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Why Diets Don’t Work

Breaking the Yo-Yo Diet Habit

I decided to dive into this subject because it strikes close to home.

Possibly the rarest breed of person in the Western world is the person who has never been on a diet at some point in their lives. Whether everyone has needed to lose weight or not is a matter for debate, but the fact is, cultural mores demand that we at least be aware of our figures and set often-unrealistic goals for beauty.

The pressure to be gorgeous, slim and model-like causes men and women, overweight or actually quite healthy, to embark on every latest diet trend. Yet, obesity as a disease is growing in many parts of the world and its attendant illnesses, such as heart disease, diabetes, cholesterol, blood pressure issues, and a host of others, are more prevalent daily.

But it’s not just that, is it? How much weight do you, personally, want to lose right now? And for how many years have you been trying to shed it? Have you lost some, only to pick it, and even more, back up again? Don’t feel alone. This is the pattern of virtually every dieter on Planet Earth. There is only a small percentage of people who have lost the weight they needed to lose and kept it off.

But why is it so difficult? I mean, If I only have to lose twenty pounds, and I steadily lose just one pound a week – which is far below the promise of most diet products and books on the market, and a healthy rate at which to effectively lose weight – I should reach my goal weight well before the year is even half over. Four months? Practically no time at all! Even someone who has fifty pounds to lose should be slim and trim within just one year. So why aren’t we all lovely and skinny through using those “miracle” diet aids, shakes, pills, and reams of books?


Diets Work… They Just Don’t Last

Most diet-related products available do work, for a short period of time. They do help you shed a few pounds quickly – however, most of this weight is gained back quickly, because all these products have done is help shed the weight. They do not deal with the emotional, addictive side of our relationship with food. And as long as we have emotional attachments to food… as long as we are addicted to it, we will keep riding the weight-loss-weight-gain roller-coaster.

If you’re physically, mentally or emotionally addicted to food, you have to address these issues.

The question of food addiction is quite hotly debated; there are physicians who insist there’s no such thing, while others insist there is. When even the supposed experts disagree, how are we supposed to know? We can argue and berate and disagree all we like, but there is research out there that shows what effect certain foods, such as sugars and fat, have on the addiction centers of the brain, and I encourage you to take some time to read up about it. But, at the end of the day, whether you are physically, mentally or emotionally addicted to food, you have to address these issues before you can ever hope to lose any weight and keep it off, permanently.

Emotional eating is an ingrained part of human culture. We use certain foods to celebrate all kinds of events, from birthdays to holidays to religious festivals; we comfort ourselves with chocolates and ice-cream after a heartbreak, or with fast food after a crazy day at work. We bribe our children with treats to get them to behave, and even the concept of “comfort food” doesn’t strike anyone as being anything but perfectly normal. And so what? For a healthy person who has a healthy relationship with food, the occasional comfort treat is fine, because they will be back to eating moderate amounts of food in short order. For those of us with emotional eating issues, on the other hand, this relationship needs to change, and change drastically, before we can ever hope to become the healthy, trim versions of ourselves that are hiding inside.

I didn’t realize that I am an emotional eater.

I spent a lifetime hearing about “relationships with food” and “healthy attitudes” without ever once realizing that I am an emotional eater. It was only after I spent nine months being miserably unhappy in a job that many would have considered cushy, working for a genuinely awful boss, and gaining twenty pounds within three of those months, that I started putting two and two together. I spent a very trying few weeks delving into my past and cringing at the realization that, every time I was in a difficult or unhappy place, I would stuff myself with food, to the point of discomfort and even, occasionally, pain. Even as I was eating an extra sandwich an hour after a filling dinner, I would be berating myself and wondering why on earth I was doing this, without ever admitting to myself that I was clearly not in a good place emotionally and that I should deal.

In my twenties, for example, I was dating a man who was not right for me, not by a long shot. On the surface, we seemed to have a lot in common, but we had no real emotional connection and the future held nothing for us – but he was intelligent, good-looking, funny… all the characteristics I wanted in a partner, but somehow just not right. Instead of admitting to myself that this was a doomed relationship, I would leave work and start driving to his house to visit, stopping off at a fast-food place on the way to buy junk food, which I quickly gobbled in the car before arriving at his place for dinner.

During the entire course of this relationship I kept my fridge constantly stocked with sugary drinks and high-calorie snacks, and my food cupboards were bulging, shelves groaning under the weight of dry goods, tinned things and piles of cookies, chips, biscuits. A friend remarked at the time that she’d never known anyone so organized and prepared for guests – but guests were an incredible rarity. I just had an underlying fear of losing what should have been an ideal relationship, and was manifesting that fear by keeping every kind of comfort food I could possibly want close at hand, so that I wouldn’t have to spend any time thinking about how I should step away and move on with my life.

Eventually, I did just that, and the weight started to fall off, as if by magic. I shed an incredible amount of weight, really enjoyed eating salads instead of burgers if I went out, looked incredibly good… for quite a while. Things settled beautifully, I met a fantastic man, I ate like a normal person, only enjoying the occasional chocolate or pizza, took the dog for regular walks because I wanted to, not just for the exercise; a good few years went by where I was a slightly overweight, but a happy, healthy person. It was only when I ended up in a truly miserable situation again, this time at the aforementioned job, that the weight came back with a vengeance.

What was going on in my life that made me want to eat and eat until it hurt?

I was once again blessed with incredible good fortune to get out of the bad situation by finding a job I enjoyed at a company where I was comfortable, and it was only then that I started to look at my life critically. I’d spent the majority of my life on a roller-coaster of weight gain and loss, overeating and under-eating, binging and, I’m sorry to say, even purging—bulimic—when I was at school. At no point in this whole horrible cycle did I ever look myself in the eye and ask: “what’s wrong?” I had berated, shamed and shouted at myself, blamed myself for being weak and useless, but never just asked myself what was the matter. Why did I feel bad? What was going on in my life at that time that made me want to eat and eat until it hurt?

Breaking the Yo-Yo Diet Habit

It’s not an easy question to ask, though, is it? It’s so much easier to pat someone else on the shoulder and let them spill their guts to you than it is to spill to someone else and, more difficult still, to admit to yourself, about things that may feel trivial or silly, but that are affecting you terribly.

Sometimes we don’t want to admit it because it seems so difficult to do anything about it, that you feel worse.

“Why am I so weak.”

“Why do I have this disgusting habit?”

“Why am I out of control.”

“Why am I ungrateful for this ‘horrible’ job, when I should be glad to be working?”

Trying to change jobs is not that easy, especially in a world where the economy of most countries is under pressure and recovering really slowly. Relationship problems? It’s not just as simple as walking out, at least not for most people – there are all kinds of factors to consider. Family pressures? The variety of forms that those can take is so wide that we can’t even begin to imagine what goes on in everyone’s lives.

You Have to Deal to Get Real with Yourself

The only way to break out of your bad habits and into a new life is to deal with those emotional stresses, head-on.

Get real. Get honest. Do the hard work… but remember to forgive yourself.

The thing is, even if we refuse to deal with difficult emotions and carry on suppressing them with food, or alcohol, or drugs of any kind, the issues will not going to go away. Instead it just becomes bigger at the same rate that you do, until the day that you, or someone else, can’t take it any more and the situation blows up. In life, we have to deal with the problems in our families, jobs, relationships, or they collapse and we are left worse off.

“Remember who you are… under all the stuff that’s covering up the real you. Love her… be kind to her, and set her free to be all that she can be.”
~LeAura Alderson,


Have a Conversation with Yourself

Today, don’t pick up a new diet product. Don’t buy into the temptation of quick fixes. They don’t work. Rather pick up a mirror and have a conversation with yourself. So what if it feels uncomfortable? You’ll get used to it and even start looking forward to these conversations with yourself.

But if you just can’t bring yourself to do that, phone a close friend you can trust and talk to them about your emotional issues – heck, pick up a notebook, even a cheap pasteboard one, and write down your feelings. Admit to yourself, in one form or another, that you are eating emotionally and that you need to deal. If that doesn’t work, you can always hire a coach or a therapist. But whatever it takes, do it.

Do whatever it takes to reclaim yourself and melt the fat that’s covering up the real you. You can do it.



Does Food Addiction Exist? Neurofast
Does Food Addiction exist or is it just an excuse for overeating? Neutra Check
Does food addiction exist? Research finds food addicts lacking psychological inhibition. Science Daily
Food addiction doesn’t exist’, say scientists. NHS Choices
Weight Loss: Gain Control of Emotional Eating. Mayo Clinic
Emotional Eating. Medicine Net
What is healthy weight loss? Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Stop Eating Your Heart Out: The 21-Day Program to Free Yourself from Emotional Eating, Meryl Hershey Beck

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Bronwen Bartlett is a freelance writer, children’s book author, virtual agency director and performing bellydancer from South Africa. When she isn’t bent over a keyboard, frantically crafting articles and stories, or touting the benefits of moving away from traditional offices into virtual spaces, she can usually be found hiking a mountain with her partner and their dogs, or trying to master rib-cage isolation patterns.

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