10 Reasons Dieting Is Idiotic

by | Sep 27, 2010
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Are you looking to gain a few pounds over the next 3 years, slow down your metabolism or develop an unhealthy relationship with food? Then dieting is the perfect solution for you.

But my guess is that is not what you want.

Diets are seductive because everyone who tries one loses weight and, for awhile, looks great. They rave about how good they feel and you congratulate them, all the while secretly plotting your own personal transformation. (“This time it will work!”)

You start your _(insert latest trend)_ diet. Maybe you feel good for awhile, maybe you lose weight. But it is a struggle, it affects your social life and, worst of all, it never lasts.

Diets are a trap.

Similar to drug use, a diet gives you brief, immediate satisfaction (short-term weight/water loss) at the expense of your long term health and happiness. And just like a drug, with each use you need more and more to achieve the same results.

But dieters are actually a lot stupider than drug users, who sadly have an excuse to maintain their self-destructive behavior. Drugs are physically additive, diets are not.

You can think your way out of dieting, so let’s start now.

10 Reasons Dieting Is Idiotic

1. Diets don’t work.

Maybe this is obvious, but if diets really worked you would only need one in your entire life. The reality is that diets are a short-term fix, like putting a Band-Aid on a cut when the bleeding is internal. Diets don’t solve the real problem.

2. You’ll probably gain weight.

Not at first, in the beginning you will lose weight. But studies have shown that in the long term, dieting is a reliable cause of weight gain. That’s right, even if you’re overweight you’re better off never dieting.

3. Diets make you miserable.

Calorie deficits make you grumpy. Nutrient deprivation makes me grumpy. I think there are better ways to spend our time, how about you?

4. Diets screw up your metabolism.

When you lose weight too quickly, you’re bound to lose some muscle. Also, when you dramatically decrease your calorie intake, your body adjusts to this lower level and learns to use less energy. These two strikes against your metabolism mean that when you go back to your old eating habits (if you’re lucky and don’t over compensate for your starvation by eating more, like most people) then you will store more calories as fat than ever before.

4. Diets make you a buzzkill.

Friends and family with restrictive diets ruin it for everyone. If you won’t even pretend to eat or drink what everyone else is having in celebration you make people uncomfortable in at least two ways: 1) they can tell you aren’t having as good a time as they are, which isn’t fun, and 2) they feel judged being less virtuous than you. Suffer on your own time.

5. Diets destroy your relationship with food.

Diets set you up for a feast or famine mentality, where you oscillate between barely eating anything and binging on 12-packs of deep-fried bacon-stuffed cupcakes. You can’t win.

6. The food tastes horrible.

Eating bad tasting food won’t kill you, but it’s hard to argue that you’re really living either.

7. Diets are hard.

Diets take lots of time, energy and self-discipline. They aren’t easy to keep up, and they’re nearly impossible to maintain. Since they don’t work, this is particularly unfortunate.

8. They’re temporary.

Even if you can stick out a diet and meet your weight goals, you know that as soon as you go back to your old habits the pounds will return (and probably bring some friends). So if it isn’t going to last, what’s the point exactly?

9. They cost money.

Not all diets are expensive, but chances are high that if you start one you will invest in a book or program, and probably special foods as well. It’s true that good food costs money, but do you need to pay extra to suffer and gain weight?

10. There’s a better way.

All the above inconveniences might be acceptable if weight loss is very important to you and there are simply no other ways to achieve it. But that isn’t true. Small, customizable lifestyle changes can transform your body and your health. The changes are slower and much less dramatic, but they last because they are permanent. Losing a simple 2 lbs a month (.5 lb/week) will set you down almost 25 lbs in one year. More important, for most people a shift to healthier eating greatly improves quality of life. Not only do you get healthier and lose weight, the food is amazing and you discover a world of flavors and food culture you never knew existed.

It’s amazing, and it works.

How smart is your diet?

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28 Responses to “10 Reasons Dieting Is Idiotic”

  1. Jezwyn says:

    Right… So no one has ever achieved long-term weight loss through a caloric restriction diet. And all diets are bland, restrictive, hunger-inducing affairs. And you’ll be left miserable and lacking in nutrition.

    So what exactly are these “small, customizable lifestyle changes” that will result in long-term weight loss without causing a caloric deficit? How exactly do you stick to healthier eating without ever saying no at a social gathering?

    Diet DO really work, and you DO only need one in your entire life – it’s the one you ALWAYS follow. The word diet itself refers to your long-term way of eating – a short-term way of eating for fat loss is technically called a Bant.

    For many people, the reason they are overweight has less to do with what they’re eating, and more to do with the hormonal and metabolic effects of their lifestyle choices. Cutting back on calories won’t work long term if their systems are damaged. Heal the system, and fat loss can occur naturally, possibly spurred on by a small amount of caloric deficit. You can also heal the system and eat as healthfully as possible, and still not lose any excess fat. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution – God knows, even rubbish like low-fat Weight Watchers diets work long-term for some people, so long as they stick with it long term.

    Personally, I avoid grains and sugars, following a Paleo diet since I am insulin resistant. This doesn’t automatically mean I lose fat, but it does mean that when I choose to cut back on calories (usually through intermittent fasting), it’s a very pleasant experience. I’m not miserable, I cover all my nutrition bases, I’m not any more of a buzzkill than your usual health-minded individual who says no to sweets, the food is DELICIOUS and natural, and I am no longer tempted to splash out on fancy, expensive cereals and packaged/fast foods. The Paleo Diet is a diet, not a Bant – I’ll be eating this way for life because my body loves it.

    If you have a metabolic disorder, cutting calories won’t help you. But if you’re otherwise healthy and eat sensibly, understanding how food affects your satiety and hormonal balance, a quick bant can help you lean out, and your usual way of eating can maintain your new body composition.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Jezwyn. I can tell you’re new to this site because we absolutely agree. But here I’ve defined the word diet as a temporary change in eating habits (because of my science background and societal convention), and anything else I call a healthstyle. Sounds like you have a great one that works for you, congrats!

      • Jezwyn says:

        Not at all new to your site, actually, but this is the first time that I’ve seen you run with the attention-getting list formula post, and to list information so apparently out-of-context and misleading is going to confuse anyone stumbling upon your site for the first time, since you don’t explain what they should be doing instead (and what you do explain in other posts tends to contradict parts of this list anyway). Given your connection to tech-savvy folks, I’m sure this list was designed to boost traffic rather than teach the layman anything, but you should at least give some direct answers and points in the right direction for everything you veto here. That’s the main reason I wrote a lengthy comment – so that confused readers would find some comfort that perhaps their efforts aren’t totally wasted, despite your no-no-no commandments. Don’t compromise on information at the hands of flashy accessibility.

  2. Ken Leebow says:

    Number 10 is absolutely correct. However, only a small percentage of people know that.

    Unless there is a major cultural change, we will be doomed to a bizarre drug and disease care system.

    As Harvey MacKay says: Good habits are as addictive as bad habits, and a lot more rewarding.

  3. BarbD says:

    This is all so true, which I found out after 30 years of my weight going up and down, including a stint with Weight Watchers (huge waste of money, despite the fact that I got to my “goal”). Last March I started yet another “diet” after being just sick of myself, but I seem to be doing things more sensibly this time. I’ve lost about 25 pounds since then–I think the glaciers are melting faster–and would like to lose at least another 20, but I’m in no hurry. I do have to keep track of what I eat, but I tell myself I can eat anything I want, as long as I keep within the quite generous calorie allotment I’ve set for myself. I’d like to say I could just pick what’s good for me and not keep track, but I know very well my own habit of self-delusion. I don’t even really think of it as a diet anymore; it’s just what a person of my size and age should eat, and not much more except on occasion. It’s actually the way my family ate when I was a kid in the 60’s–we had plenty to eat, but treats were for special occasions, and we weren’t overweight. Maybe one of these days I’ll be able to lose the crutch of writing down 90% of what goes into my mouth and just wing it.

  4. Hilary says:

    Darya, I truly enjoy your site, but sometimes I wonder if these things make sense/will work for someone who has more than 20 or 30 lbs to shed. Have your suggestions and lifestyle changes helped a clinically obese person to get down to a “normal” weight/BMI? Would love to hear about that, if so. I am very attracted to the lifestyle you promote, but the weight I need to lose is substantial. I am afraid to abandon “dieting” for the suggestions you espouse, because I’m afraid of the unknown.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hi Hilary,

      In my opinion, permanent lifestyle changes are even more important for someone with extreme amounts of weight to lose. How much luck have you had with diets? I always think of the Biggest Loser, and the extreme torture the contestants go through, only to regain the weight in a couple years. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for them to find success only to be defeated again. Sounds beyond awful.

      You are right that clinical obesity is a special case though, and you will need to be more vigilant than someone with less weight to lose. But the point is finding changes you can live with. But you need to be very, very honest with yourself about your habits and what actually helps and what makes it harder.

      I recommend working closely with a health professional who choses a lifestyle approach rather than extreme measures. I have no doubt that you can lose the weight you need to and keep it off.

    • Mike K says:

      Hilary,

      In January I decided that I needed to change my eating habits. I visited a doctor who started me off slow-I could eat whatever I wanted, but it could be no more than 2,000 calories. Plus she wanted me to exercise 3x-4x a week. It took me about a week to discover that the only way I could do that was to eat healthy food. Don’t get me wrong-I still occasionally eat “bad” food and some processed food, but I’ve dropped 80 lbs and I have no desire to eat any of the crap that masquerades as food anymore.

      Like Darya said-you have to be honest with yourself and don’t try to do too much at the outset.

      Good luck!

      • Darya Pino says:

        Congrats Mike! Thanks for sharing 🙂

      • Hilary says:

        Mike, congrats on your weight loss and new healthy eating habits! This is very encouraging to hear :). I’m really glad you commented!

        Darya, I think for me a lot of this is a “comfort zone” issue… I spent my teens and twenties eating mostly processed foods, and I tend to be really perfectionist and OCD when I try to cook—hence, I haven’t, um, done much cooking. Ever ;). However, I’m working on reforming and actually just started taking a cooking class through the sustainable food center here in town. Simple recipes, whole foods—Summer Tomato-type stuff!

    • Darya Pino says:

      That’s awesome, Hilary! I bet cooking will change your life. And the more you do it, the easier it is to not be so OCD 😉

  5. Natalie says:

    Another great post! One lifestyle change that I’ve really been trying to stick to is listening to my body. Normally, when I eat something that is delicious, it’s hard for me to stop when I’m full. Now, I try to stop after every bite, and ask myself, “Am I satisfied?” That has helped me so much, and while the pounds aren’t coming off as fast as I’d like, they are still coming off, and I’m better off. Thanks for the inspiration, Darya!

    The deep-fried, bacon-stuffed cupcakes made me lol!!

  6. Joe says:

    I liked this article, but you could expand and write a whole post on the last subject 10. There’s a better way. I would love for you to expand on this topic and really explain it in a full post, love the blog, keep up the good work.

    • Darya Pino says:

      I feel like all of Summer Tomato is about point #10, and I write about it all the time. Was just trying to mix it up this time and remind people why we’re looking for alternatives in the first place.

  7. Linda Davis says:

    Of course the “outliers” (clinically, dangerously obese, those with metabolic issues, and other serious health issues) need more than simple lifestyle changes. That just makes sense. But the majority of people I know who are always “on a diet” and never seem to really lose or keep off weight, do not fall into those catagories.

    About 30 years ago, I read a book that changed my life. “Fat is a Feminist Issue” was, for a 20 year old woman in 1980, truly revolutionary. Then I read “Feeding the Hungry Heart” and “The Obsession: Reflections on the Tyranny of Slenderness”. And my life has never been the same. But my WEIGHT has. It has moved no more than about 5 pounds in either direction, even after having two children. Simply because I do what Darya is suggesting: Eat smart, eat healthy, indulge with moderation. But first you have to get comfortable with the idea that you deserve to be taken care of that well. Many people, women especially, have real discomfort with self-care. It doesn’t mean eating three packages of cold cookie dough. And it doesn’t mean only eating lettuce and celery and fat-free yogurt. It means acknowledging your humanness, embracing your appetites and I feel most importantly, remember the following: We were all, everyone of us, born healthy eaters. No newborn baby would deprive herself or over-indulge himself with breast milk or formula. We all ate when hungry, stopped when full. We LEARN and are TAUGHT to mistreat ourselves with food, instead of care for ourselves with our eating.

    We were born with hunger reflexes and taste buds. We are supposed to eat and to love eating. Darya, sorry for the rant. It hurts my heart to see people putting unneeded restrictions on themselves when there are ways to do this that are life-affirming. As you can see I feel some passion here. Honestly, having a healthy, happy relationship with food is one of my greatest pleasures. And BTW, I have raised two kids (one boy, one girl) who have wonderful eating habits, which occasionally include really junky food, for fun!

  8. Satu says:

    I agree with the post whole heartedly. I’m both tired of “dieting” and tired of being unhappy about how I look.

    I have stopped dieting for the time being and I think my relationship to food an eating is slowly becoming normal ( what it was when I was a child). I try to watch what I eat but I don’t count calories or weigh myself.

    I don’t know how far I can get with my approach (will I reach my ideal size?), but at the moment I’m happy the way I am.

  9. Can I just say that I love your bluntness? You make me laugh.

    Everyone is always on a diet. We just don’t get that one facet of eating. Your diet is what you are eating at every meal and snack. It’s what you choose to eat that makes it what it is. You can’t go on something that you’re already on.

  10. That seals the deal. Anytime someone asks me for dieting advice (it actually happens weirdly enough), I’m just going to send them here.

    This is 100% my feeling on dieting.

  11. Danielle says:

    Darya,

    I have always loved and supported what Summer Tomato is all about. And I love this list and agree whole heartedly with what you are saying. I’ve been struggling with the transition to a new “healthstyle” and I am wondering if you could tell me (or write a new post 🙂 ) about how to prepare yourself for this change. My biggest problem is having the strength to stay consistent. I know that you have a fierce determination to stick to something – lucky! 🙂 I’ve seen different approaches such as detoxing, fasting and liquid diets. Are these good ideas (at least) to help motivate? Or do they do more harm than good?

    Thanks! I love this site and have been sharing it with my friends!
    Danielle

    • Darya Pino says:

      Hi Danielle, sorry it’s taken me so long to answer this. I marked this to get to and finally am 🙂

      Anyway, my advice is to avoid the cleanses and detoxes. If you have a lot of weight to lose these might help get things going, but I think it’s risky. For me this was hard to give up. Instead I recommend starting with small changes that you can live with. Can you start by limiting sugary desserts to 1x per week? Or bread 1x per day or less? Or replace your dinner carbs with beans or lentils 2 days per week? Little stuff like that goes a long way to change habits and gives you the courage to persevere and try new things.

      What do you think, can you handle it?

      • Danielle says:

        I think that is much more manageable! I have been meaning to try chick peas and/or spaghetti squash as a pasta replacement as I find pasta just isn’t worth the calories! And I don’t care too much for bread anyway. I’m going to try doing this. I had been trying Tim Ferriss’s diet, but find it very disagreeable if you should have no choice but to eat carbs at a given time. 🙁

        Thank you so much for taking time out of your day to answer comments and make this beautiful blog. I share it frequently.

  12. Brittanny says:

    Interesting post. As someone who recently changed her diet, I’ve been really happy lately. Last year my fiance and I became pescatarians. We’re happy with our choice but since we made it public, everyone feels like they have a right to preach to me about what I should be eating. I find that other people are the buzzkills, not me. I honestly could give a shit what other people are eating. I don’t preach about my eating lifestyle because I think it’s dumb to do so, yet everyone else loves to tell me what to put in my body.

    I’ve been happier with myself and I’ve been feeling healthy. I don’t believe that my relationship with food has been destroyed but it’s definitely much more realistic. Since I started counting calories (yay for the Lost It iPhone app) I’m much more aware of what I’m putting in my body. The only idiotic thing about dieting is all the people basically “doing it wrong”, bitching about it, and then going on another crazy fad diet expecting it to work.

    • Darya Pino says:

      Sounds like you found an awesome (and healthy!) healthstyle that works for you, congrats! On this site “diets” only refers to temporary changes in eating habits designed only for weight loss. The link in the second paragraph to “diet” explains why . 🙂

  13. Peggy says:

    I definitely agree with this a million times over! All the friends I’ve ever had that have gone through “dieting phases” have been boring, no fun, and just angry. They should eat what they love to eat, in moderation, and in the end, will be happier for it!

  14. Food Scientist says:

    You make a lot of controversial and highly implausible claims. You provide no scientific references to support your claims. The fact that you have a PhD in neuroscience does not make you an expert in nutrition.

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