Anyone who has ever felt overweight has likely tried a diet – or several. And while they may have lost some weight while white-knuckling their way through the diet, odds are good that after stopping the diet, they gained the weight back – plus some extra. Sound familiar?
It’s an all-too-common problem. And the worst part is that instead of blaming the diet, the dieter usually blames him/herself for failing. They often think they are weak or have no discipline. But science has shown repeatedly that the problem isn’t the dieter – it’s the act of dieting itself.
Enter the work of Traci Mann, a professor of psychology at the University of Minnesota, who has been studying diets for more than 20 years at the University’s Health and Eating Lab
Her research shows that diets don’t work, and are, in fact, destined to fail. Mann wrote a book called “Secrets from the Eating Lab,” in which she explains why diets don’t work and why dieting over the long term is actually impossible. She outlines three biological changes that happen in your body when you diet. These changes are the reasons that diets are destined to fail.
First, she says, are the neurological changes. When you are dieting, you actually become more likely to notice food. Basically your brain becomes overly responsive to food, and especially to tasty looking food. But you don’t just notice it — it actually begins to look more appetizing and tempting. It has increased reward value. So the thing you’re trying to resist, actually becomes harder to resist.
Next are hormonal changes. As you lose body fat, the amount of different hormones in your body changes. Leptin, which is the hormone that help you feel full, decreases when you’re dieting. And ghrelin, the hormone that makes you feel hungry, increases. So you become more likely to feel hungry, and less likely to feel full given the same amount of food. It feels like a no win situation. And it is.
The final biological whammy is metabolic changes.
Your metabolism slows down when you diet. Dieting makes your body think you’re experiencing a famine, and it finds a way to live on fewer calories – which it does by slowing down how many calories it burns for activities.
“Dieting is actually a lot like starving, physically,” Mann said.
And, unfortunately for those who really want to lose weight, almost all diet research points to the same sad facts – diets don’t work over the long haul.
So, when you are overweight and really unhappy with your body what CAN you do to make a difference? The answer might surprise you. Instead of trying to whip your body into shape, the best thing you can do, is get your MIND into shape, so that you can make peace with your body and with food.
Our minds tell us all kinds of things like, “I’m so fat. I look disgusting!” Or, “I need to get some self-control! I should be able to lose this weight.” Think about it for a moment – would you EVER speak to someone you love like that? Your body “hears” everything you think about it. Blaming and shaming your body won’t lead to it getting better. If anything, those cruel thoughts usually lead us straight to the fridge!
What can lead to change? Learning to love and appreciate your glorious body for all that it does for you. Maybe you don’t love the way it looks, but you can love it for the way it functions. If you can see, and hear, and walk, right there you have much for which to be grateful.
And these kindlier feelings toward your body can actually begin to change the way you treat it, which can lead to changes in your body. Think of it this way – I have a daughter that I adore and a dog that I love dearly. I want the best for both of them. I want them to eat high-quality food and to be healthy and strong. What if I loved my body as much as I love my daughter and my dog? Wouldn’t I take better care of it? The answer is yes. And there is actually some research coming from Dr. Barbara Frederickson, psychologist and current President of the International Positive Psychology Association, which supports this. In her “upward spiral theory of lifestyle change” model, she says that positive emotions lead to nonconscious motivators which lead to wellness behaviors.
Loving your body is a great start. But you also must do even more work on your mind to make peace with food, too. For most of us, that means actually feeling our emotions instead of eating to bury them. This is not an easy thing to do if you’ve been using food to escape your emotions for a while. But it can be done. It requires, in part, pausing before you eat to ask yourself if you’re physically hungry or if there is something else going on with you.
For those who would argue that this loving your body and taming your mind will just keep you fat and unhealthy, I respectfully disagree – and so does my doc. At a recent appointment, I said that I realized that being overweight could be a factor for a particular health risk and she said, “Actually, new research shows that weight is not a factor in that as we once believed it was.” And science backs her up as the Health At Every Size movement is showing. Research shows that weight size has much less of an effect on health than once believed. You can learn more here Size Diversity and Health.
My hope is that before you begin another cycle on the diet/fail/shame/blame cycle, you will pause and just try to appreciate your body and the miracle that it is and maybe try something else. Maybe try love this time.
If you are ready to end the cycle of yo-yo dieting, please check out Body GLOW, a program for women who are ready to make peace with their bodies and with food. You can learn more about it here, http://bit.ly/1PNRJdo.
Bio: Vikki Nicometo is a certified life/career coach who helps clients design and create their best lives – specifically helping them with finding their passion and purpose and helping women to make peace with their bodies and with food. In addition to her coaching certification, Vikki holds a certificate in positive psychology and a BS in Journalism. Prior to becoming a coach, she spent nearly 20 years in recruiting and training. You can learn more at www.lifecoachvikk.com