The Dieting Myth: It is Not Your Lack of Willpower

The Dieting Myth

Diets have become a very popular topic of discussion. If you scroll through your Facebook feed or turn on your television, you will most likely run into an advertisement about the latest diet craze. Oftentimes, people try these new diets and may lose weight initially but are unable to attain long term, sustainable weight loss. The common theory behind this is that it is due to a lack of willpower. People are unable to follow the diet regimen for an extended period of time, so they return to their previous eating habits and regain the weight. This theory makes sense, but a recent article published in the New York Times called “Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet,” suggests that it may actually be due more to neuroscience than willpower.

Diet Myth - Neuroscience or Willpower?

The author, Sandra Aamodt, describes several aspects of why diets do not work. From a physiological standpoint, she explains that when weight loss occurs rapidly, the body goes into starvation mode and responds by burning fewer calories and producing more hunger-inducing hormones. An example of this that has recently surfaced in the media is the Biggest Loser. A study showed that participants are burning 500 fewer calories than the average person and have regained 70% of the weight they had lost during the show. From a psychological standpoint, the anxiety that comes with a preoccupation with weight and food and the restrictive nature of diets can lead to later binge eating. Dieters begin to rely on a set of rules and external forces to dictate when and how much they eat rather than their body’s hunger and fullness cues. Therefore, they are more likely to overeat when they are no longer able to follow the strict diet plan.

So if diets do not work, how should you lose weight?

The key is to follow a balanced diet and listen to your body’s hunger and fullness cues. A balanced diet simply means that you are consuming an adequate amount of all macronutrients. The reason this is important is because carbohydrates breakdown more quickly and will provide you with initial energy, but protein and fats break down more slowly and will provide you with sustained energy. This will allow you to feel more satisfied and full after a meal and less likely to be ravenous later which can lead to overeating. Listening to hunger cues may be something you have to retrain your body to do. Oftentimes, eating is driven by stress, boredom, sadness, or many other emotions. Try eating every 3 to 5 hours and assess your level of hunger before eating. Are you eating out of boredom or stress or are you eating because you are truly hungry? While you are eating, try to eat slowly, because it takes 20 minutes for your stomach and brain to communicate fullness. If you eat more slowly, you allow your body time to assess fullness and can therefore stop eating at an appropriate time.

By getting in touch with your body’s hunger and fullness cues and ridding yourself of the restrictive rules of dieting, I hope this makes eating more enjoyable and weight maintenance or loss more attainable. Our lives are full of stressors, but eating should not be one of those.

1.      Aamodt, S. Why you can’t lose weight on a diet. New York Times. 2016.

Maggie Stroud - Dietetic Intern

The Dieting Myth: It Is Not Your Lack of Willpower Dallas Nutritional Counseling

The Dieting Myth: It Is Not Your Lack of Willpower Dallas Nutritional Counseling