Want better health? Ditch the diet

01/03/2018
CHA wellness manager Rebecca Toutant.

It's almost the New Year! If you’re like most Americans, you’ve resolved to improve your health and perhaps change what you eat. So what’s the best diet to try? The answer may surprise you.

Despite all of the before and after shots, no diet has been proven effective for long-term weight loss. The research shows that diets at best help people lose 5 – 10 percent of weight. And at least 60 percent of people regain the weight (and more) within a few years. Dieting is actually a consistent predictor of weight gain.

There is little evidence that rigid eating practices and eliminating foods or food groups improves health. Rather, healthy eating is more about eating style and tendencies than precision and perfection. At the end of the day, the best way of eating for health is simple - eat real food.

People struggle because they believe a diet can become a lifestyle if they, "just have enough willpower" or "get in the habit." However, what we eat has more to do with our life than our decisions:

  1. Our bodies (and minds) are designed to thrive. Cutting out 500 or more calories per day leaves your body in a metabolic whirlwind that causes increased hunger, cravings, anxiety, depression, food fixation and just general misery. The result? Restricting food is an unpleasant physical and emotional experience.
  2. We have a life outside of diets and exercise. Diets take a lot of time and energy to plan, prepare and transport food (not to mention tracking points, calories or macros). Life circumstances (work, family, friends, mental health, physical health, travel, financial concerns, emotional and physical safety) also require time and energy. Most people can temporarily shift the balance to give more energy to food, but eventually, life requires more of our attention and we "fail." Diets don’t have the flexibility to match our life.
  3. Food goes beyond chemistry. Food (and receiving pleasure from food) is an essential part of our human existence – it is social, cultural and emotional. Diets don’t often take these aspects into consideration and often eliminate a taste, texture, or particular food that connect us to our identity. We can only be deprived for so long before we "break the rules."

This year, instead of focusing on "what" to eat, start exploring "why" you eat to balance your physical and emotional health:

Diet versus Lifestyle Change

Dieting is strong in our culture. I recognize it is emotionally easier (and tempting) to follow a plan that limits food choices. However, any plan that doesn’t allow for the flexibility of life and joy won’t last long. If you work to understand why you eat and what you enjoy about food and movement, it becomes a happy way of living that you genuinely crave.

Rebecca Toutant, MA, RD, LDN, CDE, cPT is a dietitian, personal trainer, and certified diabetes educator who manages CHA's Employee Wellness program


The content on this website is for educational purposes and is not medical advice. Please speak with a physician concerning your specific medical condition.

Cambridge Health Alliance

Contributed By: Cambridge Health Alliance

Cambridge Health Alliance is an academic community health care system committed to serving all members of our communities. We have expertise in primary care, mental health and substance abuse, and caring for diverse and complex populations. CHA patients receive high quality care in convenient neighborhood locations, and have seamless access to advanced care through CHA’s affiliation with Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. With over 140,000 patients in Cambridge, Somerville Everett and Boston’s Metro North, CHA is working hard to offer the integrated services its communities need now, and in the future.