I’m a personal trainer, so 99% of clients who come to me do so because they want to lose weight. ‘I’ve tried everything’ they say. When I ask more questions about why they want to lose weight I always get the same response, ‘to feel confident’. It’s not unusual that tears are shed at this point, and it really breaks my heart that diet failure has caused them so much pain. The thing is, we have been conditioned to think that the only way to lose weight is by dieting, and that should we lose that weight, we will feel confident. However, dieting itself decreases our confidence, because as you’ll read below, we’re destined to fail. And none if it is our fault.
No matter how many times we hear “diets don’t work” we fall for the diet-culture language traps of “watching my weight”, “it’s not a diet, it’s a lifestyle” or for the gym-goers “cut or mini-cut”. Just recently I saw a post by a popular instagrammer in the fitness community who is currently doing a “cut” after proclaiming for 6 months that she was happy with her weight and sick of dieting. She was discussing all the ways she did the diet (cut is the word she used) wrong last time including being too restrictive. She spoke about how it will be different this time, but then later spoke about how she tries to not eat until midday so that she has more calories to eat when she does. This is DIET ALARM BELLS!!! The language we use so easily disguises what we’re really doing. So she says “I’m fasting until mid-day to make my mini-cut more bearable” when really what she’s saying is “I skip breakfast and only eat from lunch time so that I have more calories when I finally do it”. This is almost eating disorder behaviour, and concerns me that she has so many followers who’d listen to her advice.
I’m going to predict what happens. In a few weeks she’s finished her mini-cut. She’s perhaps lost the weight she wanted, but then she’ll struggle to keep it off. Her hunger will increase, she’ll have to decrease her calories more, and then she’ll feel lethargic if she doesn’t. She’ll put the weight back on, write a post about how it’s hard for her to deal with the extra weight but she couldn’t maintain that lean body, and then a month after that write a post about how unsustainable a lean figure is for her, how you just have to love your body regardless and how she needs more food to be happy. In 6 months this pattern will emerge again.
She is the typical female. There is nothing wrong with her, or with her body. She is not broken, she just naturally carries more weight than the fitness industry deems acceptable, so falls prey to the pressures to be like the other fitness influencers, unaware of the fact that most of them likely have eating disorders or are just genetically lean (YES, THIS IS A THING! YES, GENETICS PLAY A HUGE PART IN YOUR BODY COMPOSITION!).
Here’s an image of what’s going to happen over the next 6 weeks for her:
That little orange overweight arrow, well for some that is a period of being overweight, but for many others who are in a healthy weight range it’s just a perception. However, should you continue this cycle, you increase your chance of heading into overweight or obese categories (which is not the worst thing in the world, but it’s certainly not your intention when starting a diet).
This cycle always ends with weight gain and often more than you lose – because your body learns to store more fat, become more efficient (meaning use less energy than usual), slows your metabolism and increases your appetite. The weight gain ends with dieting, and the cycle continues. What you’ll find in most overweight and obese people is that they have dieted their whole life. They are not lazy people who only eat deep fried or fast food (although of course there are some that do, just like there are some thin people that do too) but we find that typically they have dieted more and at any point are more likely to be on a diet.
When your body is in a caloric restriction (whether this comes from calorie counting, counting macros, watching what you eat, fasting, eliminating carbs, eating low-fat, from adopting a plant-based diet or any particular lifestyle regime) your body loses fat. Once it’s lost a particular amount of fat below your set point (the weight you have been at most of the time in your adult life; this number is different for everyone, as is the amount below your set point that your body fat can drop to) your body will say “shit I’m starving!” and it will increase your appetite, increase cravings for particular foods, slow down incidental energy burning (like jiggling legs and moving around), increase feelings of lethargy (read: low motivation and laziness), decrease your mood and decrease the rate at which it burns fat, even increasing how much fat it stores. You feel this as being hungry, thinking about food all the time, never wanting to go to the gym, feeling shit within yourself and seeing either the same number on the scale for weeks or seeing an increase. So you think there’s something wrong with you, you get mad at yourself, you feel like a failure, you aim to decrease your calories every day but end up skipping gym sessions and eating donuts instead. The amount of times “What’s the point?” and “May as well…” pass your lips before eating high calorie foods increases exponentially and before you know it you’ve put the weight you lost back on, plus some, and you wonder where on earth you failed and why you had to be born into your fat body instead of Miranda Kerr’s (I feel like this last sentence was a re-write of my diary at 16 years old).
But here’s the thing: this is all normal, it’s a built-in survival mechanism and humans would not be here if we didn’t have it, which is why it’s so hard-wired into all of us who’ve survived through evolution!
Here are the facts:
66% of people won’t lose weight on diets
Diets are a predictor of weight gain
80% of people will not complete their intended diet program (and this is not due to a lack of ‘willpower’ or ‘motivation) 
Dieting leads to binge eating, over-eating, low self-esteem and low-mood
Dieting leads to life threatening eating disorders.
There are very few scientific studies evaluating effectiveness and safety of most diet approaches long-term, which means you could be doing something that won’t work (at best) and will harm you (at worst).
Low calorie diets cause excessive loss of lean body mass (muscle) and program participants tend to return to their original weight within 5 years.
Altering the proportion of calories from fat, carbohydrate and protein (ie. Counting macros or Low-carb/high-fat or high-carb/low-fat) has a limited effect on weight loss and any effect tends to come from caloric restriction overall.
It’s frequently quoted that Einstein said “the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result”. Well, that’s not the definition of insanity, and I’m not sure if he even said it but I always saw this as an indicator that if a diet didn’t work for me I should try another one. And another one. And another one. Oh maybe that one will work this time because ABC is now different and I’m more aware of where I went wrong. Didn’t work I’ll try another one. Maybe a meal service. Maybe another diet. And I did this for 14 years. FOURTEEN YEARS! Einstein would have declared me clinically insane and chucked me in the asylum – I’d totally missed the point. I shouldn’t have been trying different diets, if I was unhappy with my body I should have tried something else other than a diet. So I did, finally, HALLELUJAH! And here I am today.
So, what the hell can you do about it if you need to lose weight?
Weight gain develops when the systems the body uses to monitor level of body fat and adjust food intake and energy intake accordingly break down. Two of these mechanisms are eating when you’re hungry and stopping when you’re full. These mechanisms are influenced by genetic, physiological and environmental factors, so are not always within our control, mind you so not everyone is going to be able to lose weight. That is just a fact of life. Especially if you’re on a medication or have a hormonal disorder which prevents it. So should you give up? No. There’s a whole movement about Health At Every Size (HAES) which is based on a book by Linda bacon (found here). I’d suggest reading that regardless of whether you can lose weight or not.
If you think you need to lose weight but are currently not overweight according to medical standards, then you need to re-assess your media consumption (especially social media consumption) because you don’t need to lose weight. This means your body is likely not going to easily let go of any weight, if you do it will be very hard and you will find it hard to keep it off too. So I’d suggest changing what you see as an ‘ideal’ body. To me, an ‘ideal body’ is one that lets me do cool things that I love. It may mean increasing your activity so that you’re stronger and more flexible, but it doesn’t mean changing your appearance through intentionally changing what you eat.
However, the best thing you can do no matter what your size is to learn to tune in to your own body. I’ve written a whole post about it (here) and I’d suggest you read that, plus the book Intuitive Eating by Evelyn Tribole & Elise Resch (found here).
Most importantly, resist dieting! You’ll be a much happier person for it.
 Tribole, E., & Resch, E. (2012). Intuitive Eating. St Martins.
 National Institutes of Health Technology Assessment Conference Statement: Methods for Voluntary Weight Loss and Control. (1992). Nutrition Reviews, 50(11), 340.
 Davidson, T.A.M. (2008). Weight Cycling. In J.L. Longe (Ed.). The Gale Encyclopedia of Diets: A Guide to Health and Nutrition, 2. Gale, Detroit: USA. P. 1004-1007.
 Goodrick, G.K., & Foreyt, J.P. (1991). Why treatments for obesity don’t last. J Am Diet Assoc, 91, 1243-1247.
 Sainsbury, A., Cooney, G.J., & Herzog, H. (2002). Hypothalamic regulation of energy homeostasis. Best Practice & Research Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism, 16(4), 623-637.