Don’t Diet! Try this Instead…

You’ve probably heard it before: Diets don’t work!  But maybe you thought you would start 2017 with one last try… 

Whether your current diet is causing you to lose weight or not, that doesn’t change the fact that dieting is not a long-term solution. Research shows that 97% of dieters regain everything they have lost and then some within three years. This fact really doesn’t help with self-esteem either.

Most of the long-term dieters I’ve met have very poor self-esteem. Of course if you don’t feel good about yourself, why take care of yourself? It’s a setup for comfort eating. Now you have the perfect excuse to eat all those foods you’ve been depriving yourself of, at least until you’re ready to start that next diet.  

Before you know it you’re on the not-so-merry-go-round of yo-yo dieting. It’s really hard on the old self-esteem, not to mention your body! It’s a negative self-reinforcing loop that keeps you in battle with your body, disempowered and defeated, over and over again.

So what is the way off this not-so-merry-go-round of fasting and feasting?

There’s hope. Studies show* that shifting your focus from weight loss onto regaining your health, such as with the Health At Every Size Approach (HAES), can vastly improve self-esteem. Once you start feeding and exercising your body as something you love and care for, rather than something you deprive, punish and are in constant battle with, you will start having more energy and feeling better about yourself. When you feel better about yourself it’s also easier to take care of yourself in simple and basic ways, such as eating more healthily, exercising more frequently, etc. This creates a positive self-reinforcing loop where self care becomes rewarding, effortless, even fun—and this is what we want!

Health is not just about your physical health, it’s also about your emotional, mental and spiritual health. If you can get a long-term plan in place that addresses your physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health, you will find that your body naturally stabilizes within two to five pounds of its ideal weight. This is called the “set point range” and it’s usually genetically determined. We really can’t change our set point range, which is why so many diets fail.  Focus instead on creating a loving and supportive relationship with your body and watch her start to cooperate instead of fight you. Our bodies are like children; they respond much better to positive reinforcement than constant criticism and putdowns!

Physical Health

Food – Find those foods that help you function optimally. For most people this is going to be eating lots of fruits and vegetables, quality carbohydrates and proteins, with some healthy fats. You want to keep your blood sugar stable to optimally balance your energy and mood throughout the day. If how to eat healthy has become lost in the food myths you’ve absorbed from years of dieting, then consider a few sessions with a good nutritionist to get yourself on a better track. I also really like this doctor who specializes in women’s health and offers a free newsletter with lots of great tips:

Make it Yummy + Fun – Fruits and veggies don’t have to be boring. Get creative and make it yummy! If you don’t have time to cook, then order a healthy food service for the week and give yourself the weekend to try that new recipe. If you can’t afford the food service then spend some time on the weekend making a few healthy go-to meals for the week. The trick is to make the healthy food so available and appealing that the empty calorie processed foods have less grab. A bit of time and effort preparing healthy foods will go a long way!
Exercise – A word about exercise: It has to be something that is fun and that you enjoy, otherwise you’re not going to do it as often as you need to. If going to the gym is just another “should” on your to-do list, then scrap the gym and find something else that you really enjoy. It could be hiking, fencing or belly dancing—it really doesn’t matter as long as you enjoy it! If getting motivated is the issue, then find that workout buddy or hire someone who can help you get out the door and to the gym or dance class.

Emotional, Mental and Spiritual Health

As for emotional, mental and spiritual health components, giving these a little bit of energy and time every day will go a long way. Everyone is different here. You want to find the particular combo that works best for you. Don’t be afraid to get support in this area and lots of it! If nourishing, supportive care was sparse or not available when you were growing up, you won’t have a clue how to do this for yourself. It really helps to have groups, mentors, yoga teachers, gym buddies, coaches, therapists—the list goes on! Basically, someone who can show you and/or support you in wiring in some better habits for self care and replace the negative self talk.

The point is to work with yourself very much how a loving parent would coax their child. Instead of giving yourself a long list of foods you can’t eat and exercise you should do, make getting healthy yummy and fun. Give yourself a lot of support, positive reinforcement and playmates! If our bodies are like children (as I previously suggested) they will respond better to praise and play than to criticism or “shoulds.”  

Check out how this dad has made doing his daughter’s long hair a fun event with no fighting or tears.

If you can focus on optimizing your health using some of the tips mentioned in this article, instead of on losing weight, you will find that your body will naturally stabilize within its set point range and your self-esteem will improve exponentially. Once your self-esteem improves, self care requires less effort; you will want to take care of your health and body because that helps you function optimally and you feel better.  Your self-esteem improves, your relationships are better, you work more efficiently and so on. Try it! What have you got to lose? Pun intended..; )

Resources/ References

For more about the Health At Every Size approach, read my article “To Stabilize Weight and Improve your Self-Esteem, Research Shows the HAES Approach Is a Winner!” Here is the link:

* In 2005, Bacon et al. did a 6-month study on the HAES approach, using 78 women aged 30-45 years old and a 2-year follow-up. The HAES group’s results showed that they were able to maintain their weight at the 2-year follow-up mark, while the diet group regained the weight loss. The HAES group also showed a marked improvement in self-esteem and body acceptance, whereas the diet group initially showed an improvement that was followed by a worsening in self-esteem by the 2-year mark. The HAES group also showed significant improvement in physical measures of health, like blood pressure and cholesterol.

Comment on Don’t Diet! Try this Instead…

4 Responses to “ Don’t Diet! Try this Instead… ”

  1. Kalh on June 16th, 2022 7:16 am

    Great article, it is so true that dieting is a long term event. So many people I have met in my past complain about their weight, then the next time I see them, they are eating cookie dough, pizza, doughnuts, etc. A diet is a lifestyle not something to start and stop. Also, being good to yourself is the key to being healthy. It took me awhile to learn this lesson, but it’s true. You need to learn to love yourself not punish yourself. Thanks for the great insights!

  2. on August 4th, 2022 6:42 am

    Worth reading it. Will look forward to have many other articles like this.

  3. Tex Hooper on September 19th, 2022 6:07 pm

    Having a mentor might actually work. I feel like I always hit a roadblock when I get 2 weeks into dieting. I’ll have to hire a coach to help me lose weight.

  4. Jeremias R. Duarte, D.O. on March 11th, 2023 12:49 pm

    As a physician, I completely agree with this article that diets don’t work in the long-term. Research has shown that the vast majority of dieters regain all the weight they lost and even more within three years. The article suggests that instead of focusing on weight loss, a Health At Every Size Approach (HAES) can improve self-esteem and help people to create a positive relationship with their body. This can lead to better physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual health, which is more important than just losing weight.

    I particularly like the emphasis on finding healthy foods that are delicious and enjoyable to eat and making exercise fun, rather than a chore. The article also highlights the importance of taking care of emotional, mental, and spiritual health, which can involve finding supportive groups, mentors, and therapists.

    In summary, rather than embarking on yet another diet, it’s essential to shift the focus onto improving overall health and wellbeing, which will lead to a better quality of life in the long-term.

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