Over the years, there have been a number of diets that promise weight loss, increased energy, and so much more. Six out of ten Americans have given a lot of thought to their diet and exercise and believe that unless they control their appetite, they will gain weight. (Aamodt, 2016).
Little evidence shows that diets can result in long-term weight loss. In fact, a study from UCLA found that while dieters tend to shed five to 10 percent of their starting weight in the first six months of a diet, up to two thirds of people on diets will regain more weight than they lost within four to five years. Contrary to popular belief and the media, diets are not only harmful to one’s well being as well as a waste of precious time, money, and emotional energy.
The mechanisms involved in body weight regulation include physiological, biological, and genetic factors. Using twin studies, researchers have consistently found that “at least 40 % of the variability in BMI” is related to genetic factors involved in the “regulation of food intake and/or volitional activity.” (Ravussin, 2020). The body’s attempt to maintain homeostasis is one of the most fundamental concepts in biology, and this applies to our weight. The healthy weight an individual’s body aims for is called a setpoint weight, and like any biological force, and the system works tirelessly to bring his/her body back to a comfortable point (Bacon, 2010).
The physiological mechanisms that defend one’s setpoint weight can be simplified to include alterations in one’s appetite, energy expenditure, or energy intake. Research has consistently shown that when total body energy stores exceed the level that the body defends comfortably, “physiological changes that promote restoration of the set point ensue” (Ravussin, 2020). These changes include decreased appetite, increased energy expenditure and hormonal alterations, increased physical activity, among other factors (Ravussin, 2020). This weight restoration system also functions when energy stores are in a deficit, causing adaptive responses that inhibit ongoing weight loss and promotes fat regain (Ravussin, 2020).
Dieting is stressful. Not only psychologically, but also physiologically. Among the physical changes that stress initiates is the release of a hormone that you’ve probably heard about if you’ve ever tried to lose weight: cortisol. This particular hormone has made headlines for its link to belly fat (Aamodt, 2016). Dr A. Janet Tomiyama researches the physiological effects of dieting in her Health Psychology lab at UCLA. According to her research, stress cannot be avoided when you are dieting, because dieting itself causes stress (Tomiyama, 2019). Dieting causes the stress response that has already been shown to lead to weight gain (Tomiyama, 2019).
A lot of industries are profiting from our insecurity about our weight and our inaccurate beliefs about how to lose it. If we take the focus off the outside, maybe we can put a stop to the endless cycle of misguided body improvement efforts and their disheartening and unhealthy aftermath. Learning to accept our bodies, regardless of its size or shape, means that we can try and not let what our body looks like rule us or affect our mental experience of the world.
Giving up dieting means eating in a sensible way most of the time, without extensive rules or restrictions. You won’t gain a bunch of weight, because your genes will keep you in your general set weight range, and dieting wouldn’t get you out of that range anyway.