How’s Your New Year’s Diet Going?

Statistics show that by six weeks in, the majority of dieters will have stalled. Maybe it’s time to explore your relationship with food instead.

New year, new hope, new you. The changing of the calendar is a powerful force for many of us to consider making a change. The new year diet has become practically an institution, with diet clubs overflowing with newbie members, eager to sign up and pay up.

Unfortunately, by between one and two months after starting a diet, the majority of dieters have hit the buffers. I deliberately choose not to call it ‘failing’ as it sounds judgmental. But it makes no sense to be judged a failure at dieting when it only works long term 5% of the time. That doesn’t stop the diet industry firmly asserting that it is your failure, as it loudly proclaims that its diet works — as long as you stick to it.

The problem is that when you start a diet you start a war between your brain and body. Here’s why:

  1. Ironic Pink Elephants

Don’t imagine a pink elephant.

I’ll bet you just did, despite being told not to. That bit of brain behaviour is called ironic processing (discovered by Social Psychologist, Dan Wegner).

Ironic processing is what happens on a diet when you’ve been told that carbs are a no no and you suddenly can’t stop thinking about bread. Or chocolate. Or any other “bad” food.

You’ve been told you can’t have something and so you start to obsess about that very thing.

This means that when you are on a diet your brain is wired to fight against whichever restriction (diet/plan/lifestyle choice — call it what you will) you have chosen. Yes, even though you chose it.

2. Your metabolism starts to idle

As you start to reduce your intake of calories, your metabolism slows down. And you don’t have to be reducing by much. Your brain thinks you are starving and slows everything down to keep you alive through the famine.

The scary thing is that this reduction in metabolic rate can be permanent. One of the saddest legacies for dieter’s on The Biggest Losers is a very reduced metabolic rate.

This means you could lose 50 pounds to be the same weight as your friend who’s never dieted. But your metabolic rate would almost certainly be lower than hers (all other factors being roughly equal). So if you ate exactly the same food she did — you would gain weight again whilst she stayed the same.

Not fair at all. This is a serious problem caused by dieting and never spoken about.

3. Moody and irritable

Dieting is not enjoyable. If you are hungry, that feeling deliberately occupies your mind and body. Your brain thinks you are starving and goes into survival mode. You need food. So by thinking of nothing else your brain wants you to find it, eat it and not starve.

But that’s the opposite of dieting - so you are again fighting your brain and biology.

You feel cranky. You’re less productive at work. Less patient with the kids and partner. More depressed. More lethargic. Totally obsessed with thinking about food.

Food and eating is your Number One Focus. Above all your other needs and wants. Above your family’s needs. Your lover. Your friends. Your work.

Nobody gets your time energy and attention like food does. But you’re not supposed to be eating it.

4. Do you own your diet or does it own you?

All diets require you to change your life to fit the plan. Unless you are going to follow that plan forever (or the ‘maintenance plan’), for most of us real life returns eventually.

Usually it creeps in bit by bit until we are more off plan than on. And so the weight comes back on.

5. Why have one cookie when you can have a packet!

When a diet is going well, you feel happy and positive. But when the inevitable bump comes along, you stop losing weight or even gain. This can leave you feeling miserable and despondent.

The same as when you eat something ‘bad’.

And both of these scenarios may tip you into a feeding frenzy. A binge. You’ve messed up so you might as well go all in. One cookie turns into a packet. This is known as ‘all or nothing’ thinking and it’s another way your brain battles against your diet.

For all of these reasons, dieting is a game in which the odds are heavily stacked against us.

Why not try a different approach, especially if you are a regular dieter. Take a gentle look at your relationship with food and your body. Is food something that controls you or needs to be controlled? By looking deeper you may see that food has some emotional meaning to you. Only when food is just food, can we make peace with it. Then your body can be healthily nourished and your mind ready to focus on achieving your hopes and dreams.


Updated and expanded from an article originally published at www.leavingdietworld.com