Thinking Out Loud: Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work

Happy Thursday! It’s been a while since I’ve linked up to the fabulous Amanda’a Thinking Out Loud link up, so I thought I would today!

Have you seen Sandra Aamodt’s TED Talk, “Why Dieting Doesn’t Usually Work?” No? Then watch it. It’s 15 minutes. I’ll wait 🙂

Here are the main points I took away from this:

  • 80% of 10 year old girls have been on a diet
  • Your brain has its own idea of what you should weigh and this weight is your set point – aka a 10-15 pound range around which your weight fluctuates.
  • Your set point can go up but rarely will go down
  • Temporary weight gain can become permanent – your brain perceives this higher weight as your new normal
  • Girls who diet in their early teen years are 3 times more likely to become overweight 5 years later, even if they started out at a healthy weight
  • The same factors that predict weight gain (like binging) also predict eating disorders
  • What can we do? Be mindful – understand and pay attention to your body’s signals (aka eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full).

But the best lesson I took away from this TED Talk?

“Our daughters have learned to measure their worth by the wrong scale”

The Wrong Scale

Isn’t this the truth? I touch on this a little on my About Me page, but growing up, I was hyper aware of my weight. I was never tiny like many of my peers and my mom (sorry for calling you out, mom!) never let me forget that I wasn’t thin. There were always little comments about how I looked in clothes or about my belly or my thighs being “big”. As I got older and moved to hell middle school, my classmates never let me forget that I fat. There were little comments, or notes passed around class about me, or messages on AIM that if I tried to eat cotton balls that I would lose weight. Nice, right?

By the time I got to high school, I was obsessed with how I looked. I ran cross country and played basketball and was in shape, but I thought I looked disgusting. I wasn’t happy with myself – I would severely limit what I ate and then binge, because restriction wasn’t sustainable. I was miserable. As I moved on and went to college, I was overweight and gained more and more weight due to binge drinking and eating, in addition to being so unhappy that eating was the only thing that provided me with comfort. Through all of this was the need I felt to diet – to count calories or do Weight Watchers or only eat granola bars and yogurt and frozen meals because they were “healthy.” It took me years to get to a place where I was ready to move past the diet mentality and be ready to start making changes. It then took more than two additional years to change my eating habits and lose 40 pounds. As I reflect not, I realize that this journey of becoming healthy will never end.

My negative body image was rooted in me when I was young and has stuck with my through today. I’d love to say that one day I could rid myself of the self-doubt and low self-esteem, but I know that probably isn’t realistic. I am human and will always (unfortunately) have doubts of myself. However, if there is one thing I’ve learned as I’ve taken the journey to slowly accept myself for who I am is that dieting does not work. Restriction does not work. Excessive exercising does not work. Just like Sandra says in the TED Talk, our bodies were not created to endure a lifetime of diets and excessive weight loss – and I agree with this. It may just be my personal experience, but every time I have dieted and lost weight, I have gained it back (usually, plus more!).

What have I found does work? Making an effort. Being mindful. Having a plan. Making the choice to eat clean foods and not processed foods. Not being restrictive, but instead to eat foods that I like to eat and that fuel me. Balance. For me, balance works.

Why does balance work? Because it allows for flexibility. And because it’s realistic. The truth is, I will never be able to eat 100% clean or totally eliminate sugar or processed foods from my diet. Honestly, I don’t want to! But what I do want is to be able to enjoy a piece of chocolate and not want to eat ALL THE CHOCOLATE. I do want to be able to enjoy a meal out and not feel guilty. I want to get to a point where I look at food as a way to fuel my body and not as a way to cure boredom. I’m looking to find that balance in my life where I don’t have to think about food as anything more than what it is – food.

This ended up being much more long winded than I intended, but my point is this. I’ve argued before that the scale doesn’t tell us everything – in fact, it can have a really negative affect on our us and our minds. So it’s our responsibility to share with young girls that the scale isn’t everything and that our worth is not measured by a number. Our worth is measured by who we are and what we do – not some arbitrary number that we give too much meaning to.

Anyways, that’s my opinion. So now I want to hear from you!

  • Did you watch the TED Talk? What are your thoughts?
  • Do you agree that our bodies have a set point weight that we’re always destined to hover around? Or do you think this is wrong?
  • Do you think diets work? Or don’t work?

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  1. I hate the idea of dieting, and I seriously think it’s the decision to start that screws things up for us in the long run. Diets are short-term quick fixes that might get results in the short run, but aren’t sustainable and don’t teach healthy habits. I think it’s so much more important to adopt a healthy lifestyle and see yourself as something that’s worth taking care of. And you’re absolutely right — our worth can’t be measured by a number on the scale or the size of our pants… which is really something I wish I could go back and tell my younger self.
    Amanda @ .running with spoons. recently posted…. thinking out loud #72 .My Profile

  2. Yep, I totally think we have a set weight point that each of us is “supposed to” weigh. Now whether we weigh it or not is another story… Long-term healthy eating combined with some not-so-healthy eating in moderation is typically the best, most sustainable approach. And while I don’t necessarily think it’s “bad” to lose a few pounds for a vacation (I’ve done it!), it is better to focus on the long term and fueling your body as it would like to be fueled!
    Becky @ Olives n Wine recently posted…Why I {Kyle} am awesome.My Profile

  3. Kim: Honest and beautiful post! Reality is society is cruel! They judge base on your weight and your look, they believe that scales tell you everything about your worth, when there is nothing more false than that. I now know that being healthy is much more important than anything else. Not only physically, but mentally. This body image issue will likely remain with me forever, however, I’m now conscious, as you are too, that is about balance, and eating what my body craves and feels good for me! What works for me may not work for you!
    Jess @dearhealthyness recently posted…Create MemoriesMy Profile

    1. Thanks Jess! You’re right – society is so cruel and places so much pressure on us to look perfect. It’s too bad that we allow society to affect how we feel about ourselves, instead of being happy with who we are!

  4. This is spot on. The science behind a diet is just not there. You change your calories in to calories out ratio when you’re on a diet. Great. But then your body gets used to that ratio. So if you want to keep losing weight (or, some studies show, even MAINTAIN your ideal weight) you have to eat many fewer calories than you expend. And that is HARD to do forever and for always. So you don’t. So you relapse. So you regain. Definitely agree with your mentality of being as healthy as possible and then embracing who you are and what you look like from there!
    Amy @ Long Drive Journey recently posted…Better Luck This TimeMy Profile

    1. Thanks Amy! It’s true – our bodies are made for all the calorie fluctuations that going on and off of diets causes. It messes with your mind and does more harm than good!

  5. “There were little comments, or notes passed around class about me, or messages on AIM that if I tried to eat cotton balls that I would lose weight.” –> That’s so terrible! Why are kids so cruel? 🙁

    I think being healthy, honestly, is more of a mindset than a physical thing. Sure, you can be physically strong and/or physically fit, but in the end it’s your mentality that determines what you eat when and how you feel about it–and I think that’s the root of all problems when it comes to dieting.
    Beth @ The Small Victories recently posted…Life News, Living Off Of DayQuil, And The Reality Of Bug PhobiaMy Profile

  6. Great post! I saw that TED talk a while back and loved it. I agree with what you said about how you know you’re not going to eat 100% clean all the time or cut out all sugars and processed foods. A balance between being healthy and also living and enjoying life is key!
    Lauren recently posted…Thinking Out Loud Thursday-Heat it Up!My Profile

  7. That makes me so sad that 80% of 10 year old girls have been on a diet – they’re only babies!!

    I do think our bodies have a set point of weight and I think that set point changes over the years – especially throughout puberty.

    As for diets, I’m totally against them. Diets are only a temporary thing – if you want to make a change, you need to be committed to it or you’re going to be a slave to “diets” for the rest of your life. I think it’s important that we teach children that healthy living is enjoyable and healthy food is delicious, you just have to know how to do it right.
    Kristy @ Southern In Law recently posted…Happy Birthday, Jesse!My Profile

    1. I know – but I definitely remember being that young and worrying about my weight. It’s so sad! I agree – diets are a temporary thing that don’t fix long term problems!

  8. I don’t think diets work at all! I think if you want to lose weight or stop eating crap you have to do a lifestyle change, because with a diet the second you reach your goal you go right back to your own ways! How are you going to keep the weight off if you are restricting everything you crave? I think eventually if we don’t indulge moderately we will go back to our old ways.
    Hilary recently posted…Thinking Out Loud Lost CountMy Profile

  9. I love TED talks! On the other hand, I hate the term dieting. Seriously, it really diminishes the enjoyment with food. People are becoming obsessed with it in an unhealthy way. We are told so many things and follow so many “rules.” It’s ridiculous. Dieting really did develop my eating disorders. It was horrible. I wish they would through the term out.
    Natalie @ lovenataliemarie recently posted…Thinking Out Loud ; 4/3My Profile

    1. I agree – dieting definitely has a negative tone to it; it’s too bad that we as a society feel the need to diet to be “perfect” when we’re already great the way we are!

  10. Wow, very powerful thoughts Kim. I really appreciate this and should really reconsider my view of food/dieting right now too. I was told from a young age by my parents of all people that I needed to lose weight. It then became a kind of wanting to please them thing. And my parents still make tons of comments on my weight to this day. Not helpful at all…

    Dieting has gone well and horribly for me. It went well when I needed to lose weight for real. But then it became a habit, obsession, and just not useful anymore. It never really became physically unhealthy but has been very mentally unhealthy for me. Something I’d like to break the habit of. Balance is key in everything!
    Melissa @ Freeing Imperfections recently posted…The Eastern States 20 MilerMy Profile

    1. Thanks Melissa! I agree – I was taught very young that I needed to lose weight in order to fit in and be normal. It’s sad that the people in our life, even with good intentions, make comments that can really hurt. I would agree that I’ve had good and bad experiences with dieting, but overall I think it has had a negative effect on my mindset about food.

  11. Been living a bad lifestyle lately and have gained weight. I am .. I always wanted to start dieting and i always say tomorrow tomorrow but it never came. This is an inspiring post. TedTalks are always awesome and real and honest. #SITSSharefest
    Merlinda (@pixiedusk) recently posted…My Sunday PhotoMy Profile

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