Food & Nutrition
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Why Dieting Doesn’t Work and What You Should Try Instead

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For most of us, eating healthy is a challenge. From lack of time to prepare healthy foods to the stress that can trigger emotional eating, our best intentions often turn into “I’ll start tomorrow.”

You may think you need more of that quickly vanishing mythical creature known as “willpower,” but the real key to making sustainable change to your eating habits could be with losing the all-or-nothing diet mentality and sticking to mindful eating instead.

Why Diets Often Don’t Work

According to a study by researchers at UCLA, diets can be effective for short-term weight loss, but that loss is difficult to sustain. Of those who participated in the study, one-third to two-thirds regained all weight lost, and more, within four to five years.

Most popular diets are based on either calorie restriction or avoiding entire food groups. Neither of these tactics teaches you how to stick to a diet long term. Instead, many people suffer through the hunger and cravings by trying to use willpower alone.

Let’s be honest: Willpower doesn’t generally work. According to research, one in ten people falls off their diet within the first 24 hours. And by day five, four out of ten people feel ready to reward themselves for staying on their diet by, you guessed it, breaking it and reverting back to their old habits.

Ditch The All-Or-Nothing Mentality Instead

People often break their diets because they create an all-or-nothing mentality. Telling yourself you’ll never eat bread or have another sweet treat again is asking for failure.

You may be able to will your way through for a few weeks, but food shouldn’t be such a struggle. In moderation, any food can fit within a healthy eating plan.

When you skip the diets and set up a well-balanced plan, it reduces stress and feelings of guilt. You don’t have to beat yourself up for enjoying a food you love in moderation. Binges, too, are much more unlikely. There’s no thinking, “Well, I already blew it, I’ll start over tomorrow.”

Learn more about healthy living.*

Try Mindful Eating Instead

Instead of restricting yourself with a diet, try mindful eating. In her TED talk, neurologist and self-described former lifelong dieter Sandra Aamodt describes mindful eating as “learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full.”

Here are tips for eating more mindfully:

  • Identify and address your triggers. Are you more likely to eat unhealthy foods after a stressful day at work or when you’re bored on the weekend? Being aware of your daily eating habits is the first step in being able to make a sustainable change.
  • Pause when you find yourself reaching for a snack and ask if you’re really hungry or if you’re trying to address an emotional need.
  • Limit distractions while you eat. Sit down and relax while you eat instead of watching TV or scrolling on your phone. You’re more likely to appreciate and enjoy your meal with fewer distractions.
  • Slow down. Rushing through your meals can result in overeating. Taking time to eat allows you to appreciate your food.

Learn more about how to practice mindfulness here.

Consult your doctor before beginning any diet or exercise program.

Leah Newman

Leah Newman is a freelance writer with particular interest in health and wellness, law, and personal finance. Her background is in journalism, and includes several years as a staff writer and editor at a daily newspaper. She has previously worked at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, YMCA Camp Widjiwagan and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Leah lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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Leah Newman is a freelance writer with particular interest in health and wellness, law, and personal finance. Her background is in journalism, and includes several years as a staff writer and editor at a daily newspaper. She has previously worked at the YMCA of Middle Tennessee, YMCA Camp Widjiwagan and Atlanta Motor Speedway. Leah lives in Nashville, Tennessee.

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