A Diet This Dietitian Never Gives Anyone

May 10, 2012
A registered dietitian discusses how diets are empty promises that are unsuccessful for at least 95% of those who try them. 


A ”Fond Farewell” Article

When I changed Support4Change to a new format, I needed to delete some articles that didn’t fit in the new site but were too good to completely throw away. So I have moved many of them here to the blog, where they will still be available and people can find them by using tags.

This is the second of seven articles on the topic of weight loss that appear on Thursdays. See the Getting Lighter Weight Loss Program, on May 3,  to get you started.


By Jill Place, MA, RD

Overweight man standing on broken scaleAnn, a medical assistant at a very busy HMO in Los Angeles, came to my office begging me to help her lose weight. She said that she had no problem eating a small breakfast of oatmeal and fruit. But from the moment she arrived at work, she overate nonstop until she went to bed at night. Then she did something I’ll never forget. She asked me for BREAKFAST menus. My immediate response was, “Why are breakfast menus so important to you? Breakfast seems to be the one time of day when you have no trouble with food.”

What is this fascination we have with menus and diets? I hear over and over again from clients, “I think I need STRUCTURE. A diet will give me STRUCTURE. Give me a DIET!” What they’re really saying is “I want an easy way OUT”. What they’re really saying is, “I want a MAGIC PILL. A magic pill that I can take and instantly end up 50 pounds slimmer”. As if the sheer act of holding the piece of paper with the diet on it might work that spell on us.

Diets Don’t Help Us Lose Weight

Those little pieces of diet paper don’t help us lose weight. They actually help us get heavier. Statistically, over 50% of the American population is overweight. And the diet industry, which brings in $45 billion a year to help us get lighter, has about a five percent success rate. In addition, 2/3 of us who actually lose weight regain it within one year, and virtually all of us regain it within five years.

Diets obviously don’t work. But most of us never ask why. We just try another diet. We’ve forgotten that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. The act of dieting over and over again is probably why we get stuck in the belief that diets will help us lose weight…even if they don’t.

If you really want to lose weight, you might want to let go of the belief that diets help you lose weight. And finding out why diets don’t work may help you let go of that belief. Here are some of the reasons.

Why Diets Don’t Work

One of my friends once made a very astute comment that I’ll never forget. “I don’t understand that what I put in my mouth affects my body,” she said. You can call it resistance, misunderstanding, or brain farts, but most of us don’t really understand that doing a diet is a major lifestyle change. We think that if we buy the book or post the menu on our fridge that something will magically happen. In reality, dieting takes a lot of soul-searching, hard work, and problem-solving. And most of us are unwilling to do any of that for very long.

A diet is a bunch of foods we don’t like in portions usually too tiny for our appetites that we must eat at specific times of the day. NO ONE ACTUALLY EATS THAT WAY. I remember a diabetic client who was so confused by all the conflicting diet information he received that he was actually too afraid to eat. He got too thin. But he was unusual. The deprivation that most diets bring usually makes us eat more and put on weight.

One of the ways diets make us eat more is that they set up a “good food-bad food” scenario in our heads. As soon as we get that piece of paper and read about all the foods we can’t have, we feel deprived. We grow to hate the “good foods” we’re supposed to eat on the diet. And we can’t stop craving the “bad foods” that we’re not supposed to eat. That is, until we eat a ton of those “bad foods”—a whole cake or a box of cookies or chocolate bon bons. Once we think that some foods are “bad”, it may be hard to stop binging on them. So diets actually create and perpetuate bad habits…and weight gain.

When you diet, you also stop eating like thin people eat. You know them, the ones that can eat cheesecake and never gain weight. Thin people eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re satisfied. They have an internal mechanism that keeps them thin. You had the same internal mechanism too, once upon a time. But when you dieted, you felt deprived, you ate, and you gained weight. You began to obsess about food. And you lost track of the simple mechanism that thin people have that keeps them thin.

Diets also don’t work because what we’re really trying to do with dieting is change our lives. And become lovable. We think that if we change our body shape that we’ll have everything we want…money, a beautiful home, a beautiful spouse, a beautiful life. We’ll be eternally happy. But it doesn’t work that way. I’ll never forget standing in a checkout line right after I had lost a tremendous amount of weight. There was a mirror on the wall tilted to reflect the checkout area. I looked up and wondered who that skinny person was standing on line. It was me! I didn’t recognize myself. Instead of being happy about my foxy form in the mirror, I was terrified! Is it any wonder that I put the weight back on?

Diets also don’t work because the word “diet” has too much failure attached to it for the 95% or more who don’t succeed. The word “diet” has too much grief, guilt, and obsession attached to it. The word “diet” has the word “die” in it.

The Diet I Never Give Anyone

I know that diets don’t work. And I know why. So THE DIET I’LL NEVER GIVE TO ANYONE is the no-one-actually-eats-that-way diet. The one that comes in those neat, cute little boxes. The one that condemns you to a cookie-cutter existence of ½ cup of broccoli, 1 cup of rice, and a 3-ounce chicken breast. The one that condemns you to grief, guilt, obesity, and obsession.

I prefer instead to give people diet CONCEPTS. And ways to accomplish those concepts. These concepts sometimes come in those neat, cute little boxes. But I encourage people to think outside the diet box. I encourage them to make their own choices. If you take the information, make it your own, and find a way to make it work for you, you can bypass the grief, guilt, and obsession. And get right down to making positive lifestyle changes. For example, I told the diabetic who was too confused to eat that things like starches, fruits, milk, and sweets would raise his blood sugar. So it might be a good thing if he didn’t eat so much of these things. When he understood that it was okay to eat all foods, but he could control his blood sugar better if he ate smaller amounts of certain ones, he was starving! Then we talked about what he really liked to eat. He was a meat-and-potatoes man. So I encouraged him to immediately go somewhere to eat and have a BIG steak and a SMALL baked potato with maybe a salad on the side. He ran out of my office to the first steak house he could find. And in the next two weeks he put on ten much-needed pounds.

So please consider any diets in neat, cute little boxes merely information. THINK OUTSIDE THE BOX. Make the information your own. And if you wonder how you’re going to survive without a those neat, cute little boxes or the latest diet book, please read next Thursday’s post, My Journey Toward Getting Lighter.

© Copyright 2002 Jill Place, MA, RD


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