Say no to starvation and yes to loving yourself
Diets don’t work. Science has proven this. From keto to fasting, diets are largely unsustainable, make you miserable and then will almost certainly mean you regain the weight you lost, and then some.
So why don’t diets work? The truth is, scientists don’t know. Some think it’s because diets slow your metabolism, meaning you burn calories more slowly –you’ll still maintain your weight even with less food. The genetic heritability of weight – that is, how much your weight is pre-determined by your DNA – ranges from 30% to 70%. Gut health might also play a part, alongside other intangibles like access and attitude to food, wealth, social environment, geography and mental health. And then there’s pure psychology – your brain is hardwired to make dieting almost entirely ineffective. Here’s why.
- Your brain points out all the food to you. When you diet, your brain notices food more. This is tremendously unfair. If you’re trying to rely on willpower, the fact that your brain spontaneously keeps on pointing out all the chips, cinnamon rolls and sweets isn’t going to help. It’s exhausting and you’re ultimately fighting a losing battle.
- Your brain thinks food tastes better when you’re denying yourself what you want. Food tastes better when you’re dieting. Not only that, but that ‘reward’ dopamine rush is even bigger when you’re dieting.
- Your brain is resistant to dieting and works in the opposite way you expect. Denying yourself food makes you more likely to binge later on. Not only that, but feeling a stigma due to carrying excess weight means people are less likely to exercise and more likely to binge.
- Your brain short-circuits the willpower function. You can’t rely on willpower, because dieting stops your brain working properly and means your willpower isn’t as strong as if you were eating normally.
Diets don’t work. So how can you lose weight?
By eating cake. By ignoring media and the millions of blog posts, and not dieting. The best thing you can do is to listen to your body. It’s a new approach to health (and, by proxy, weight loss) that asks you to reject social body-norms and eat intuitively.
- Reject the fallacy of diets. They don’t work in the long term.
- Honour your hunger and eat. Tune into your body, eat when you’re hungry, and eat what your body craves. If you trust your body, giving it love, not starvation, and really listening to what it’s saying, you’ll find that some days you’ll want a Tim Tam and fish and chips, but most of the time you’ll be wanting high-nutrient foods. You’ll be craving a bowl of chilli roast broccoli as much as a bag of chips.
- Turn prevailing diet advice on its head, and let yourself love and eat all food. You may find that when you don’t feel restricted, ‘bad’ food loses some of its allure. When you know you can have a milkshake whenever you really want it, you remove that obsessive craving.
- Rewire your brain. When it tells you a food is ‘bad’, shut those thoughts down. No food is bad, or good. By giving yourself permission to eat whatever you like, those negative, derailing brain changes don’t happen. The reward pathway is weaker. You won’t be noticing food all the time.
- Build time and ritual around eating that adds enjoyment and makes it easier to tune in. Distracted eating means you’re likely to eat higher calorie food, and more of it. Instead, eat at a table – set a place, pour a drink and really pay attention. It will make it easier to stop eating when you feel full, notice what food you really crave and how different foods make you feel.
- Enjoy eating. Take pleasure in your food. Kick that guilt to the curb, and don’t punish yourself for being human and eating what you enjoy. When you give yourself permission to eat what you want, it becomes less interesting.
- Manage your emotions in ways other than food. This is harder than it sounds, of course.
- Accept your genetics. Thigh gap, hip dip, breast size – it’s all genetics. Let it go.
- Exercise to feel good, not to punish yourself for eating. If you’re not punishing yourself with exercise, you may find yourself wanting to go for a walk around the block after dinner. Or, you might find you enjoy going for a jog.
- Look after your body. No diet is perfect, but consistent care and nurturing your body are better than punishment for eating cake.
Does your weight even matter?
A new way of thinking shows that if your mental and emotional wellbeing are good, most food you eat is reasonably healthy and you do regular physical activity, you’re actually pretty healthy.
You can have body fat and still be healthy. In fact, you can be healthier than a slim person who doesn’t exercise. A lot of diseases correlated with obesity are actually related to cardiovascular health, not obesity. That is an important differentiation to make.
To lose weight, stop dieting
Throw out your diet books. Don’t stop yourself from eating foods you enjoy. Get rid of that idea that your willpower is somehow lacking, or that you’re someone less – less worthy, less loveable, less smart, less admirable – because your weight is higher than you’d like.
Instead, tune into yourself and eat what you crave. Focus on following your body cues. If you’re hungry, eat. If you’re full, stop eating. Focus on making your body feel good. Do exercise you enjoy to strengthen your bones and muscles and get that post-run high, not as punishment for eating. In short, the secret to health (and probably a lower weight) is to love your body just as it is, and eat the cake.