Let’s talk about dieting

The other day I was roaming around YouTube and suddenly stumbled on an old TEDTalks with the title Why dieting usually doesn’t work.

V.v. interesting! Clickety click!

And I am in love. Sandra Aamot, the speaker, she had me at started to eat mindfully.

Eating mindfully is essentially the same as intuitive eating, and as you may have gathered, I’m a fan. On most days.

Some days I fall into old habits, thinking this intuitive eating isn’t working because I’m “overeating”. For some people, like Sandra, eating mindfully leads to weight loss. Some. Not all. I’m thinking people under or of average weight probably won’t lose weight.

There’s at the very least 3 problems here:

  1. I still want to lose weight. Not as actively as before, but the idea is still there.
  2. If we’re being honest, I’m calling eating until satisfied overeating.
  3. A part of me still believes intuitive eating is eating the same amount of food as when I was counting calories like a woman possessed and managed to shrink myself down to a size smaller than when I was 12. Yes. Seems incredibly likely that’s a size I’m supposed to be at age 35.

Letting go of project thin is a struggle.

More annoyingly, I don’t understand why it’s such a struggle. Being thin isn’t a trait I admire. I am thoroughly bored with it. Not to mention diets. When peole start harping on about diets and losing weight in the lunch room I leave.

Logical conclusion: I’m clearly only interested in my own personal suffering.

This is exactly why you need input from people like Sandra! To set you straight. Er. Well. If you’re anything like me anyway.

Not only is she a proper scientist, but she’s got experience that definitely rivals my own. She managed to get in 3 decades of diets, and, listen to this: the weight kept coming back. Heard that one before? Clearly, not even neuroscientists, i.e. well-read and educated people, are immune to diet propaganda. On the one hand, thank god it’s not just me who’s stupid, on the other, dear oh dear, no one is safe.

So, she decided to find out why diets don’t usually work. Strikes me as the right person for the job.

What I particularly enjoy about Sandra’s talk is the angle; she’s coming at it from a brain point of view. Let’s just pause for a minute and appreciate this. We’re not going to talk about the food, but the brain.

According to Sandra, diets don’t work because hunger and energy use is controlled by the brain. What this means is that the brain has randomly decided that a certain weight is your weight; Sandra calls this your set point. Which seems to be the same thing as what some like to call your default weight. Also commonly referred to as a range, which is a point Sandra makes too.

To stay outside this range is v. v. difficult because your brain wants to keep you stable, within the range. It responds to weight loss by trying to get you back to what it considers is normal. Unfortunately, the brain can’t tell if you need to lose weight. (Not that most people actually going on diets need to lose weight, they just want it, a whole different problem.) It can, however, tell if you’ve been starving – and if you’ve been starving it will respond by making you burn less calories. So two people with the same weight could have different energy use. Meaning, if you’ve ever dieted; congratu-well-done you’ve fucked up your metabolism and will forever be doomed to enjoying less of the foods.

OK, I might be making up the forever part. Desperately hoping it’s not forever.

More bad news: set points can go up, but they rarely go down. Dieting doesn’t change your set point, even if you’ve been skinny for years and years. I.e., your brain will keep working against project lose weight.

And it doesn’t stop there; starting a diet in early teens makes it more likely to become overweight later in life. And, surprise surprise, develop an eating disorder. This, in addition to, what I’m sure we’ve all heard: most people who diet will gain it back (and then some). Diet = more likely to gain weight. Remember that! Excellent point Sandra makes: if diets worked we’d all be thin already.

Instead, what we need is mindfulness. Eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full. Work out what makes your body feels good. Took about a year to learn for Sandra. Which I consider both good and bad news, there’s still hope for me, but it could be there’s months and friggin months to go. But like Sandra, I do currently feel way more relaxed around food than I have in pretty much forever, and it is not a bad feeling.

Not that I don’t still, for example, fall into the habit of trying to work out the number of calories in food, but it’s definitely becoming less and less frequent.

None of this is really new information. The talk is from 2014 for one thing, and I’ve heard most of what she mentions before, the problem is some major points (e.g. diets don’t work) have yet to become popular, i.e. spread by media.

For one thing. Right after having watched this talk, I watched the brand new season of the Swedish You Are What You Eat. That fact that it even exists says something. The fact that I even consider watching it also says something. I hardly need to explain why it’s just not good.

But at least! I was thoroughly annoyed throughout watching it. Because, as the title indicates, they clearly are not up to date with the latest research. I also realized that anyone ever going on a diet, it makes me kind of sad.

I’m taking that as a good sign.

There is an important point missing tho, my favorite point, a change in policy is needed. (Ah yes, I have such faith in The State.) We have huge environmental problems because of overproduction, evidence suggests food is especially responsible. This same surplus of food is inevitably leading to some of us being quite miserable. This is logic rivalling that of an eating disorder. Clearly, someone with overview of the situation needs to come in and take charge. And no, I don’t think we should have the freedom of choice here, people aren’t logical creatures, especially when it comes to food.

(Should I mention Go vegan! No? Well you should.)

To sum up, I just wanted to say; good news! Science says we can use our minds and focus for other things than diets, since they are useless!

I dunno about you but that always makes me kind of happy.

Also, newer talk on a related topic that I thought was just all sorts of brilliant:

Give it a watch!


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