Whenever someone mentions that they’re on a diet of any sort, there’s always one person who chimes in with “You’re just going to gain it all back when you stop your diet!” Do these claims actually hold any weight?
Why They’re Right
If you look for scholarly articles about diet adherence you get 181,000 results. These articles will tell you everything from people who go on Atkins to people who make small, noticeable changes to their diet and exercise. In a lot of these studies people failed to adhere to their diets for a long period of time, or they reached their goal weight and then packed on more weight than they had before.
So what gives?
There is no one right diet that fits everyone. If you’re embarking on a new diet and you pick a carb free one, yet you’re the type of person who is cranky and unmotivated without carbohydrates, you’re bound to fail. Likewise, people who enjoy high protein meals aren’t going to do well on a diet low in protein.Picking a style of eating that fits you is often the most important factor.
Second is that certain diets don’t really teach people how to pick what they eat. They give them a meal plan they must adhere to, but do little to educate the dieters on WHY they’re picking certain foods over others. These diets may be easy to adhere to if you never encounter social situations or eating outside of your house…but what happens when you go out to dinner with friends? Without properly educating people about HOW to pick ideal meals these people rarely LEARN anything, other than how to follow diets presented in a book.
Diets also often require sweeping changes for people. One day they’re eating whatever they want, then suddenly Monday (or the first of the month/year) comes around and they’ve eliminated soda, chocolate, bread, decided to exercise 5x a week and always have a clean house. These changes can get overwhelming very fast and can lead to feeling deprived or resentful.
Another huge issue with dieting involves the feelings of deprivation. How many times have you decided to go on a diet, so the night before you go to a buffet or order a giant pizza all to yourself. Some people describe this as a “last supper” type of situation where you’ll never, ever get to eat pizza ever again so you need to eat as much of it NOW. From then on pizza is a “bad” food. Creating this dichotomy leads to deprivation and resentment.
So, using these facts, it’s easy to see why someone would fail to adhere to a diet and then gain all their weight back afterwards. Without learning how to deal with food and exercise in a long-term fashion people often return to their old habits, which is why they were unhealthy in the first place.
Why They’re Wrong
The bulk of weight loss involves a simple calories in vs. calories out fashion. To lose weight, you must be in an energy deficit. To maintain weight, you break even. To gain, you have an energy surplus. So if you’ve met your weight loss goals you can increase the amount of food you eat as long as you’re at maintenance for your weight. People who follow this idea will not gain the weight back.
Additionally, the word “diet” is often vilified. A “diet” is just what you eat. When people learn that I eat high protein and carb-cycle, they immediately ask me if I’m on the Atkins diet. Just because I’m on a diet of high protein high fat foods, doesn’t mean I’m necessarily on a certain diet. Someone may have started their dieting journey with the Atkins diet, found that it worked fabulous for them and continued to eat high protein, high fat and low carb. Since this is a type of diet that is easy for them to maintain longterm they will stick with this type of eating and not gain their weight back.
Other diets teach people to make better food choices, such as Weight Watchers. These diets that focus on making healthier choices both inside and outside of the home teach long term habits. They also don’t involve “exclusion diets,” where the dieters feel like they’ll never eat pizza ever again. By encouraging people to plan their meals or even review their meals in terms of health, they’re learning where they picked up the extra pounds. It teaches people to get the dressing on the side of their salad, or to substitute fried chicken for grilled. These are long term habits.
What a lot of people don’t consider is their support system. Those who go onto a diet with friends or family members for support have long term success because they have personal cheerleaders. If their friends know they’re trying to lose weight and are actively trying to do the same they’re less likely to suggest diet sabotaging behaviors (like getting drunk food or excess study snacks).
If a diet is rewarding it’s more likely to be adhered to. People who see results, who are encouraged by friends and family, and who don’t feel deprived will begin to incorporate these habits into their life long term. They realize that health and weight loss are marathons, not sprints, and make the decision themselves to adhere to diets or changes in their eating patterns.
Weight Loss/Diets/Etc Are All About Your Mentality
Before you embark on any weight loss journey (or even a journey to a healthier state of mind), make sure you ask yourself some questions.
- Is this diet going to make me feel deprived?
- Can I afford (financially and mentally) to make these changes?
- Is this something my friends will support? If not, are my friends really friends if they are sabotaging me?
- Do I have a support system when I’m feeling down?
- Is this something I can maintain long term?
- Do the benefits outweigh the downsides?
Educating yourself on what you’re eating, making small changes here and there, and surrounding yourself with supportive people are the most important aspects of a healthy life and a long term weight loss (and maintenance!) plan.