How many diets have you tried? How long has it been before the weight came back again? Are you a Yo Yo dieter? Don’t’ worry, you are not alone – only 2-5% of people who diet will loose weight and keep it off. So why don’t diets work?
So Christmas is over, the New Year celebrations have come and gone and it’s back to reality. It always feels that way to me, that Christmas is a lovely bubble where you can eat and drink and generally…..be merry I guess. I exist in a lovely bubble where there is no worrying of ‘should I eat that last mince pie’ because before I know it, it’s on my plate smothered in something delicious and I’m half way through eating it. Then it’s all over, the bubble burst and reality comes crashing back in. Worse still, you know summer is enroute and the thought of wearing that bikini creeps into your mind and suddenly that last mince pie….or 5, probably wasn’t a good idea. Diet time…or maybe not!!!
Why Don’t Diets Work?
Have you ever wondered why diets don’t tend to work or they work for a bit and then before you know it, the weight has piled back on again? Only 2-5% of people who diet will loose weight and keep it off (1). That is not many bearing in mind that in the UK alone last year, 2 out of 3 woman tried dieting and overall 29 million people tried to loose weight (2).
I think it’s safe to say, diets have a very poor success rate. But why? One of the reasons lies in the fact that diets are a short term fix. Weight loss or weight gain comes down to the calories you eat and use. Eat more calories than you use, you will gain weight, eat less calories than you use, you will loose weight. By going back to your old eating patterns either over time or immediately, the weight will come back because you still have the same habits that contributed to the weight gain in the first place.
Another reason why diets have a poor success rate is because most of us eat for many reasons other than just hunger. Have you ever noticed how a certain mood, either good or bad, has a tendency to make you raid the cupboard or fridge for a certain type of food? I know I have in the past. Have you? If you have, you’ve experienced emotional eating.
How do Emotions Affect our Eating Habits?
Emotional eating is eating to fill emotional needs i.e to make yourself feel better, rather than to fill your stomach. The researchers at the University of Maryland found 75% of overeating is caused by our emotions (3).
There are many reasons for emotional eating and one of these can be our early childhood experiences. Did your parents reward you for good behaviour with sweets or ice cream? Did they cheer you up if you were feeling down with chocolate? These emotionally based associations from childhood can transfer to adulthood – so as an adult when you are feeling low, you reach for the chocolate.
Stress – have you ever noticed how stress can make you feel hungry? No, you weren’t imagining it. When we experience chronic stress, which isn’t hard in our modern, fast paced lives. Our bodies release the hormone cortisol and high levels of cortisol can make us crave foods which are sweet, salty or high in fat – things which will give us a burst of energy and pleasure. So if you are trying to loose weight, try and avoid stress (see my blog How to Deal with Anxiety for a great stress busting tip).
We can also have a tenancy to use food as a distraction. So rather than facing uncomfortable feelings like sadness, anger, loneliness and anxiety, we use food as a distraction and a way of avoiding having to face these emotions.
But food can’t fill that emotional need you have, if anything it can make you feel worse because of the amount of calories you’ve just consumed and you are still left with the original feelings.
We can also have a tendency to use food as a way of filling time too. Do you eat to fill a void of boredom or feelings of emptiness?
Are You an Emotional Eater?
If you are trying to loose weight, a good start would be to determine if you try and use food to make yourself feel better (4):
Are you an emotional eater?
- Do you eat when you’re not hungry or when you’re full?
- Do you eat more when you’re feeling stressed?
- Do you eat to feel better (to calm and soothe yourself when you’re sad, mad, bored, anxious, etc.)?
- Do you feel powerless or out of control around food?
- Do you regularly eat until you’ve stuffed yourself?
- Do you reward yourself with food?
- Does food make you feel safe?
- Do you feel like food is a friend?
If you are an emotional eater, the first step is to learn to recognise your triggers; what feelings or situations make you reach for your comfort food? One good way of determining your emotional triggers is too keep a food and emotion diary. Keep a record of everything you eat then along side it write down how you were feeling at the time and how you felt afterwards. It’s really important to also record every time you had an urge or wanted to eat something but didn’t and include how you were feeling at the time and how you felt when you didn’t give in to the urge.
Another reason why diets don’t work can be down to our own biology. When dieting, it may be tempting to decrease the amount of calories you eat even further and shift an extra pound or two. But, severely restricting your calorie intake can prevent your body from burning unwanted fat stores effectively. This is because your body goes into something called ‘starvation mode’ – which means your weight loss slows down.
What is ‘starvation mode’?
Our bodies have evolved to hold off starvation by becoming very efficient at making the most of the calories we eat and drink when the calorie intake drops below a certain threshold. One of the main ways it does this is by using lean tissue or muscle to provide it with the calories it needs instead of breaking down the bodies fat to provide it with energy. So it protects it’s fat stores rather than use them. This is great if you are starving but not if you are trying to loose weight because it leads to a reduction of muscle and not fat. Our metabolic rate is partly determined by how much muscle we have – thats why men have a faster metabolism than woman because they have more muscle. By the body breaking down muscle and lean tissue instead of fat, it will lower your metabolic rate (the rate your body burns calories), meaning you need less calories to keep your body going (5). Plus muscle burns a lot more calories compared to fat, so loosing muscle is not helpful if you want to loose weight.
So How Do I Loose Weight if I Don’t Diet?
All our behaviour has a purpose and that includes our eating habits. We eat for many more reasons than just hunger. If you want to loose weight and keep the weight off, a good way to do this is change the relationship you have with food. Start with determining if you are an emotional eater i.e do you turn to food for comfort, relief, reward or if stressed, by using a food and emotions diary. Remember, food can’t fill that emotional need you have, if anything it can make you feel worse because of the amount of calories you’ve just consumed and you are still left with the original feelings.
If you think or feel you need help loosing weight, Cognitive Hypnotherapy for weight loss can help you change the relationship you have with food, allowing you to loose weight and keep it off, leaving you free to live the life you’ve always wanted.