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Do Diets Work?

by Stephanie Margolis, R.D.

The diet industry brings in millions of dollars each year so there’s no wonder why everywhere you look there are new supplements, products, and resources being floated past your eyes. There are even US federal dietary guidelines, that have looked at how American’s eat and offered guidelines to help improve our health. Some of these sources are more valid than others, however, in a new study presented at the American Society of Nutrition this month (June 2019) the idea of one-size-fits-all was discussed. In a study of 1,100 US and UK adults’ scientists found that food impacts all bodies differently, even when comparing twins. This means when given the exact same meal, insulin levels, fat levels, and overall impact on that meal to the body showed wide variations. That’s why, when you try the diet your friend did to shed all those pounds, you are left staring at the scale wondering where you went wrong. 

So, Should I Toss Out That Nutrition Info?

Not necessarily, I’d file it under “still more data needed.” The study mentioned above, hasn’t been confirmed by subsequent research but does match with other available research that suggests certain macronutrient profiles work for one population subset, but are ineffective for another. The good news is that there are a few things most researchers can agree on: 

  • Eat more produce and fiber
  • Enjoy more whole, unprocessed foods
  • Move more
  • Reduce calories naturally by reducing your intake of sugar and highly processed foods

Calories, grams of protein, carbs, and fat all have their place. This allows nutrition professionals to calculate your needs based on data collected over years. It offers a starting point. But it’s just that, a place to begin. Once you have that point, you see how the body reacts to certain foods and then you tweak. Not all calories are seen by your body equally so there is a level of trial and error. You may need fewer carbs, while another may need to increase calories, and another should add more fats. Still use your meal plan, and if it doesn’t work, don’t feel discouraged. Just know you haven’t found what works for YOUR body… yet. 

So, It’s a No on Dieting?

When we talk about dieting it typically refers to restricting foods in some capacity – that is a no. The YES is trying to find different combinations of foods that work for your body, help you maintain a healthy weight, make you feel good, and give you the energy to do the things you need to do. The other YES is taking a healthy, relaxed, balanced approach to food, for many reasons. When you approach foods as trying to do your best 80 percent of the time and the other 20% enjoying life, it allows you the ice cream treat with your kids, the drive-through when you just have to get to the next practice, and treating food as something that’s NBD (no big deal) instead of letting it control your life. 

There is also the impact your dieting has on your kids. We know that the impact of parent’s modeling dieting behavior is more impactful on daughtersthan on sons. We also know that modeling dieting, encouragement to diet, and weight teasing leads to negative eating habits and in 58% of cases studies the child’s BMI was higher when these were present. Even when not dieting, skipping meals, or actively restricting your diet studies show that a mother’s negative comments about her own body or food was highly links to her child’s disordered eating behaviors

This behavior can present in childhood, but can carry long past those early years. In one 15-year study, when an individual dieted frequently as a teen, dieting increased for both genders and high-frequency dieting and unhealthy weight control behaviors increased as well. According to the National Eating Disorders Association , yo-yo dieting (repetitive cycles of gaining and losing weight) can negatively impact your health with increased risk of heart disease and negative impacts on your metabolism.

Bottom Line

Approaching food in a balanced, healthy, open way you are more likely to see the results you want. Listening to your body and finding foods that make your body feel good, while focusing on whole, non-processed foods, you are more likely to find your sweet spot. Using meal plans to help you find the right fit for you, and to give you a starting point is best. If all these reasons aren’t enough, think about the impact your “dieting” can have on your kids now and in their future. 

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