As a dietitian, I’m sharing my evidence-informed opinion on why you shouldn’t diet in the new year. I also share some practices you can adopt to have a healthy 2020 and beyond!
Happy New Year, everyone! It’s a new year and an entirely new decade. With a new year comes the urge to start fresh. To set goals, switch things up, and work towards something new. I love that and I encourage that. I’m all about self-improvement.
However, in our society self-improvement is often equated with weight loss and changing our looks. Read any self-help book, and there will probably be some mention of “finally losing the weight” or “achieving your dream body”. While I enjoy self-help books, I disagree that the idea of “doing whatever it takes” to achieve your goals should apply to weight loss goals.
And this brings me to the topic of this blog post. Why you shouldn’t diet in the new year.
When I say “diet”, I don’t just mean committing to a diet plan like Keto, WW, or Intermittent Fasting. I mean any specific set of rules you impose on yourself with the goal of losing weight or reducing your body size. This could be a calorie or macronutrient limit or the removal of a list of foods from your diet (hello, Whole 30).
Before I get into it, I want to get something straight. If you are on a diet, planning to go on a diet, or wanting to lose weight, I’m not against you. I just want to share with you what I know about dieting and what the research says about it, too. I want to equip you with information and education to make informed decisions about your health and wellbeing, and encourage you to make decisions out of self-care, not hatred for your body.
To find out why you may not want to commit to a diet in 2020, keep reading.
Reasons You Shouldn’t Diet in the New Year:
Food Restriction Leads to Food Fixation:
It’s pretty simple. The moment we tell ourselves that we can’t or shouldn’t or won’t have something – like cake, sugar, carbs, or fried foods – we end up fixating on it way more than we would if this food didn’t have a big red “X” marked on it in our heads.
Often times when a food is restricted, we tend to actually end up thinking about it way more than we would if it was just a normal, accessible food. When we restrict something, we begin to fixate on it, then continue to deprive ourselves from it, and the moment when we do finally give in and get a taste, we won’t want to stop. We then say “well, I’ve already screwed up, might as well get it all in when I can because diet starts again tomorrow”.
Not only does restricting a certain food make us fixate on it, restricting calories makes us obsessed with food, too. You see, when we’re not eating enough (as is the case on most diets), our bodies soon recognize this and it’s reaction is to ask for more. If you’ve never heard of the Switzerland study, you can read about it here. But to sum it up, men were put on what were “starvation” diets (that were actually higher in calories than most diets recommend today) which resulted in them being utterly obsessed with food.
Do your really want to only think about food? When your next meal will be? How delicious that pizza advertisement on TV was? I kid you not, when I was dieting (counting calories, restricting foods, running excessively, etc.) in university, there was one night where I fell asleep only to dream about eating a slice of pizza. I kid you not.
Less Food = Lower Metabolism:
Your body doesn’t care how many “metabolism-boosting” foods and elixirs you’re consuming. If you’re not eating enough (and 1200 calories is NOT enough) to meet the needs of your body (and everyone’s needs are different), your metabolism will drop.
Why is this? The same reason you fixate on food. You body fears that it is starving.
Your body really is that smart. And because it thinks it’s starving, it wants to conserve energy. It slows down your metabolism (using energy aka calories for fuel) and tries it’s best to preserve your fat stores. Not really the outcome you’re looking for on a diet, right?
Additionally, not eating enough makes it harder to put on muscle and get stronger, as many people aim to do when they go on a diet or resolve to “get fit”. Your muscles need fuel in order to grow and develop, and if this is a goal of yours, you need to eat enough food.
Dieting is Not Sustainable – Here’s Why:
Research tells us that 95% of individuals who lose weight on diets gain the weight back (if not more) within 5 years. So yes, you may lose weight on the ketogenic diet, by intermittent fasting, by tracking macros or by counting calories. I’m not saying that you won’t. The thing is, we don’t know the long-term effects of any of those diets and the chances of that weight loss being maintained for longer than 5 years are not great.
So what’s the point? You lose “x” amount of pounds, keep it off for a while, eventually start to gain it back, get frustrated and feel like it’s all your fault, you “fell off the wagon”, think you didn’t have enough dedication or willpower and vow that you will start another diet soon. Honestly, I’ve been there, and not only is it unsustainable, it’s also just not a fun, fulfilling, enjoyable way to live.
So What Should You Do?
If you’re looking to prioritize your health or adopt some healthier behaviours in 2020, that really is fantastic! It really is possible to achieve better health without a weight loss goal. Here are some things you can focus on instead of your size or the number on the scale:
Aim to eat more fruits and vegetables. Maybe try a new fruit or vegetable dish once a week or even once a month. Try using them in new ways, or in new-to-you recipes!
Find a form of exercise you love to do. Whether it’s walking with a friend, hiking, pilates, or bootcamp classes, try some things out until you find something that makes you happy. If you’re interested in reading more about enjoyable exercise, click here.
Drink more water! Start making water your drink of choice most often. Carry a reusable bottle with you and set a goal to refill it a couple times throughout the day.
Get a better sleep. Sleep duration and quality impacts our health, too. Try developing a relaxing night routine to unwind before bed. This way, when your head hits the pillow you’ll already feel calm and ready for sleep.
Are you setting any health/wellness goals for the New Year? Let me know in the comments!
Finally, if you’re curious to read more about why permanent weight loss is so hard to attain, this is a great research-based article.