Health And Wellness

The Sneaky Psychological Reason Your Diets Never Seem To Work — And What To Do Instead

Weight loss can make you feel good and is an important part of your fitness and daily happiness. But if it's an enormous struggle for you to lose weight, or you always seem to gain all the pounds back (and more!) despite your restrictive diet, there’s a simple scientific reason: You’re sabotaging yourself with crash dieting.

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So what gives? And what's the best way to lose weight?

Here's the sneaky psychological reason your diets never seem to work — and what to do instead.

If you’re like many people who diet frequently, you’ve tried all the fad diets; you’ve done the ones that people swear by, like the Keto diet, or the Paleo diet. Atkins diet? Yep. Weight Watchers? Probably! You might even have tried that one diet period where you could only eat cabbage soup, and it took you years to be able to even look at cabbage again without feeling queasy. But there’s a reason why you can’t shed that weight, or that you gain it back when you’re done dieting.

According to Clinical Nutritionist Carolyn Mein, many diets are actually a form of starvation that end up with your stomach signaling your brain that it is starving. Your stomach is super dramatic, but it’s this over-the-top urge that has kept animals alive since the beginning of time. Unfortunately, your brain winds up taking this information quite literally.

Your brain’s way of interpreting this “starvation” signal is to shut everything down and actually hold onto fat because your body is now convinced that death is imminent and there’s food scarcity.

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Because your body is now firmly in the mindset that it must retain food when you stop dieting and start eating again, it’s completely unwilling to let go of any fat that it might have sloughed off before, and then goes about the process of hoarding any new fat in case you go through another period of “famine.”

Not only does this mean that you’ll gain back the weight you lost, but it means that your body will also attempt to hold onto more fat, which explains how you started that diet six months ago a size seven, and now you’re an eight.

And the worst part of this starvation mindset, says Mein? The more you do these crash diets, the harder it will be for your body to stop thinking that you’re constantly going through periods of starvation, and the harder it will be to lose weight in the future.

On top of that, the most common dieting plan, which is to restrict your fat intake, actually puts a lot of stress on your gallbladder.

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Low-fat diets are not great for a couple of reasons. It means if you’re not digesting fat, then you’re not digesting proteins or carbohydrates, either. And, she says, this is one of the reasons that people who frequently diet end are more likely to have gallbladder issues.

All of this can seem overwhelming when you’re trying to lose weight, so what can you do to make things easier on yourself and keep your body from thinking that you’re constantly trying to starve it?

One of the ways, according to Mein, is to practice modified fasting about once a week, for anywhere from 1-3 days at a time. While an intermittent fasting diet entails avoiding food entirely for a set period of time, a modified fasting diet allows you to eat mostly fruits and vegetables, which will keep your body from going Romeo and Juliet and deciding that you’re dying.

But the most important thing, she says, is to learn to listen to your body and find out what it needs, versus what you’re craving. Instead of going for ice cream when you’re craving something cold and sweet, you can try frozen/refrigerated fruit instead. Or perhaps if you want a hamburger, try eating some jerky.

Simple modifications to your diet can help keep you from being stuck in an endless dieting loop and help you lose weight and keep it off. 

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Carolyn L. Mein, D.C., is a nationally recognized author, speaker, and expert on health and nutrition.

Merethe Najjar is a professional editor, author, and short story writer. 

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