Why diets don’t work: introduction

In terms of cultural history, there has never before been a society like ours in North America. We sit in the midst of plenty, yet we obsess about starving ourselves. Our supermarket shelves groan under the weight of every conceivable kind of food, yet it is considered grossly self-indulgent to consume too much of it.

Our cravings are not proudly declared, but furtive, embarrassed: we cram a fudge brownie or two on the sly, we make midnight runs to the convenience store for Oreos, we secretly fantasize about cheesecake.

All the while we lament our lack of willpower, our inability to stay “on a diet”, our ballooning midsections. We say that we hate the Celebrity Model Du Jour for being so skinny, but privately we know we would walk over broken glass to spend even an hour in a slender body, because that is what our culture values.

With these contradictory messages it’s easy to see why so many people have very complicated feelings around food, fat, and dieting. We are encouraged to buy products to solve our problems. We think that if we simply acquire the right diet, then we will find the solution that will not only make us slimmer, but will better our relationships, improve our career, and generally increase our quality of life.

And, as suits our culture of fast food and drive-thru everything, we want everything to be easy and we want it to be convenient. The latest garbage products on the market, brought to you through the magic of the infomercial, are Fat Trapper and Exercise in a Bottle. The first one claims to allow you to eat junk and get skinny, and the second one claims to do all that nasty exercising for you. Thus, you don’t have to do make any effort at all: the product does it all for you (both of these products are useless junk, in case you were wondering; check out the crap list).

Well, welcome to your new mantra: you have to do it yourself. Because nobody else, and no product or commercial diet, will do it for you.

This isn’t to say that you are on your own here; this site is designed to offer you nutritional, supplemental, and fitness support, written by someone who has been in your shoes. But, you must know the awful truth: ain’t no quick fix for a long-term problem. And all the infomercials and “7-Minutes-A-Day-To-Firmer-Abs” products are not going to change this. The only thing that gets lighter with those products is your wallet.

Having said that, I know that there is a prevailing mentality in our culture that fat equals failure. If you are fat, so the story goes, you lack willpower, you are lazy, you are stupid or low-class, blah blah blah. Now, anyone who’s ever yo-yo dieted their way up to obesity will tell you it’s not about willpower or intelligence. In fact for some people it’s the rigid obsession with control over eating and food that has resulted in eating disorders and an excess of bodyfat.

For many people, food has a connection to emotions and psychology. People eat to feel better, they eat to replace something in their lives that is missing, they eat because food is the only friend that never lets them down. I acknowledge that, and applaud every reader who has stumbled across this site and is taking the first step towards building a more positive relationship with food and their bodies. The journey will be hard, but at least you’ve got the motor running and are pulling out of the driveway.

Now, before you read any further I want you to collect all the diet products you have in your house (we’ll work on weeding out the exercise junk later). That means Slim Fast, Herbalife, diuretics, laxatives, anything with the word “Jenny Craig” on it, Weight Watchers, chromium picolinate, dieter’s tea, etc.

Put them all in a big garbage bag. Then send it to the garbage dump where it belongs (you’re welcome to take a flame thrower to them if you like… no fate is too awful for those poisons). Go ahead. I’ll wait. And don’t forget the Dexatrim you have stashed in the medicine cabinet.

Phew. See, you’ve already lost a few pounds of stuff that’s no good for you.

OK, now let me explain why diets don’t work. There are several problems with dieting in general. Bear with me through a long explanation (the conclusion is short and sweet, honest… it just takes some ‘splaining to get there).

To be clear: by “dieting” I mean a short-term, often drastic caloric restriction and/or stringently limited eating plan. I’m talking about something like a two-week cabbage soup diet, or a Slim Fast crash diet. I’m not talking about a long-term, well monitored, nutritionally adequate, moderate reduction in calories which is part of a larger fitness and nutritional plan. I’m talking about the lose 10 lbs. in 2 weeks kind of crap.

On to Why Diets Don’t Work, Problem 1: Diet Products Suck!

Why Diets Don’t Work, Problem 2: Muscle Munching

Why Diets Don’t Work, Problem 3: Hormone Hell

Why Diets Don’t Work, Problem 4: The Band-Aid Solution

Why Diets Don’t Work, Conclusion: What DOES Work

By the way, you might also want to check out other related articles, such as my pieces on bodyfat (Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4) and basic nutrition. Oh hell, just read them all. You’re already sitting at the computer anyway.