Why Humans Hate Dieting and What to Do Instead (Hint: Be a Diet Anarchist!)

Dear Diet,

Things just aren’t going to work between us. It’s not me, it’s you. 

You are tasteless and boring, and I just can’t stop cheating on you.

I’m moving on.

Sincerely, 

Me

How many times have you started a new diet, only to ditch it and go back to your former eating habits within a few weeks? Have you tried every new diet plan in existence? The weight loss industry brings in big bucks: it is a $60 BILLION dollar industry in the US, and the global market is valued at $586 BILLION.

It’s nice to know that companies that sell weight loss programs, pills, and potions are profiting from our collective misery, isn’t it?

Those staggering financial figures support what studies have shown: people spend a tremendous amount of time thinking about dieting, trying diets, and failing at dieting. In fact, the average woman spends 17 to 31 YEARS of her life dieting.

Approximately 80% of women in the US are not satisfied with their appearance. 90% of British women have been on a diet of some kind in their lifetime. More than 10 million women in the US alone suffer from eating disorders.

Yet, we keep dieting, and not only do we fail to lose weight, we often end up weighing MORE after we give up on the diet du jour…and we fall for the claims the next fad diet promises.

Wash, rinse, repeat.

So, what are we doing wrong?

You might be tempted to believe that you are the problem; that you just don’t have enough willpower to stick with a diet plan long enough to see results.

But you would be incorrect.

New research suggests that your brain is to blame.

From ScienceDaily:

If you’re finding it difficult to stick to a weight-loss diet, scientists say you can likely blame AGRP neurons — hunger-sensitive cells in your brain. New experiments show these neurons are responsible for the unpleasant feelings of hunger that make snacking irresistible. The negative emotions associated with hunger can make it hard to maintain a diet and lose weight, and these neurons help explain that struggle.

The negative emotions associated with hunger can make it hard to maintain a diet and lose weight, and these neurons help explain that struggle, says Scott Sternson, a group leader at Janelia.

In an environment where food is readily available, their difficult-to-ignore signal may seem like an annoyance, but from an evolutionary point of view, they make sense. For earlier humans or animals in the wild, pursuing food or water can mean venturing into a risky environment, which might require some encouragement. “We suspect that what these neurons are doing is imposing a cost on not dealing with your physiological needs,” he adds.

AGRP neurons do not directly drive an animal to eat, but rather teach an animal to respond to sensory cues that signal the presence of food. “We suspect that these neurons are a very old motivational system to force an animal to satisfy its physiological needs. Part of the motivation for seeking food is to shut these neurons off,” says Sternson, whose team also demonstrated that a different set of neurons is specialized to generate unpleasant feelings of thirst.

If diets usually don’t work, what is the solution to reaching and maintaining a healthy weight?

Listen to neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt share her personal story, which provides an important lesson about how our brains manage our bodies. Here, she explores the science behind why dieting not only doesn’t work, but is likely to do more harm than good. She also suggests ideas for how to live a less diet-obsessed life, intuitively.

Additional Resources:

Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again by Traci Mann, PhD

Diet Anarchy: Are You Sabotaging Yourself?

Diet Anarchy: The More Things Are Forbidden…

Why You Should Ditch Your Scale

Diet Anarchy: Are You Eating Enough?

Diet Anarchy: Should You Count Calories or Eat Intuitively?

About the author

Lisa Egan

Lisa is a researcher and writer who lives in the outskirts of D.C. She has a BS in Health Science with a concentration in Nutrition. Lisa has worked as a personal trainer and nutritionist and is a certified hypnotherapist. She enjoys helping people learn about how to improve their health.

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