What’s Wrong With Strict Diets?
There have been quite a few research studies that have shown physical and psychological reasons why strict diets don’t work. We usually tend to blame this on lack of will power or self-control, but it turns out it really isn’t necessarily that.
According to Stephan Guyenet, who authored “The Hungry Brain,” your brain gets used to your body being at a certain weight, which he calls your “set point weight.” Remember, the biological world is culture-free. It doesn’t necessarily understand that weight loss is better on the long run or that it’s better aesthetically.
So when you suddenly don’t eat as much as you used to, your body will go into what is called “famine reaction” to “start fighting back against weight loss.” But that’s not because your body actually needs the nutrition, but because that was the set weight your body was used to. This could include a lot of what is called “emotional eating.”
Your brain also has a set point for your body’s fat content, which your body controles with a hormone called “leptin.” According to Dr. Steven Hendrick, “when the leptin levels decrease, the brain senses that more energy needs to be brought in. Feelings of hunger increase to initiate food intake in order to replenish the energy the body senses it needs.”
One scientifically backed way to break your brain’s idea of what your set weight point should be is by taking frequent breaks in your diet. That way you can reprogram your brain into not freaking out when you go on a diet. Not only does it help people stick through their diets, it also helps them gain less weight back once they stop.
One other way some experts recommend is “intuitive eating.” This means listening closely to your body and nourishing yourself accordingly. But doesn’t that mean you’ll just be eating unhealthy things you usually eat everyday? Don’t we gain weight because we usually listen to our bodies, and we should stop? No. You have to listen to your body’s fullness cues, experts say.
“Studies have demonstrated the effectiveness of intuitive eating,” Dr. Hendrick said. “I would agree with respecting your fullness—eat when you’re hungry, stop when you’re not. Eating to refuel versus eating when there’s food around is, I think, a very important distinction we should all consider.”
By listening to your body more, you would also be able to be more honest with yourself, when you realize that even though you ate that entire McDonalds meal, you don’t quite feel as full as you would have on a nutritious meal that is equally large. You can begin to design what you eat based on your body’s true signals.
This does not mean you won’t still need to control how much you eat. But when you do diet, you’d be able to listen to your body’s cues a lot more to know what to eat when you find yourself wanting to binge eat.