Published March 30, 2011

Why Diets Don't Work: Goodbye to Atkins, 4 Hour Body and More

by Helen M. Ryan

When I was a young girl my mother was always dieting. I grew up watching her go through the latest fads in diets: The low carb (or, eat all the bacon and eggs you want) diet, the grapefruit diet, the pineapple diet, the "diet pill" (amphetamine) non-diet and everything in between. My mother was not very overweight at all. In fact, she was what I would call "normal" for her time. But no matter how "normal" in weight they are, women diet. That is what we do. Weight loss trumps all.

Being surrounded by dieting for so long (and being a serial dieter myself with my own body image issues), I learned all about what to eat - and what not to eat - to lose weight. To put it simply, in the world of dieting all the foods that taste fabulous are bad you, and all the foods that do not tickle your taste buds are good for you. Don't eat bread, don't eat fat, don't eat sugar, don't eat fruit, don't snack, don't eat solid foods..we are surrounded by "dont's." So, why, then are we still fat?

Because there are no "do"s.

For the most part, all diets work. They really do. Some are more healthy than others, but in reality, if you follow a diet to a T it will work. The problem with diets is that they are not realistic in the long run. Atkins advocates the low carb route, which has some merit in and of itself...unless you like regular bowel movements or you exercise a lot. The 4-hour-body diet has some very sound principles as well...if you can live with "slow carbs," an expensive bevy of supplements and ridiculous tricks to "hack" your body's metabolism (ice bath, anyone?).

The best diets out there are the ones based on real people's lives and they share two very important commonalities: Balance and moderation. The Zone and Weight Watchers, for example, are both based on good basic everyday nutritional principles (with the possible exception of letting your carb habit get out of control - many Weight Watchers snacks are loaded with sugars though lower in calories and fat). More than anything, though, these diets work because they let you live while you diet.

We can all stay on extreme diets for the short-term, and sometimes we should try different eating styles to shock our bodies. But can you really live without ever again having a slice of pizza, a glass of wine, or a piece of fudge?

If you have to give up every pleasure food gives you just to live in a marginally smaller body, is it worth it? Or should you eat very healthily 80% of the time and give yourself a margin of error of 20%?
It's time we take the power away from food. There are no "bad" foods. Only "bad" long-term choices. Eat a little bit stricter for awhile until you reach a body weight that's healthy for you, but don't tell yourself, "No way, not ever will I eat that again." That's setting yourself up for failure. We've had enough of that. When you see some weight loss progress, gradually add back in some of the things that you love (within moderation of course, ma chérie.)

Life is about living. So go live. Laugh. Enjoy.

Onward and forward.


Photo ©Space Commander