Allow yourself to eat what you feel like eating. Begin to tune into your body and listen to its hunger signals. Your body is designed to tell you everything it needs. So start listening. Identify the difference between head hunger and tummy hunger. Head hunger is driven by emotions or stress. It tends to be a sudden craving and is only fulfilled by a certain type of comfort food. Tummy hunger is different, it’s slow to arrive and gradual. Tummy hunger is generally happy eating whatever is there. When you’ve tuned into your hunger signals and are truly listening to your body, you will find your cravings aren’t just for chocolate or chips, but broccoli, red meat, fruit and other healthy foods will also feature.

When you’ve nailed the above and you are able to eat for pleasure and feel good about it. You can make some small changes, to increase the nutrition of your diet. Start small and make changes you can stick to. Add an extra vegetable on your dinner plate, make more meals from home, do your own baking.

Want to know more about the non-diet approach? Sick of dieting and not getting the results you want? Want help and ideas to improve your health and your menu, without dieting? Confused about nutrition and want some advice?
Book a consult now! I have plenty of service options to meet your health needs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s