The Real Reason You Don't Need A Diet

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Since quitting dieting about a year and a half ago, my life has changed in wonderful ways. I escaped the yo-yo cycle, began to heal my relationship with food, and gained a kind of confidence I thought only skinny people were allowed to have.

But, just because it's not a diet doesn't mean it isn't hard. Some days, I really miss that quick-fix feeling I got from starting a new plan. I know that this process is a long, up-and-down journey, and I'm okay with that (finally). But, on the tough days, it's nice to have a reminder of why I quit dieting in the first place. That's when I remember this:

1. Diets don't work. Period.
It's not exactly breaking news that almost everyone who goes on a diet will regain the weight. But, research has always affirmed what lifelong dieters already know: The pounds may drop temporarily, but then they come back, often with with five to 10 friends. UCLA professor Traci Mann led a recent meta study of 31 long-term studies on dieters, concluding that while most were able to lose up to 10% of their body weight, within four or five years "the majority of people regained all the weight, plus more." So, either the hundreds of millions of people who diet are lazy, unmotivated idiots, or something is wrong with this system.

2. Dieting is bad for your mental and physical health.
Weight fluctuation brings a host of related side effects that can harm your physical health. Not surprisingly, it has been linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. The psychological impact is equally alarming. Research indicates dieters are prone to elevated cortisol (the stress hormone), and another study found that increased stress during dieting triggered binge eating. One particularly disheartening study followed young dieting women over the course of a decade and found that the younger they started, the more prone they were as adults to self-harming behaviors like alcohol abuse and self-induced vomiting.

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3. Your body tells you what it needs. Diets teach you not to listen.
Eating is not a learned skill; it's an instinct. You weren't born with a calorie calculator, but with a natural sense of when you were hungry and when you'd had enough. As a child, you discovered which foods you liked, which you hated, and how much you could eat before you got a stomach ache. Food was just food. You didn't know if an apple was good, bad, or an extra-special treat until someone told you it was.

Eventually, we all hear those messages, because we live in the world, not some food-neutral Utopia. But, living in the diet cycle is like joining a charismatic cult. The leader promises salvation, so you do whatever that person says ("Thou shalt eat only raw until 4 p.m.!"). You surrender your own instincts to follow the leader's, and soon enough, you're officially brainwashed.

4. Dieting makes food the center of your life.
When you're on a diet, you're constantly thinking about food: What should you bring to work for lunch? How will you handle dinner with friends? Can you get through your sister's wedding without going over your carb limit? Food shouldn't be the subject of those sentences. Your work, your friends, your sister's wedding — those are the things that matter.

With all that needless focus, it's no wonder that food becomes so much harder to handle. But, what and how we eat should simply be the fuel that feeds our lives. Food shouldn't be the best thing or the worst thing and certainly not the most important thing. Your sister's wedding is not about the cake.



5. Diets measure your life, worth, and health in weight.
You know the drill: A good day is one when you stuck to the plan, when you didn't cheat, or when the number on the scale inched down a bit. Back when I was stuck in the cycle, I wouldn't even go on a date unless I'd been "good" for a few weeks. How much did I miss out on because I felt so unworthy? I will always regret the years I spent not trying new things or meeting new people because I wasn't ready — I wasn't thin. For the same reason, I regret not going to the doctor when I should have because I was scared they'd tell me to lose weight. But, mostly, I am so grateful to have finally stopped letting the scale dictate my social life, my career ambitions, and my personal health. When I let go of all that, it let go of me. Turns out, I was good enough all along.

The Anti-Diet Project is an ongoing series about intuitive eating, rational fitness, and body positivity. You can follow my journey on Twitter and Instagram at @mskelseymiller or #antidietproject (hashtag your own Anti-Diet moments, too!). Got a question — or your own Anti-Diet story to tell? Email me at kelsey.miller@refinery29.com.