Dieting does not work. Everyone knows it, but we keep trying, looking for that special diet, the one that will work when all else has failed. We have been sold the message for so long that dieting is key to health that we don’t seem to be able to see past it. After decades of trying and failing it is time we start to think differently.
So what’s the big deal about weight loss and why is dieting considered the solution? Can you lose weight without dieting? Well, yes, but there is no profit in that message, so you are not going to hear it from anyone else.
So how did we get to be so preoccupied with dieting? Firstly, we have been lead to believe that losing weight is essential if we are to be healthy. This idea is fundamentally flawed. After all, being slim is not a default state of good health – slim people also contract chronic diseases. The greatest predictors of future health are lifestyle choices, not body fat percentages.
Secondly, we have also been convinced that weight management is the result of burning more calories than we consume. This is an outdated 20th century idea that is too simplistic to work. Reductionist ideas like this are the nemesis of good health. The quality of the food from which the calories are sourced is far more relevant than the number of calories consumed.
Thirdly, dieting is an idea that is easy to sell while being very profitable, and so industry has relentlessly promoted the message that weight loss is the holy grail of wellbeing. Decades of intense marketing have led us all to believe that dieting is essential. However this is a massive misdirection from the truth.
This leads to an obvious question: what is dieting? Most commonly, it is calorie counting and calorie restriction based on the very limited calories in calories out theory, preferably mixed with some exercise. Some diets also exclude food groups, such as the paleo or high protein diets.
Ultimately a diet is defined by the discipline and will power that is required to stick to a predetermined eating plan, which is also the reason it will eventually fail, if not also cause health problems.
The reason dieting does not work is because it is in conflict with human genetics: We are programmed to store fat, and to keep it. And we are also programmed to seek out the calories (energy) we need, as we need them.
As a result your body will not default to fat for energy under normal circumstances, even if you are hungry, or exercised on an empty stomach.
This is because fat is too important to your body to use for energy. And this leads to one of the most dominant myths – that fat is simply stored energy. This is incorrect – fat is stored for the purposes of critical biological function.
Yes your body does use fat for energy but only for one reason, and that is to protect the glucose supply to your brain. That’s complicated, but the bottom line is that your body is very reluctant to use stored fat for energy because without fat your body cannot survive.
There are trillions of cells in your body, and cell membrane is made of fat. No fat, no cells, no life. Your brain is approximately one third fat. No fat, no brain. Fat makes hormones, facilitates vitamin absorption, and is critical for the regulation of many biological functions. Fat is so important to life that to focus on fat as simply stored energy is misleading to say the least.
The reality that dieting conflicts with every survival gene in our being predetermines that ‘we are biologically incapable of dieting’. So the very idea that you are going to restrict your calorie intake in order to burn fat is fundamentally flawed from the outset.
We also need to consider the fact that the human body is not generic. Each one of us is an individual, with our unique genetic coding, and so we all assimilate foods uniquely. To buy into any particular diet is to deny your own difference. This means that dieting could make you quite sick.
So how do you lose weight without dieting? Firstly, think about food and nutrition in context of your health instead of weight loss. This means to focus on whether a particular food is going to make you healthy, not on ideas about whether it will make you fat or skinny.
Secondly, focus on the micro-nutrient content of food. This includes naturally occurring fibre, vitamins, and minerals. The micronutrient content defines the integrity and quality of food. Micronutrients are only found in whole food.
Processed, manufactured ‘food’ has had the micronutrients removed. One reason for this is that the nutrients in food cause it to spoil, and since the purpose of processing is to extend shelf life, nutrients are actually a problem for food manufacturers. So they are removed. This is not directly addressed by the National Dietary Guidelines and I can only describe this as a massive failure.
And thirdly, adjust the energy density of your food to suit your lifestyle. This may seem like I’m dancing on the edge of ideas about dieting, but no. I am simply referring to the need to be thoughtful about personal choices: eat micronutrient dense whole foods, eat a wide variety of these foods, but keep in mind that starchy foods like grains and potatoes are for very active people, while animal products have very limited nutritional value, are very high in calories, and are also high on the list of foods not to eat according to the dietary guidelines of Cancer Councils.
If you eat for health and not weight loss, you will find that you will lose weight over time and your body will achieve its ideal weight naturally.
I have other posts about this subject that you will find helpful:
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