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Why diets don’t work – and never will

30 July 2011

Mmmm.. Donuts. *drool*

I’ve got an issue with diets. I’ve also got an issue with how obsessed people get with ‘the next great diet’ – and how ‘this one actually works!’. Because it doesn’t, and the next one won’t either. Diets never work.

I’m not against weight loss as such – if you feel that you need to lose a little weight to feel better, fair enough. And although there are a lot of people who try to lose weight that really don’t need to, that is a separate issue and won’t be discussed here.

No, my point is that going on a diet to lose weight is foolish since diets are meant to make us do things we don’t want to do – i.e. not eating stuff we like. Being human, we can only take that for a limited period of time, and once we’re off the diet we quickly gain any weight we’ve lost. If we really are concerned about our weight then by all means let’s go on a diet to kick-start the weight loss. But the diet is not the solution to our problem – we will need to change our outlook on life, our lifestyle, to make any long-lasting changes.

Taking it to its simplest, we accumulate and expend energy. That is, we eat and drink to gain calories, and we use our muscles, brains and other organs to use up those calories. So if we eat more than we use up, the body cleverly store the surplus energy as fat for the future in case there might be leaner times ahead. Excellent strategy for an pre-historic ape who lived on the ever-changing plains of Africa and Asia, but not so good for a modern city-dwelling office worker.

So, we need to either regulate our intake or increase our expenditure, or both. And if that sounds like a diet, then yes, it would. But my point is that rather than punishing ourselves with a rigid dietary programme until we can’t take it anymore, I’d suggest making small changes in the way we live our daily lives. Eat what you like, but perhaps not a thick, creamy curry every night. Enjoy proper food but perhaps not in huge portions. Instead of taking the car, go for a walk. If we can make a number of small changes – without feeling like we’re penalising ourselves – we stand a much better chance of making the changes permanent. And that makes it not a diet anymore, but a change of lifestyle. That’s the only way to control our weight in the long-term – by really wanting to change our lives.

But, if all you want is to get fit for the summer, and don’t mind gaining the weight the following autumn, then by all means go ahead. Go on a diet. Just remember that I’ll be there to tell you ‘I told you so’.

P.S. If you want another reason not to start a diet, read this hilarious post on the potential risks of dietary pharmaceuticals by :

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