Diets Don't Work - But Non-Dieting Does!

If you have been following our recent blogs then you know that here at Verve we advocate for an individualised, non-dieting approach to eating that focuses on health with weight loss as a happy consequence.  We don’t do that just because we think that diets are incredibly boring (and let’s face it, they are); we do it because research indicates that restrictive diets don’t work and that non-dieting and intuitive eating is the most successful eating pattern to attain good health and long term weight management.

Here is just a snippet of recent research:

·       University of California, 2007 – Calorie restrictive diets do not result in long term weight loss and a third to two thirds of dieters regain more weight than they lost in their diet. In addition, studies show that calorie restricted diets do not result in significant health benefits regardless of weight change.

·       University of Minnesota, 2007 – Adolescents who reported dieting were at nearly twice the risk for being overweight at 5 year follow up.

·       University of Helsinki, 2012 – Frequent intentional weight loss episodes reflect susceptibility to weight gain, rendering dieters prone to future weight gains.

We have picked some of the more recent studies here, though plenty of studies that date back to the 1980’s show that restrictive dieting practices most often result in weight re-gain.  This is not new information but it is conveniently omitted when the latest weight loss “researched” fad diet is launched.

On the other hand, intuitive eating principles and following a non-dieting approach are much more successful at achieving long term weight maintenance and health.  Here's the studies:

·       Cambridge University, 2012 – Eating in response to hunger and fullness signals (intuitive eating) is strongly associated with a lower BMI (body mass index).

·       University of Utah, 2015 – To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, it may be best for health professionals to examine motivation for eating and physical activity rather than the encouragement of restrictive dieting and exercise prescriptions.

·       Eating Disorders Victoria, 2015 – Dieting is the greatest risk factor for the development of an eating disorder.

So, what is non-dieting and intuitive eating?

In short, non-dieting means that we approach eating without weight loss as our number one priority behind eating.  There are no foods that are restricted (unless of course you have an allergy or intolerance) and there is no such thing as food that is “naughty”, “clean”, “bad” or “good”.  As my friend Glenn Mackintosh from Weight Management Psychology (I’ll get a name drop in before he gets famous on The Biggest Loser) often says “food is morally neutral”. 

Labelling food good or bad sets up an unconscious psychological cascade that compounds emotional eating and creates a vicious cycle. We don’t count calories and we don’t weigh food.  We don’t flog ourselves in the gym to punish ourselves for the piece of cake that we had last night.  (What! I hear you say – aren’t you a personal trainer and shouldn’t you advocate exercise!  Well yes, I do, but not out of guilt.  More on that in a blog for another day).

Intuitive eating means that you listen to your body signals to understand when you are full, when you are hungry and the type of food that your body really needs. Your body actually knows what it needs to be healthy but we have been given so much information about what we are supposed to eat and when we are supposed to eat that we pay no attention to our own bodies.  Intuitive eating also means to eat without distraction and to be mindful while eating How can you hear your body signals if you are reading the paper, watching television or studying while you are eating?

Does this mean that you demolish a bucket of ice cream and a box of hot chips when you practice non-dieting?  Well no, that’s not non-dieting either but it DOES mean that you still eat them and that you can do so without guilt. 

If you followed intuitive eating principles in that scenario, then you would most likely stop at one scoop of ice cream because you could feel how the sugar was affecting your body and would be satisfied with just a few mouthfuls. You would probably also stop before you had the box of hot chips because you would feel you were full.  What is likely also to happen is that you would tune into your body and realise that the ice cream and hot chips in fact made you feel sluggish and slow and your tummy bloated just a bit and it didn’t feel that great.  You might even feel a bit nauseous.  This kind of attention to how you feel means that next time you might make a different choice of food that doesn’t make you feel this way and it is probably going to be something less processed.   That choice you make in future has nothing to do with weight and everything to do with health and that is a sustainable practice that you can do your whole life with proven results for good health and weight management.

There is an important note here – there are many foods that have been specifically made by food manufactures to light up the pleasure centres of our brain and make us feel good while we are eating them. It’s how your body feels shortly after that process that is the key to successful intuitive eating.

It’s a lot to take in and new habits take time. Sometimes it can feel so overwhelming if you have been thinking and eating in a particular way that you don’t know where to start.  After all – going on a diet is what some of us have been doing on and off for a lifetime. But, hey, if that was working for you, you wouldn't have gotten here to the end of this blog.  

We can't expect different results by doing the same thing over and over.  That’s where we come in.  We are steps ahead because we have been where you are.  I am a real-life success story and a walking, talking advocate of the non-dieting and intuitive eating approach to health and weight management.  I tried everything before looking at my relationships and understanding of food and nutrition to reach a healthy weight.  Stay tuned for my story, coming up in my next blog.

Wendy Burke

Nutritionist, Naturopath, Personal Trainer