cocoon logo

Home > Parenting > Parenting Health > Why Diets Don't Work!

Health & Nutrition

Why Diets Don't Work!

Nearly everyone I know has been on a diet at some point in their lives and most of those are still battling with their weight.  Why? Becasue DIETS DON'T WORK!!!

So why are we so obsessed with them if they don’t work? The reason behind this is basic human nature. We want a miracle quick fix that will magically melt our thighs and waistline away without having to put in any effort , thought or exercise.

When I started doing my research on diet plans years ago, one overriding thing struck me. If you were to read between the lines, they all say literally the same thing. Eat less junk, i.e. cakes, biscuits, sweets, chocolate etc. Give up alcohol for 6 weeks and get more exercise. But if you were to do that anyway you’d lose excess fat.

The reason why you choose one diet over the other is usually as a result of a personal recommendation, “someone you know lost a stone in a month”, sound familiar?! Then you read up a little bit about it and because it sounds like the breakthrough we’ve all been waiting for, it must be right. All they talk about is, ‘Being in a state of ketosis’, or ‘ Protease and Amylase work at different rates’…blah blah!

You see, another thing I noticed is that they try to baffle you with science to make them sound convincing and you think, ‘Ooh, they must be right, they’ve put so much research into their theory...’, or they have some Hollywood celebrity advertising their regime.

The main thing to know about losing excess weight or fat is that it is NOT rocket science. Somewhere along the way we’ve lost sight of the fact that it is a simple case of, energy in must equal energy out, in other words, whatever quantity of food you eat in terms of energy, if you don’t expend that energy through activity, the excess will be stored as fat.

A calorie is not a bad word! All it is, is how we measure nutritional energy, just like a bulbs use watts. How much energy do we need every day? This question is asked all the time, it’s hard to know without talking individually to each person, as everyone’s requirement is different. The term used to describe the least amount of calories we need on a daily basis is your Basal Metabolic Rate or BMR. Everyone’s BMR is dependent on various factors such as, present weight, body shape and type, body fat vs. muscle mass, age, gender, activity level, genetics, stress levels, smoking, alcohol, the list is endless. That is why it is pretty impossible to pinpoint exactly how many calories an individual needs daily and is ridiculous to suggest that one diet fits all.
So the best we can do is roughly estimate. There are a few different ways of doing this; the one I use is based on weight. So whatever your weight is now, convert it into pounds, so 10 stone is 140 lbs. Add a zero onto the end of that and you have 1400. So a person who weighs 10 stone has a BMR of 1400. However I mentioned that your BMR is the least amount of calories you need. That is just to keep your body surviving properly, for your heart to beat, lungs to breathe, kidney’s and liver to function, for your brain to transmit nerve signals, your blood to circulate and regenerate, for your body to heal etc. Then we also have to factor in your daily activities so it is a safe bet to actually add 600-800 kCals to your BMR to give you an approximate calorie requirement. Based on this principal we can already eliminate the diets that restrict your calorie intake to 1000-1200, which is more likely to be the total energy requirement for 5-foot ballerina!

There are several reasons why dieters fail. One would be that they are generally short-term (usually 2 weeks) and also that they are based on deprivation, but the primary reason is calorie restriction. Our bodies NEED energy (food) to work properly. Just like a car needs petrol. When we don’t feed our body the correct amount and type of food, it thinks there is something wrong and it switches into “famine mode” where it will conserve energy.

It does this by slowing your metabolism. Your metabolic rate is the rate at which you burn energy and is directly related to the amount of lean muscle mass you have on your body. Muscle requires a lot more energy than fat and therefore burns up food quicker. Look at top athletes or young adolescent boys, they have much more lean muscle mass than body fat and therefore find it difficult to gain weight and are practically always hungry! Your metabolism is similar to a fire, for a fire to burn brightly and for heat to be generated you need to fuel it with logs and coal etc. When you leave the fire alone and don’t add fuel, the flames die down; in order to get them back again you must add more coal. The only problem is our metabolism doesn’t respond as quickly as a fire. When your body is in famine mode it thinks death is a real threat, it doesn’t realise you are restricting calorie intake on purpose for a 2-week period or whatever length of time you plan to be on the diet! When you finish your diet, firstly you are STARVING and having been deprived, you say to yourself, “Well, I’ve lost 10 pounds and I’ve been so good these last few weeks I can afford to have that big fry followed by that big slice of chocolate cake and then later I can eat whatever I want because I’m thin now….” Etc etc.

As a result of this rollercoaster of eating your body keeps this extra food and stores it as fat just in case there is another famine period. This is why people who go on a diet lose “weight”, go back eating what they want, put on the weight they lost and then gain more weight so they are actually heavier than when they started, and then they say, “Well that diet didn’t work!” and they go and try the next diet someone recommends to them and the whole process starts over again! This is called yo-yo dieting.

The reason why 10 pounds or so was lost is because your body is using up it’s own energy reserves to make up for the shortfall to feed your brain and other organs while you are on the diet. This energy reserve comes in the form of your muscles and organs. Obviously, this is not good as it is decreasing your metabolism. This is the “weight” you are losing, plus water.

Lets talk about the term 'weight'. When you step on the scales you see a figure denoting your total body weight, e.g. 10 stone. When we consider that body fat usually accounts for 20-30% or 3 stone of that figure, that means 7 stone is your organs, water, muscle, etc…your head alone accounts for 8-10%! So therefore scale weight is a poor indicator of the condition of your body. Also, it is impossible, bar a miracle, to lose more than 2 pounds of 'fat' per week. And it should be only fat that we are interested in losing, if we lose water weight, it goes straight back on.

So the first thing to do when you hear about a diet plan is ask, “How much weight am I going to lose?” and if they give you an answer of more than 2lbs per week, RUN! You’ll only end up damaging your body more.

Unfortunately there is no quick fix but as I mentioned before there is no great mystery to it either. To have your body in the best condition you need to eat regularly and eat highly nutritious foods. You need to fuel your metabolism and you need to work your body. Our bodies are designed to be active, not sitting at a desk all day. When you start listening to your body and feeding it the foods that it wants and not what you fancy, along with exercise, it will respond so positively you will never want to go back on a fad diet.

The most important thing to so is to change your attitude towards dieting. Scrap that word from your vocabulary and start thinking about a Lifestyle Change rather than a 2-week fad diet. And lets face it, it probably took a lot longer than 2 weeks to gain the weight so how can you expect to lose it in that time? Adopt healthy eating and exercise habits for life. Your body will respond so positively you will never want to try a quick fix again!

back to Health and Nutrition