Why your diet isn't working

If you’re reading this, then you’ve probably clicked on this post because you’ve been on a diet at some point, if not multiple times, or you’re thinking about starting one.

Low carb, paleo, keto, Atkins, vegan, FODMAP, high carb, high protein, intermittent fasting etc etc…the list is endless! How are you meant to know where to start?

Maybe you’re tempted to, or have started a diet because your friend told you about it, or you saw a remarkable weight-loss journey attributed to it, or maybe a study involving a diet crawled its way to morning TV talk show and had amazing results for a certain group of participants.

But, the million dollar question is: do diets actually work? And if so, which?

With this question, the devil lies in the detail.

If the purpose of your diet is a quick fix to lose weight for a holiday in 12 weeks time, the likelihood is that you could essentially starve yourself for 3 months and reach your goal. Success right?

But, then you’ll likely put on twice the weight you lost after the holiday. Is that what you want? Is that still success to you?

If you are wanting more long-term sustainable weight loss, then maybe 'dieting' isn’t the way forward.

A study followed 10,000 dieters over a 5 year period and it showed that 95% of them had no success over the 5 year period in terms of weight loss (ref /ref ).

If you are overweight or obese, or you have been advised medically to lose weight, then I am in no way dismissing you or your need to diet. As a nutritional therapist, I entirely understand the need for strict diets in certain circumstances. I love helping clients with their health issues and concerns and strict dieting needs to come into this sometimes.

This article is more aimed at people that may be healthier if they were either not on a prescriptive ‘diet’, or people that want to understand holistic eating a bit better to get the best health outcome possible through food, rather than a short term result.

There are many psychological and physiological implications that should be considered when attempting to adhere to a certain diet.

The Psychological Aspect

During my time working in clinical practice, it has been fascinating to me to observe people's relationship with food and the impact it has on their overall health.

I haven’t met many people with diagnosed eating disorders such as anorexia nervosa, but I would say over half of my clients have ‘disordered eating’ habits ingrained into them. I suspect some of this is down to dieting culture.

I’ve been lucky enough to be educated at a great nutritional college, where I have had three years of learning about the healing properties of food and how it can be used to support and maintain an optimum state of health. So, when talking to clients about food intake, I alway start by getting clients to not only think about the calories in food, but also about how the food they eat can have an integral impact on their health.

I have found that when people are constantly occupied only by the calorific content of food, or the notion that somehow they have entirely sabotaged their diet by consuming one ‘cheat food’ that ultimately turns into a weekend binge fest (sound familiar?), that their relationship with food becomes ever more distorted.

The aim, in my opinion, should always be to establish a relationship with food that takes into account all of the nutrients of the food, and how those nutrients will affect the body. This needs a good level of understanding and education.

(For more detail on the healing powers in food check out THIS blog.)

The Physiological Aspect

When you go into a period of long term calorie restriction, your body recognises this as a state of hunger and therefore goes into a kind of ‘survival mode’. Your body produces two main hormones that are responsible for governing hunger levels: leptin and ghrelin.

In times of extreme dieting, levels of ghrelin are increased, and leptin is decreased (ref).

Ghrelin signals to the body to store fat and increases hunger levels (ref). This can explain why people ‘crash diet’ and binge on junk food after a long time on a calorie restrictive diet. As mentioned earlier, long term, it has been documented that 95% of people that diet long term do not see progress (ref 1, ref 2). The production of these hormones in response to extreme dieting may be a testament to that.

But with all of this in mind, I’m not always opposed to putting in strict measures into someone’s diet. Removing certain irritants such as gluten and dairy can eradicate eczema (ref). The removal of plastics can be beneficial to hormone levels in men and women (ref). PCOS can also be modulated through aiding insulin sensitivity (ref).

These are examples of how dietary changes can help your health as a whole, not your weight. As a nutritional therapist, this is where I like to primarily operate.

But, as you've clicked on this article, I know what you're more likely here for! So, here are my top 3 'diet' tips to help you eat healthier:

Add in - don’t take away

As soon as someone tells you not to eat chocolate, what do you start to think about all the time? How much harder does it become to not eat chocolate? Much harder.

There are many delicious ways to enjoy healthy foods. There should never be a need to demonise any foods, but rather educate around how that food will react to your body.

My clients seem less likely to want to eat sugar if they know it will flare up their psoriasis. They might even have that internal monologue “Maybe this isn’t the best for me, maybe I can replace this with something else. And you absolutely can!

Find the right diet for YOU

It sounds really obvious, but you need to find what kind of diet energises you best, rather than focusing on what works for other people. All bodies will react differently to different types of diets. For example I find my cognitive function improves when I try to eat a lower carb diet as opposed to higher carb.

Does this mean all carbs are inherently evil? No.

Does it mean I could be sensitive to the sugar or gluten in them, and consuming large amounts of these causes me to get bloated and tired? Yes.

Does this mean that you will get the exact same reaction? No.

So do your own research, try out some different dietary habits and see if certain food groups (grains, nuts, seeds, legumes etc) give you different reactions.

You might realise that eating grains gives you gut related symptoms or makes you tired for example. Your physiology is incredibly unique, so why should your diet not be as equally unique?

Educate yourself

Now I don’t mean that you need to become a PHD level student in nutrition, but take some time to educate yourself about all of the macro and micronutrients, and what they can do for you.

When you pick up an item at the supermarket, is the first thing you look at the calorie content? If it is, you’re not alone. If we only take the calorie content of each food into account, we miss what foods can do for our health. We turn eating into this tedious game of addition and subtraction of calories, and it is a great disservice to the healing powers of food.

When people tend to focus on healthy foods, they tend to eat better - and as a byproduct can achieve their weight-loss goals, but in a more balanced way. They tend to eat foods that are highly nutritious that energise and invigorate them. Eating healthy doesn’t have to be boring, gone are the days of chewing on leaf salads and salivating over your co-worker eating pizza. It can be a wonderful journey of creativity and discovery.

So there we have it, my thoughts on the approach we should be taking to dieting.

A journey to a healthier lifestyle can be incredibly challenging, so if you feel like you are struggling with an aspect of your health, please get in touch via emailing contact@milifenutrition.co.uk - we’d love to hear from you!


Long-term efficacy of dietary treatment of obesity: a systematic review ...." https://www.ncbi.nlmnih.gov/pubmed/12119984

The mediocre results of dieting


The role of leptin and ghrelin in the regulation of food intake and body weight in humans: a review. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17212793/

Diet & Dermatitis: Food Triggers


Bisphenol A: an endocrine disruptor with widespread exposure and multiple effects https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21605673/

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