Why Dieting Doesn't Work: This Isn't Another Carrot & Celery Post

So I’m going to be controversial, if you know me, you know this is exactly who I am.

In a time where health and fitness trends are at their peak and many people are advocating a healthier way of eating and living (Which is awesome btw) and when diets, dieting and the “I’m on a diet “response seems ever prevalent,  I’m advocating we eat our cake and enjoy it.

What do I mean by that?

What I believe is that healthy eating habits are about eating in line with dietary guidelines based on scientific nutrition – in other words, I believe in eating most foods in a way that is flexible, inclusive and rational  (i.e., I Eat everything, mostly eating a lot more of the healthier & nutrient rich foods my body loves, such as fresh fruit & vegetables). I also eat chocolate, drink wine and enjoy a massaman curry when I feel like it.

In other words, I have my cake and eat it too – and I enjoy it. I don't diet.

There are numerous dietary pathways to eating well, which the human body can and does adapt well to. So when I see women subscribing to everything from a paleo diet, raw food diet, a vegan diet, the Atkins diet or telling me their dieting again for the purpose of losing weight/looking good/fitting into an ideal stereotype or because they’re too this or too that I can’t help but feel a little distressed.

Now let me make this clear - I advocate eating for you in a way that is right for your body. If that means you choose to follow a certain way of eating or food plan and that works for you – GREAT! Additionally I highly recommend getting good sound nutritional advice from a qualified professional.

what I don’t advocate are diets that are based on an individual losing weight through restriction of food alone. In short, diets that restrict freedom, creativity and choice in eating and result in women feeling guilty, restricted or stressed about food is what I take issue with.

PLUS HERE’S THE THING: Diets don’t work (Had to bold that Sh!#). 

There is a large amount of research that shows us when people lose weight through diet alone they ultimately regain the weight and often end up putting on more weight.  95% of people who lose weight through dieting alone will regain the weight they have lost in the next 1-5 years (See sources below for more info).

So if we’re not dieting, what are we doing? I’d like to think we’re living Happy Healthy Holistic, in a way that is unique to each of us. If your reading this, chances are you don’t fully identify as a person from the “eat what you want “club or as belonging to a specific diet regime. You’re likely reading this because you want to eat healthier than you currently do or are interested in understanding why you eat what you eat.

So I’m asking the question: What if we allowed ourselves to make food choices that nourish us, eat the stuff that’s nutritious, healthy and makes us feel great inside and out PLUS eat the food we delight in freely without fear, guilt or stress?

Notice I’m not labelling any foods as good or bad? Food is often categorized in this way. I believe food should be viewed neither as good nor bad, rather that we can be nourished and delighted by that which we have consciously chosen, and yes I’m talking about the chocolate.
Perhaps we might have the ability to experience a richer more connected and satisfying experience with our food…. and ultimately ourselves?  Hello Peace with your plate, mind, body & soul!

I propose we focus on experiencing joy in each moment through the practice of a conscious awareness and connection with food, with a disregard of societal “norms”/ or the current diet trend or worrying about how eating that doughnut looks. This is what I’d like to see more women embrace. 

How do we practice conscious awareness with food? Often we’re not taught how to cultivate a healthy relationship with food & our bodies. Growing up I was told to finish everything on my plate, eat until I was full (the stomach doesn’t technically have a full point mind you – it does have a stuffed point though) and told I had to eat the roast veggies vs the rice. Then I started training and can remember the first time I was told adding food to your diet is like, and I quote “adding a drop of dye to a glass of water”.

The use of this strange metaphor was to tell me just how much impact that piece of birthday cake was going to have on me if I ate it…
Where was the pleasure, the balance, the choice – the god damn enjoyment?  It’s little wonder I began a dangerous relationship with Bulimia Nervosa. (That’s a whole extra story)

The good news is, I was able to change my relationship with food. Even better, I help other women to do the same thing and talk about how we can shift our culture and our thinking to develop awareness around food and make changes that help PREVENT women from walking the path of disordered eating.

I want to let you know it’s absolutely possible to rewire our thinking around food, make peace with our plate and cultivate a healthy relationship with ourselves through our eating habits.

Nourishing our bodies with food can be an experience that results in feeling delight and satisfaction, eating from a place of being able to identify and understand our REAL needs around food vs a stressful, guilty or even bland experience.

“Food is a Rainbow bought down to earth” States Deepak Chopra, the food you eat should match the story you want to live… “What if the food you ate added to the joy, vibrancy, excitement and delight in your life?”  (2014:69) Translation: What if we had a more positive relationship with our food? Here’s 5 ways you can start.

5 ways to develop a more positive relationship with food

Set aside dedicated eating time – No eating in front of the TV, reading or any other form of distraction that takes the focus off nourishing yourself. I mean we wouldn’t read a book whilst having sex would we? (Another important physiological act). So why would  we not focus on nourishment when eating food?

Slow it down - When eating your meal it takes 20 minutes before the stomach recognises it’s had its fill. Taking your time to savour each bite will help you get a sense of feeling like you have had enough food to eat and also help you focus on how you’re feeling as you eat.

It’s all about the first bite - Let’s be honest, the first bite is usually the most satisfying. Chew your first mouthful 20 times (that’s a guide by the way), feel the textures, sensations and tastes. Since the average attention span of a human is a tiny 8 seconds, most people can’t stay connected with this process for even one bite.  By focusing on the first bite, you’ll gain some useful insight as to when you disconnect from eating and enjoying your food.

Write it down –I recommend keeping a food journal, while this may seem like a tiring task, when you are starting out to understand your relationship to food, keeping a food journal will help you gain insight into what you’re eating. Record when you eat and how you feel after eating certain foods. Remember it’s not about critiquing your food choice, it’s about understanding what makes you feel nourished and what doesn’t.
Practice knowing your limit -Our stomachs actually don’t have an easy way of telling us - hey you, you’re full now – you’ve eaten the right amount of food! Generally we have 3 levels.

#1 starving (aka hangry)
#2 I’m full but I could eat more (did someone say dessert?)
#3 I’m stuffed (food coma) so practice knowing when you’re at the, I’m full but could eat more point. After our first few bites of satisfaction, we kinda zone out.

Focus on feeling satisfied on what you have eaten without being at the point of feeling like you need to sleep off a food coma.
In summary, what I’m not advocating is a free for all eat-athon where we can eat as many krispy kreme’s, Cadbury family blocks of chocolate or massaman curries as we like. Instead I’m suggesting we prioritize health not perfection. If we focus on a mindset that is balanced, perhaps we might come closer to making peace with our plates and ultimately ourselves.

If you struggle with understanding your food choices or make choices that you don’t feel are nourishing you, work with me to understand your relationship with food. I work with women across a range of issues and specialise in disordered eating.  

Natajsa Wagner is a Masters qualified Psychotherapist based in Brisbane, Australia. Natajsa blends relational Gestlat methods, contemporary Psychotherapy and neuroscience practices in her work. Natajsa guides and mentors professionals in understanding themselves and their behaviour patterns so they can make more aligned choices in their life. Natajsa is thought leader and advocate for authentic human conversations and connection. She works experientially with individuals and groups to teach, that in a moment, we can create and experience more deeply satisfying connections with each other.

Her work offers an antidote to the modern day disease of disconnection.She invites others to create a ripple of connection in the world, so that we might all feel more intimacy, belonging and aliveness. Natajsa has been featured as an expert both locally and internationally and has contributed to a number of print and online media outlets including: Womens Health and Fitness Magazine, Cosmopolitan Magazine & ABC Online.

You can find her sparking conversations online in the following places: