12 Reasons To Ditch The Diet Mentality

Restricting yourself ultimately doesn't work. Here's why.
12/19/2018 01:49pm ET
Malte Mueller via Getty Images
There are compelling reasons to quit dieting and focus on making peace with food and your body instead. 

It’s the end of the year, which means resolution season is right around the corner. I’m not a huge fan of New Year’s resolutions in general — to me, most seem to reinforce the false and dangerous idea that we’re not good enough as we are, and that self-improvement is key to happiness — but I especially hate diet resolutions.

Why? Because, while healthy eating is definitely important, a good relationship with food and your body is important, too. Research on the short- and long-term effects of dieting shows that it can have some pretty damaging effects, and more experts than ever are encouraging clients to quit dieting and instead make peace with food and their bodies.

Ultimately, you’re the boss of your own body, and whether or not you choose to diet is totally up to you. But before you commit to revamping your eating habits in the New Year, here are some pretty compelling reasons to give up dieting for good.

1. Dieting doesn’t actually lead to long-term weight loss for most people.

Brogues Cozens-Mcneelance / EyeEm via Getty Images
Most people lose weight at the beginning of a diet, but that doesn't mean it stays off.

In the first few weeks of a diet — which can include calorie counting, elimination of a food or food group, following a strict meal plan, etc.— most people will lose weight. But research shows that dieting generally doesn’t lead to long-term weight loss. Many experts believe this happens thanks to a combination of mental and physical factors.

First, diets are really hard to stick to. “We have a body of research to suggest that dieting can lead to a preoccupation with food,” said Kathleen Meehan, a registered dietitian in Houston. Restricting food makes you want it more, which is why most people fall off the wagon in the first month or two of a diet.

Even if you can stick to your diet, your body will resist weight loss. “Our bodies view dieting as a form of starvation,” Meehan said. “As a survival mechanism, our metabolism slows, and hormones that regulate appetite and satisfaction change.”

2. Dieting disconnects you from what your body actually needs.

One big problem with dieting is that it teaches us to eat according to arbitrary food rules, instead of tuning into our own cravings and hunger signals.

“Diets undermine our own internal wisdom around food,” said Aaron Flores, a registered dietitian in Calabasas, California. “They say, ‘Do this, don’t do that. Eat this, not that. Your body is wrong and here’s what we can do to fix it.’ But when we reject diets and diet culture, we learn that our bodies have amazing internal wisdom. They can tell us how much to eat, when to stop and what foods make us feel most energized.”

If you’re looking to get more in touch with your own internal food cues, many experts recommend reading Intuitive Eating and using the book’s principles to stop dieting and start trusting your body instead by being mindful while you consume food. Working directly with an expert, like a dietitian or a nutritionist, can be really helpful, too.

3. Dieting makes you more likely to binge or overeat.

Have you ever started a diet with the best intentions and behaviors, only to find yourself sneaking handfuls of chips or bowls of ice cream a few weeks in? Turns out, binging is a super common side effect of dieting.

“Eventually your body catches on that it is deprived of food and reaches out for nutrition and energy in any way that it can,” said Amee Severson, a registered dietitian at Prosper Nutrition and Wellness in the Seattle area.

The fact that most binges involve sweet, starchy treats is no coincidence. “I often hear from clients that they feel addicted to carbs or sugar,” Severson said. “When we’re deprived of food, our bodies often reach for the quickest, surest form of energy: simple carbs, AKA sugar.”

What’s worse, this can lead to a vicious restrict-binge cycle. Severson said that because people have increased carb cravings, they often feel a need to consciously restrict carbs even more. Which ― you guessed it ― will most likely lead to another binge.

4. Dieting paints some foods as ‘good’ and others as ‘bad,’ which isn’t how it works.

Jacobs Stock Photography Ltd via Getty Images
You can miss out on certain nutrients by eliminating foods a diet tells you are "bad." 

While it’s true that some foods are more nutrient-rich than others, the idea that there are “good” and “bad” foods is fraught. For starters, eating a wide variety of foods is associated with better health, so eliminating foods that a diet tells you are “bad” might mean missing out on certain nutrients.

Plus, these food labels lead to food guilt, which can really take a toll on your mental and emotional health. When you’re on a diet, “there is a lot of guilt and shame around eating the ‘wrong’ way,” Severson said. “That is so much more stress than anyone needs. We have so many sources of stress, why does it need to come from food as well?”

5. Since diets fail, dieting can make you feel like a failure.

Most people blame themselves when their diets fail, Severson said. They’ll fall off the diet wagon, gain weight and end up right back where they started. “It sucks because science shows us that this happens to a large percentage of the population,” she said.

Flores sees the same thing happen, and said that even if we’ve tried and failed several different diets, we’re likely to blame ourselves for each failing and vow to try again in the future.

6. Dieting increases your odds of developing an eating disorder.

“Food restriction increases our preoccupation with food and body dissatisfaction ― both risk factors for developing an eating disorder” according to the National Eating Disorder Association, Meehan said.

Dieting is a risk factor for eating disorders, according to the Mayo Clinic. “Starvation and weight loss may change the way the brain works in vulnerable individuals, which may perpetuate restrictive eating behaviors and make it difficult to return to normal eating habits,” the clinic states on its site.

7. Even if you don’t develop a full-blown eating disorder, dieting can lead to disordered habits.

Jack Wassiliauskas / EyeEm via Getty Images
Dieting can lead to developing a fear or mistrust of foods. 

Once you’re on a diet, it’s easy to slip into disordered behaviors like skipping out on social situations because you won’t be in control of the food, obsessively following diet rules or over-exercising to compensate for eating “too much.”

“As a dietitian, I often see clients who have developed a deep fear or mistrust of food after years of dieting,” said Cara Harbstreet, a registered dietitian at Street Smart Nutrition in Kansas City, Missouri. “This can range from fear of weight gain from certain foods, to self-diagnosed food sensitivities or intolerances.” Compulsive exercise is another common side-effect of dieting, she said.

All of these disordered behaviors “are generally traced back to a diet or weight loss attempt of some kind, in which the person learned a strategy or tip that impacted their relationship with food or their body image,” Harbstreet said.

8. Dieting reinforces weight stigma and the false idea that thinner is better.

The majority of people go on a diet in hopes of losing weight. The thing is, weight loss isn’t always a good thing, and isn’t necessarily a path to better health.

“The relationship between weight and health is very complex,” Meehan said. “Weight as a proxy for health is extremely problematic, as it often misclassifies [larger] people as unhealthy. We have research to show that being in a smaller body does not automatically indicate better health. Studies also show that weight loss does not automatically increase a person’s health and well-being.”

9. Healthy behaviors, not weight loss or diets, are likely what leads to better health.

Dieting and weight loss won’t necessarily make you healthier, but that doesn’t mean that improving your health is impossible. In fact, adopting healthier behaviors without dieting is a great idea.

“People of any size are able to engage in healthful behaviors and modify them to sustainably fit into their lives,” Harbstreet said.

These healthy behaviors can include things like exercising in a way that is enjoyable and energizing, not as a means to lose weight; eating foods that are delicious and make you feel good; cultivating close relationships and a strong community around you; and avoiding risky behaviors like drug or alcohol use.

10. There’s no such thing as the perfect diet anyway.

Adam Hester via Getty Images
It's key to learn to eat intuitively and trust your body to know what foods make you feel best.

“Each person has a way of eating that will suit them best,” Meehan said. “This is explored through individualized experimentation and personal experience.” In other words: We’re all different, so it’s kind of crazy to think that one way of eating will work for everyone.

Learning to eat intuitively, in whatever way works for you, is key to feeling your best, Severson said. When you stop dieting and start trusting your body, you learn so much about how different foods make you feel, physically and mentally.

11. When you finally quit dieting, you might gain a lot more confidence.

“Some good things [about stopping dieting] are improved self-confidence and self-worth,” Severson said. With dieting comes the subtle message that once you reach a certain size or look a certain way, your life can finally start. Rejecting this idea means “you are more willing to live your life the way you want, now,” Severson said.

12. Your relationships may improve, too.

“Sometimes obsessing over weight loss and restrictive diets can lead to fractures in relationships because you lose time for other people,” Severson said. Think of all the time and energy that goes into dieting and imagine spending that energy on people you care about instead.

“Letting go of dieting opens opportunities to be fully present with friends and family, and make memories that don’t involve stressful or anxious thoughts around food or your body,” Harbstreet said.

Bottom line: Vow to stop treating your body like something that needs fixing.

Matelly via Getty Images
It's better to vow to honor your body than to obsess over how to change it.

Your body is one of the only constants in your life, Flores said. You should try to maintain a healthy relationship with it by treating it with respect, rather than punishing yourself or restricting yourself.

“The funny thing is, when we get out of our heads and stop obsessing so much around food and what to eat, we actually do more positive things for our body because we are making decisions based on respect, compassion and non-judgment, instead of fear and shame,” Flores said.

If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.

100 Ways To De-Stress
(01 of 100)
Try the "chocolate meditation" technique. This allows you to fully savor the sweet treat. Instructions here. (credit: altrendo images via Getty Images)
(02 of 100)
Write your worries down in a journal. (credit: hey! My name is Fucchon~ I love photography so much. via Getty Images)
(03 of 100)
Peel an orange. Studies show the smell of citrus can help reduce stress. (credit: Maciej Toporowicz, NYC via Getty Images)
(04 of 100)
Read a book for six minutes. (credit: Oleh Slobodeniuk via Getty Images)
(05 of 100)
Eat an avocado. The monounsaturated fats and potassium in the superfood can lower blood pressure. (credit: Patrick Llewelyn-Davies via Getty Images)
(06 of 100)
Take a walk in green space. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(07 of 100)
Hang out with your BFF. (credit: Michael Kovac via Getty Images)
(08 of 100)
Spend a few minutesfocusing on your breath. (credit: Tim Kitchen via Getty Images)
(09 of 100)
Take a power nap. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(10 of 100)
Bring your dog to work. Research suggests having Fido in the office can lower stress levels throughout the day. (credit: Bernard Weil via Getty Images)
(11 of 100)
Listen to Mozart. (credit: Imagno via Getty Images)
(12 of 100)
Try some aromatherapy. One 2009 study found it's an effective stress-relief technique, especially for high school students. (credit: Media for Medical via Getty Images)
(13 of 100)
Let out a laugh. (credit: Tara Moore via Getty Images)
(14 of 100)
Get a massage. (credit: Glenn Asakawa via Getty Images)
(15 of 100)
Give someone a big hug. (credit: The Washington Post via Getty Images)
(16 of 100)
Belt it out at karaoke... (credit: Mike Marsland via Getty Images)
(17 of 100)
...Or sing in your church choir. (credit: George Frey via Getty Images)
(18 of 100)
Do a small project or craft. (credit: Cavan Images via Getty Images)
(19 of 100)
Take up knitting. Research shows the activity puts your brain in a state of flow similar to the one achieved through meditation. (credit: Loic Lagarde via Getty Images)
(20 of 100)
Speaking of which, try a little mindfulness meditation. (credit: Peathegee Inc via Getty Images)
(21 of 100)
Have sex. (credit: Alexander Nicholson via Getty Images)
(22 of 100)
Unsubscribe from all of those promotional emails. (credit: HuffPost)
(23 of 100)
Kiss a loved one. (credit: Blend Images - Jose Luis Pelaez Inc via Getty Images)
(24 of 100)
Call your mom. (credit: Betsie Van Der Meer via Getty Images)
(25 of 100)
Do a progressive muscle relaxation exercise. (credit: Jetta Productions/David Atkinson via Getty Images)
(26 of 100)
Take an email vacation. (Bonus: It also makes you more productive.) (credit: HuffPost)
(27 of 100)
Forgive someone. (credit: PeopleImages.com via Getty Images)
(28 of 100)
Think about something you're grateful for. (credit: Kohei Hara via Getty Images)
(29 of 100)
Exercise. Research shows it helps boost the body's ability to handle stress. (credit: Rob Stothard via Getty Images)
(30 of 100)
Be mindful of how you deal with frustration during an argument. (credit: anzeletti via Getty Images)
(31 of 100)
Drink black tea. (credit: A Girl With Tea/Flickr)
(32 of 100)
Power down that smartphone for a few minutes. (credit: HuffPost)
(33 of 100)
Walk the walk. Research shows if you carry yourself like a happy person, you'll feel happier, too. (credit: Lars Plougmann/Flickr)
(34 of 100)
Drink some orange juice. (credit: mhaithaca/Flickr)
(35 of 100)
Chew gum. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(36 of 100)
Reflect on what (and who) is important in your life. (credit: Jamie Grill via Getty Images)
(37 of 100)
Eat foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids. Bring on the salmon! (credit: Hanataro/Flickr)
(38 of 100)
Tap into your religious beliefs. (credit: Allen Donikowski via Getty Images)
(39 of 100)
Look into a less stressful job. (credit: Compassionate Eye Foundation/Hiep Vu via Getty Images)
(40 of 100)
Live in Salt Lake City (or just take a visit). It was named the least-stressed city in the country in 2014. (credit: David Crowther via Getty Images)
(41 of 100)
Walk or bike to work. (credit: Smart Trips/Flickr)
(42 of 100)
Listen to soothing nature sounds. (credit: Alan Vernon./Flickr)
(43 of 100)
Eat a bowl of oatmeal. (credit: Keith Beaty via Getty Images)
(44 of 100)
Give acupuncture a try. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(45 of 100)
Flash a smile at someone. (credit: iPandastudio via Getty Images)
(46 of 100)
Do some guided imagery exercises. (credit: Paul Vozdic via Getty Images)
(47 of 100)
Get a plant for your house or your desk. (credit: r4n/Flickr)
(48 of 100)
Let yourself have a good cry. (credit: sudo takeshi via Getty Images)
(49 of 100)
Eat some dark chocolate. (credit: Stephen Cummings/Flickr)
(50 of 100)
Get in touch with your inner yogi. Try one these yoga poses, specifically geared toward reducing anxiety. (credit: GO INTERACTIVE WELLNESS/Flickr)
(51 of 100)
Say no. You can do anything, but not everything. (credit: Thomas Barwick via Getty Images)
(52 of 100)
Have an orgasm. (credit: Noviembre Anita Vela via Getty Images)
(53 of 100)
Take a laughter yoga class. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(54 of 100)
Think positive thoughts. (credit: Jamie Grill via Getty Images)
(55 of 100)
Dance it out. Not only does it reduce stress, it can also boost your memory. (credit: JEWEL SAMAD via Getty Images)
(56 of 100)
Take a warm bath. (credit: www.metaphoricalplatypus.com/Flickr)
(57 of 100)
Surround yourself with the scent of pine... (credit: lars hammar/Flickr)
(58 of 100)
...Or the aroma of vanilla. (credit: djwtwo/Flickr)
(59 of 100)
Float in water. (credit: Taylor Weidman via Getty Images)
(60 of 100)
Sleep. Not only is it crucial to zapping stress, it's key to your daily happiness. "When we're exhausted, we drag ourselves through the day instead of enjoying the day," HuffPost president and editor-in-chief Arianna Huffington once said. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(61 of 100)
De-clutter your home or your desk. (credit: Jonathan Kitchen via Getty Images)
(62 of 100)
Become a morning person. (Or at least embrace the morning.) (credit: keepps/Flickr)
(63 of 100)
Spend time around horses. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(64 of 100)
Focus on one task at a time. (credit: HuffPost)
(65 of 100)
Pay attention to your surroundings. (credit: Andrew Burton via Getty Images)
(66 of 100)
If you're a smoker, quit. (credit: Sweet One/Flickr)
(67 of 100)
Watch 3-D videos of trees. (Really!) (credit: Paper Boat Creative via Getty Images)
(68 of 100)
Go to the beach. (credit: dicau58/Flickr)
(69 of 100)
Distance yourself from stressful people in your life. (credit: Blend Images - Peathegee Inc via Getty Images)
(70 of 100)
Repeat a positive affirmation. Looking for a few examples? Try these. (credit: Asia Images via Getty Images)
(71 of 100)
Choose not to wait in line. (credit: JGI/Jamie Grill via Getty Images)
(72 of 100)
Spend time with the person you're in love with. (credit: Raphye Alexius via Getty Images)
(73 of 100)
Drink a cup of green tea. (credit: Kirinohana/Flickr)
(74 of 100)
Feel free to ignore your boss while you're on vacation. (credit: Sam Edwards via Getty Images)
(75 of 100)
Embrace aging. (credit: Javier Encinas via Getty Images)
(76 of 100)
Try a "mood monitoring" exercise. Find tips on how to do it here. (credit: Simon Gerzina Photography via Getty Images)
(77 of 100)
Take a break from social media. (credit: HuffPost)
(78 of 100)
Use a little foul language (in the right company). (credit: JPM via Getty Images)
(79 of 100)
Share a meal with a friend. (credit: HuffPost)
(80 of 100)
Let out a deep sigh... (credit: christian.plochacki via Getty Images)
(81 of 100)
...Or a primal scream. (credit: Ben Richardson via Getty Images)
(82 of 100)
Make a silly face. (credit: JTSiemer via Getty Images)
(83 of 100)
Close your eyes, even for just a few moments. (But don't do it while you're driving.) (credit: Eveline Kooijman via Getty Images)
(84 of 100)
Brush your hair. (credit: Alexandra Wyman/Invision/AP)
(85 of 100)
Do something nice for someone else. Good karma and less stress? Win. (credit: Ascent Xmedia via Getty Images)
(86 of 100)
Give yourself some quiet time. (credit: Westend61 - Hans Huber via Getty Images)
(87 of 100)
Write your thoughts on a piece of paper, then physically throw them out. (credit: Tetra Images via Getty Images)
(88 of 100)
Stare at the color blue. (credit: thor_mark /Flickr)
(89 of 100)
Look at old photographs. (credit: Vasiliki Varvaki via Getty Images)
(90 of 100)
Set "stress boundaries." If someone -- or something -- is starting to stress you out, step away from the situation. (credit: Martin Barraud via Getty Images)
(91 of 100)
Go for a run. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(92 of 100)
Color a picture. This activity isn't just for kids! (credit: Scott Gries/Invision/AP)
(93 of 100)
Pet your dog or cat. (credit: Richard W. Rodriguez/Invision/AP)
(94 of 100)
Look out the window. (credit: AlishaV/Flickr)
(95 of 100)
Try a de-stressing app. Programs like Headspace, Calm and our own GPS for the Soul are designed to reduce stress.
(96 of 100)
Use your imagination and look at your life like scenes in a movie. (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(97 of 100)
Count to 10, then count backward. (credit: DesignSensation via Getty Images)
(98 of 100)
Spend a little time in the sun. (Just wear your SPF!) (credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS)
(99 of 100)
Take a lunch break away from your desk. (credit: Judith Haeusler via Getty Images)
(100 of 100)
If your stress becomes unmanageable or overwhelming, consider seeing a therapist. (credit: Blend Images - Ned Frisk via Getty Images)

MORE IN Wellness