When we say “dieting”, we mean intentionally changing the way you eat (which foods, how much), despite your body needing/wanting you to eat a different way, usually with the aim of making your body smaller. Your body needs carbs, fat, and protein, and enough of each of these to keep you satisfied and fueled throughout the day. If you are restricting carbs, fat, or protein…or restricting calories overall…you may be dieting.
Dieting doesn’t work. Most people diet to lose weight, and for the vast majority of people, dieting doesn’t work to lose weight. Various studies where the participants cut carbs, cut fat, cut overall calories, all had similar results (Long et al., 2020). The participants lost a small amount of weight in the first year. Some also showed lower blood pressure or cholesterol. But after a year, weight, blood pressure, and blood tests largely returned to where it where they were before the dieting. Some people even had a higher weight after a year than before the dieting.
And at what cost? This study didn’t ask participants about their quality of life, mental wellbeing, or body image while on the diet. But we know from other studies, and from clinical and personal experience, that dieting does impact quality of life, mental wellbeing, and body image. Denying our hunger and our cravings makes us irritable, depressed, obsessed with food, and can even mess with our metabolism and hormones (Polivy, 1996).
The one “diet” that retained its “benefits” (we know weight loss is not always a benefit or something to be desired) after a year is the Mediterranean diet. What makes this diet different? Well, it’s not really a diet—that’s why it works.
The Mediterranean diet (aka, Mediterranean way of eating) is a health-promoting lifestyle that includes a pattern of eating with fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, meat, seafood, and dairy. The idea of the Mediterranean lifestyle came from researchers noticing that people who live around the Mediterranean Sea have low rates of disease and live especially long lives. Actually, there are other populations outside of the Mediterranean that likewise have low disease rates and longevity, including Japan, Costa Rica, and Loma Linda, California. All these populations eat fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, meat, seafood, and dairy. So, there are many ways to eat a Mediterranean diet! It doesn’t just have to be Italian, Greek, and other Mediterranean foods.
The Mediterranean lifestyle is a major reason for low disease and longevity. The lifestyle includes joyful movement throughout the day, not just in the gym. This population is walking to work, taking care of their gardens, helping their neighbors—movement is incorporated through their day, not to “burn calories”. Participation in the community is a major part of the Mediterranean lifestyle. Family meals are the norm, which we know is so good for kids as well! (Check out our last blog post on Raising Intuitive Eaters!)
The Mediterranean way of eating can totally align with Intuitive Eating! No food groups are cut out, and people who are eating this way can listen to their body about which foods exactly and which amounts will make their body feel good. The diet doesn’t lay out portion sizes. The Mediterranean way of eating also emphasizes enjoying food with plenty of spices! Enjoying food, as we know, is so important for being satisfied, and for our relationship with food. There is also space for wine and dessert!
Bottom line: classic diets centered around restriction and weight loss don’t work and will not help us reach our goals of health and wellbeing. One way of achieving health and wellbeing is the Mediterranean lifestyle, with an emphasis on eating a variety of food, enjoying our food with our family and community, and incorporating joyful movement into our day! Of course, there is no one way to be healthy, and you know what is right for your body.
Join the waitlist for Food Freedom University, an 8-week digital course by Dietitian Tianna to help you rediscover intuitive eating! realisticrootsnutrition.com/waitlist
XO, Team Temecula Dietitians
Read more of the original Long et al., 2020 systemic review of 12 popular diet programs: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32238384/
Read more about the psychological consequences of food restriction (Polivy, 1996): https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/8655907/