Why most diets fail

Do you know what the definition of food is? 

Food: Any nutritious substance that people or animals eat or drink or that plants absorb in order to maintain life and growth.

I love definitions, they make sense of so many things! 

This is important to keep in mind when we discuss diets for weight loss. 

We are living in an age where we have never been so malnourished AND overfed as we are now, which is ironic considering malnutrition usually isn’t a choice but a consequence of our environment. 

If we start with the basics – optimal health is a dynamic balance of physical, emotional, social, spiritual, and intellectual health.

We don’t lose weight to get healthy. If we want to “lose weight” we need to get healthy first to achieve optimal health. 

I think part of the problem is that we have a very distorted and very reductionist view of food – we shouldn’t demonise food. 

There are many different views and ideologies around what is right.  

Vegan, carnivore, ketogenic, fasting, weird and wonderful detox and cleansing methods, whatever the camp of choice, we are all trying to achieve the same thing, to get great health, vitality and peace of mind. To be happy vs being right.

Understanding the right goal in dieting

I have seen these work over and over and my approach is very simple:

  • Focus on quality foods that satiate you so that you don’t snack or crave
  • Focus on hormonal regulation most especially insulin
  • What can you be consistent with? Do that. 

Why most of us fail with dieting and why it is such a lucrative industry is simply because we are not eating to nourish but we punish or deprive ourselves to achieve an unrealistic body ideal that has been sold to us.  

We starve and binge, exercise to burn off calories, we are sleep deprived, under nourished, burnt out, mentally taxed and in a state of complete overwhelm.

What most of us are actually striving for is fat loss and not weight loss – fat loss is whereby you maintain lean body mass while losing body fat and ensuring the least possible amount of muscle loss.  

So, body composition is in fact the goal. 

Understanding the psychology around dieting

A key to sustainably losing weight and living a healthier life is to understand how your psychology impacts your behaviour.  We all know what to do but yet we struggle to actually do it. 

Your psychology, including your beliefs, outlook, and emotions impact your eating behaviour. 

We often eat not out of hunger but stress, blood sugar imbalances, boredom, if we are sad if we are happy – you name it. 

A study published in the scientific journal Psychology Today investigated the role that psychologically banning foods, such as chocolate, crisps, sweets, and biscuits, may play in dieting failures. The researchers found that those with a tendency to overeat who were told to abstain from eating their favourite snacks for 24 hours ended up consuming around 133 percent more, compared to those who were given no instructions. 

Sound familiar?

Understanding hunger in dieting

Any diet will work if you are consistent with it, whether or not you are hungry

Most diets unfortunately trigger hunger and deprivation which trigger your neuropathways to adapt to starvation and no amount of willpower can stop this. 

Powerful ancient mechanisms compensate and protect us from starvation (even if it is self-induced). When this happens our hunger dramatically increases, our cravings ramp up and our metabolism slows way down to conserve energy.  

In short, dieting increases hunger and slows metabolism.

Where to from here?

These are some of my key principles to achieve healthy body composition.

  1. Regulate hunger by controlling blood sugar levels and keeping insulin low
  2. Invest in sleep – this is SO important
  3. Reduce Inflammation – read below
  4. Balance hormones
  5. Find emotional release/stress management.
  6. Improve digestion and gut health

We are not counting calories but nutrients. Some calories make you fat, some calories make you thin. 

Any food spikes insulin, drives all the fuel in your blood from the food you just ate into your hungry fat cells (visceral or belly fat) if not used for energy and triggers a shift in your metabolism. You want to keep these spikes only when necessary. Take a read through my social post on how to reset insulin

This is my guide to eating and planning meals

  • Never start the day with a sweet breakfast – always savoury (unless fruit and nuts/seeds). Start the day with protein and not sugar. 
  • Only snack if you need it and only after drinking water. Start by drinking water first to ensure you’re not just thirsty. Remember that snacking can sometimes impede our digestion as you need 4 hours between meals to fully digest and for those with leaky gut or slow digestion, you’ll need the time to recover. 
  • Give your body at least 12 hours to digest overnight and stop eating at least 3 hours before bed in order to fully process everything, this rest is crucial for your liver.
  • Focus on nutrient density and whole real foods in their natural state. Nothing processed or refined. If all we do is eat whole foods we would be 80% there. 
  • Eat food in the following order:
    1. Vegetables
    2. Fat
    3. Protein
    4. Then something sweet – dark chocolate or berries
    5. Note: fibre and protein help control blood sugar and keep you full
  • Prioritise protein and good fats in each of your meals. This is key for satiety. Be strategic about carbohydrates, dress your carbs, always add fat and protein to carbs.
  • You can eat some fruit in season. I love berries for antioxidants!
  • Eat 2 – 3 meals a day, no snacks to keep insulin low. 
  • Have the lightest meal in the evening. 
  • Consider apple cider vinegar before meals. 
  • Focus on food quality vs quantity, this will work out more economical in the long term as you will be fuller longer, in better health and most of all nourish your body. 
  • If you eat high sugar and carbs make sure to go for a 10 min walk after meals. 
  • Don’t count calories but nutrients. Some calories make you fat, some calories make you thin. What we now know is that any foods that spike insulin (sugar, flour and even excess grains, fruit and beans) trigger a shift in your metabolism. What does insulin do? It drives all the fuel in your blood from the food you just ate into your hungry fat cells (visceral or belly fat).

In addition…

  • Be gentle on yourself.
  • Listen to your body and navigate the day like that. 
  • Invest in your sleep – no blue light before bed (cell phone, ipad etc…) 

What about exercise?

Do what you love and what you can be consistent with. The best exercise in my view is power walking and Pilates and twice a week resistance training even if it is just using your own body weight. Muscle keeps us young and it is a metabolic organ, and so important for us as women for body composition

Cardio is not ideal. It has benefits but not doesn’t do much for body composition.  It comes after nutrition, resistance training and rest.  You cannot ever work off a bad diet.  You can burn off glucose to some degree but you cannot burn off insulin. 

Look at inflammation

There are reasons beyond your diet or amount of exercise that affect your weight and metabolism. Your body is a system and many things affect metabolism. The biggest hidden causes of weight grain or resistance to weight loss are the things that cause inflammation. And inflammation from anything that triggers weight gain by worsening insulin resistance.

I love this information from Dr Mark Hyman on what caused inflammation.

Hidden food allergies or sensitivities. Gluten and dairy are the most common culprits. But don’t switch to gluten-free or dairy-free options. Gluten-free cakes and cookies are still cake and cookies. They are still very high in sugar and refined carbs and flours. 

Gut Problems. The microbiome – the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut – play an enormous role in metabolism and health. If you have bad bugs (from eating refined, high-sugar, carb, low-fiber diet or taking antibiotics, acid blockers) they can either trigger inflammation or alter how your food is broken down and absorbed. 

Toxins. Science has discovered that common environmental chemicals (pesticides, household cleaners, make up, pollution and heavy metals) can be “obesogens.” Chemicals that make you fat. In animal studies, giving rats a toxin caused weight gain even if they ate the same amount of calories and exercised the same.’

In conclusion, have plan, commit to it and be consistent

I recommend writing down your plan. Set your intentions daily: What is your “why” for doing this? Do you want to thrive in a healthy body? 

Physical change is the last to show. Lay the foundation in your mind, set up a win mentally, build your mental muscle. Meditation is great for this. Taking just 5-10 minutes a day, repeating positive affirmations to yourself and breathing helps you to have less external overstimulation and instead focus inward to listen to yourself and to positively uplift yourself to keep going. 

Discipline, determination and program execution are the key to your success. When your human biology entices you to stray, which it will, consistency and grit are required. 

Really become invested in your reasons and convictions. Every day remind and recommit to this purpose. 

Some of you may need help with this so consult with someone you connect and resonate with.  

Your body has an innate intelligence, an intelligence we will never be able to fully understand, but it is magnificent and transformative, it gives you feedback daily, we just need to create the environment to achieve this natural state of optimal health. 

You will never be anyone else but you, so love who you are.

Xx  Vanessa.

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