When your diet fails

I woke up on January 1st ready to revolutionize my life. I was steadfast in my resolution to get up, go for a long run, then come home and make myself a delicious green smoothie with wheatgrass, beans, dirt and avocado. My new exercise regimen would keep me trim for all my upcoming tropical travels and my gluten-free, vegan, sugar-free diet would keep my skin clear and my aura bright.

Photo by Less Sugar Naturally, Creative Commons license

But, as happens with many resolutions, I quickly realized I had been extremely irrational. I am confident that I am not the only victim of an overzealous imagination, so I assume it might be reassuring to hear that you’re not the only one who has experienced this kind of defeat. Even though it would be fun to tell people that I’m a vegetarian, pescatarian, presbyterian (Wait, what? No I’m not.), I’ve realized that diets can be stupid.

But Emma, people seem to really benefit from going on diets, what are you talking about?

Yes, I know this seems extremely counterintuitive. However, Traci Mann, Associate Professor of Psychology at UCLA, conducted a rigorous study analyzing 31 different case studies on the correlation between diets and weight loss. This study revealed that in six months, people generally lose about five to ten percent of their initial body weight. Wow, that sounds great, right? It’s not. According to their research, the majority of people regained all the weight they put off, plus more.

For most of them, their diets didn’t lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits. They concluded that most of the people would have been better off not going on diets at all. Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not have suffered the damage from losing weight and gaining it all back.

When asked why they think extreme diets can fail so easily, senior Olivia Whittaker said, “Extreme diets can be good in theory, but it is extremely difficult to suddenly cut out the majority of the food you eat. This often makes people feel overwhelmed and insecure in their ability to succeed. When they eventually give up, they feel like they don’t have the ability to be healthy.”

So are you saying that people have no self-control?

While it seems that some people have a stronger sense of self-control, the theory of ego-depletion applies to strong and weak-willed people alike. Ego-depletion is the theory stemming from multiple studies on self control. These studies have found that willpower is a limited resource that can be used up the more you fight your urges. Senior Fiona Galey said, “I crave dessert every day, but eating a bowl of ice cream every time I get a craving would be really unhealthy. So to appease my need for sugar, I’ll have cut up banana with peanut butter and a little chocolate drizzle. At times like these it’s better to have a little sweet, but not go completely overboard.”

So if I want a burger, I may as well eat a burger?

Exactly. Though it would be neither healthy nor wise to eat burgers every day, there is nothing wrong with a good, cheesy, meaty, dirty, delicious treat every now and then.

But what if my burger makes me gain 10 pounds?!

Fun fact: most people don’t know that body weight is regulated by your brain. The lump of cells in our head doesn’t concern itself with turning our post-winter lumps into a rock hard Bali bod, it focuses on keeping us in our set range. Your set range is about 10 to 15 pounds.

In a TED talk, neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt shared how lifestyle choices can move your weight up and down within this range, but it is incredibly difficult to stay above or below it (larger or smaller then you should be). She goes on to explain the role of the hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body weight. It responds to signals from the body by adjusting hunger and metabolism, to keep your weight stable as conditions change.

Great, now I know that eating well doesn’t mean that I have to only eat bird seed and lemons! But I think healthy food is gross.

It is a common belief that healthy food is all brown lumps of flourless, eggless glorified poo, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. There are plenty of ways to healthify different snacks without compromising flavor or satisfaction. Now, I am a huge snacker. I love a good ol’ bag of chips or a tub of Ben and Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy. To appease my hunger while still giving in a little, here are some of my favorite healthified snacks and meals:

  1. Potato chips!
  2. Peanut butter sandwich!
  3. Chocolate ice cream! (not as healthy as the other option)
  4. Banana ice cream!
  5. Pad Thai!
  6. Pasta!


Photo by The Londoner, Creative Commons license

Fitness and and lifestyle guru, Ms. Pong, said she would advise those who think that eating healthy is difficult to “try to look at the glass half-full rather than the glass half- empty. I would encourage them to visualize how eating something healthy will help your muscles grow, give you energy and prevent inflammation.” Check out healthy recipes and links on Ms. Pong’s House of Pain Facebook page.

Author: Emma Gammons

Emma Gammons is the Design Editor and Website Manager for the SAS Eye Online. This is her fourth year at SAS and her first year as part of The Eye staff. Outside school Emma likes making her friends guess her movie references and finding good places to eat. She can be reached at gammons44203@sas.edu.sg.

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