Home Friday 5 Friday 5: 5 Things I Learned the Hard Way About Dieting

Friday 5: 5 Things I Learned the Hard Way About Dieting

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Y’all thought I retired the Friday 5, huh?* Thought the Friday 5 went the way of the Weekend WTF (that, if y’all keep sending me baconnaise and bacon lube photos, I might have to bring back for real), huh?

Oh no, baby. It’s here to stay.

Before I got on the path that eventually worked for me, I used to be a perpetual dieter. Once, it was the tea diet. Next, it was the mashed potato diet. I was always “on a diet.” Eating salads that consisted of….whatever was in the salad bag I bought from the grocery store, miserable and unhappy. (Obviously, I know better now.)

Dieting? Noooo!

However. In the journey to claim the body I want, and on the path of becoming certified, I learned a few things about the way the body interacts with food. I got to truly see why our choice to use dieting and restriction as our means of weight management is actually far more harmful than it is helpful.

I bet you want me to tell you, huh?

Okay, let me stop being silly. Five things I’ve learned… the hard way… from my own personal experience:

1) We define “diet” and whether or not a diet “works” incorrectly. It’s not enough for a diet to just get you to a certain size – you could starve yourself and get down to a certain size. The standards are too low. Could you starve yourself forever in order to maintain that size? No, you couldn’t.

Your diet is “your eating lifestyle. But for some reason, dieting – in the way that we understand it – says that you take a “sabbatical,” if you will, from how you usually eat in order to shrink down to the size you want… only for you to reach your goal size and go back to your old eating habits. A successful diet is not simply one that gets the weight off; it is whether or not you can live on it forever. A diet is simply “how you eat.” Temporarily switching diets to lose weight, only to go back to the daily eating habits that caused you to gain the weight in the first place… is cyclically foolish.

2) It turns our usual treats into forbidden fruit. That cupcake that you’re obsessed with immediately becomes The Bad Boy Your Parents Warned You To Stay Away From. Your desire for it damn near doubles. You crave it. You yearn for it. And when you get it, it might as well be an orgasm. It feels like the world disappeared, all because you finally got that thing that you’ve been denying yourself for so long.

Listen. Damn all that.

Restriction is dangerous because, coupled with point 1, it’s double cyclical. You restrict yourself from the things you obviously enjoy, you binge on them and overeat, and before you know it? You’re putting the weight back on, and now you need to go on another diet. Isn’t it far more helpful to try to learn how to successfully moderate your intake of your beloved treat, and find a healthy way to fit it into your life?

3) Dieting – and yoyo dieting in particular – actually damages your metabolism, in ways we didn’t originally recognize before. If you’ll remember, in the third portion of Weight of the Nation, there was a lot of time spent on one particular point: if a person who was once 210lbs, diets down to losing 45lbs and becomes 165lbs, their metabolism – and, by metabolism, I’m referring to their daily caloric burn – will actually be lower than someone who has been 165 for years. I have a hypothesis as to why.

When people diet, it’s usually via caloric restriction which can be detrimental to muscle. When people seek to lose weight, there’s rarely any differentiation between losing fat and losing muscle. When people venture out to lose weight, it’s usually through excessive cardio exercise, with little regard paid to weight lifting or strength training in general. If, as you’re losing weight, you’re losing the muscle you already have and not building any more?

Remember two things: 1) the amount of food you can eat without weight gain decreases as you lose weight; and 2) every pound of muscle you carry will burn 2 to 3 times as many calories per hour as every pound of fat you carry, which means losing a pound of muscle is going to be two to three times as detrimental to the amount of calories you burn per hour (and, by extension, per day.)

So, if you’re dieting down to lose 45lbs with little regard to muscle development, this contributes to why your metabolism is going to be lower than someone who’s weighed that amount for years on end.

4) Dieting, as we understand it, puts our focus in the wrong place. The question shouldn’t be “what can I do to lose this weight;” it should always be “what did I do to gain this weight?” Self-reflection is always necessary for improvement, and I’m pretty sure that none of us actually enjoy that feeling of failure that comes with yo-yo dieting. Self-reflection also helps us catch weight gain before it spirals out of control to a point where you look up and realize you have a triple-digit amount of weight to lose. The need to reflect on who you are, your daily habits, and how they contribute to weight gain never goes away; it only stacks up, like unpaid bills. And, much like unpaid bills, the longer you wait, the more you’ll have to pay.

…and self-reflection is a flat-out requirement for even identifying an emotional eating habit that you might’ve picked up, let alone treating or defeating it.

Though I don’t believe in weighing yourself daily, it is important to take stock of it and regularly see if you can identify where any drastic changes might come from. Take 10 minutes a day to overlook your planning, your preparedness, how your previous day went, and what you can do to make it better today. It makes a massive difference.

5) Dieting, and the way it is promoted, contributes to the belief that the most important thing is that you’re simply not fat anymore; it doesn’t matter whether or not you’re healthily losing whatever weight you have. Just… stop being fat. And the marketing for damn-near every diet that has ever existed has always included the speed of weight loss – “How to lose 10lbs in 2 weeks!” or “Lose 7lbs in 7 days!” or, my favorite, “Lose 200lbs in 6mos!” (uh, I think that’s called divorce.) – and takes advantage of those who already feel the pressures that come along with being fat-shamed.

Diets and their pushers profit off of people – some, not all – who’ve been pushed to deprive themselves in ways that are psychologically unhealthy (see point 2 above), physically unsound (see point 3 above), and bound to leave you miserable.

It turns the actual weight loss into some kind of prize; a gold medal for suffering successfully… which, conversely, turns those who are still fat into some kind of lazy bums who couldn’t work as hard as you.

Dieting sucks. We all can admit that. But what good is it, if we’re simply restricting ourselves in insensible fashions and not actually changing the environment and habits that contributed to the gain?

Focus on what’s important, and watch your body thank you for it.

*If posting has felt scarce, it’s because I’d been extra-involved at Mini-me’s school lately. My bad, y’all, but the munchkin has to come first!

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Alisa May 24, 2013 - 4:04 PM

My issue is always #2 and food restriction. I am a vegetarian. I do really well eating clean and avoiding processed foods. I drink lots of water. But damn if brownie sundaes and strawberry milkshakes from Chick-Fil-A don’t STAY on my mind. I literally fight myself not to eat them, but I lose… and I have one or the other… and I’m angry at myself… and swear I will not slip up again… and the very next day… *ugh*

The cycle continues. So should I just celebrate the fact that I eat well 85% of the day and continue to indulge in my desserts of choice? Please help.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 24, 2013 - 4:26 PM

I think there are a few things that can be at play, here, and I can only tell you what I’d try if I were you. I’d first ask myself why I sincerely feel like I must have *that* item, and think about whether or not it might be an emotional eating issue at hand, there. I’d also simply stop thinking about it in the sense that it’s forbidden fruit. Make it less of a big deal about eating it. And, when you DO eat it, only eat a portion of it – say, 2/3rds of it – and set the rest aside. Celebrate your 85%, and give yourself a break. You might find that [though you enjoy your treat] it becomes less of a big deal as time progresses.

Kim May 24, 2013 - 5:13 PM

I am a big emotional eater did not admit that until recently. Got a DVD Shaw T its hard but by one day I was feeling better. Ericka I found out anything I can’t have is what became my crack! Cookies cake pie if you say NO I hear NEVER.! What has really worked for me this time is the exercise and being present. Most large people are invisible and I have benefitted from this for many many years. I have email from this site on Facebook. I am not restricted from any food but I am responsible for what it does to my mental and physical health. #my2cents.

Melissa September 30, 2013 - 10:46 PM

Wow, thank you for this:

“I am not restricted from any food but I am responsible for what it does to my mental and physical health.”

I have so many problems with feeling deprived because I feel I HAVE to not eat certain things because of food intolerances or they will make me gain weight etc…

This quote makes me realize that I truly can eat whatever I want, whenever I want, BUT I must take responsibility for how it makes me feel, for being re-triggered, etc. No one is telling me I can’t eat it. I can stop feeling sorry for myself that I “can’t” eat certain things because I CAN, I just “choose” NOT to because I don’t want the negative things that come with eating those foods.


K. May 24, 2013 - 8:52 PM

I can attest to #3. After a couple rounds of lose 20/gain 20, my “set point” went up by 10 lbs, and it was more difficult to kick my body into weight loss mode this time. A lifestyle of eating well is essential and I finally got it.

Amy May 24, 2013 - 11:22 PM

i have a tendency of overeating the things I love after depriving myself of them for a week or two. this week my diet was excellent but the family had popeyes and pizza today and boy did it go down!!!! now im here feeling so guilty 🙁

Angelique May 25, 2013 - 1:43 PM

I’ve seriously started losing weight about two months ago and have lost 25 lbs (from 275 lbs to 250 lbs) through exercise and calorie counting on MFP. I’ve lost weight before but not in the proper ways and for the first time in my life, feel like I can sustain what I’ve been doing forever. I am 5’8 and have fat equal distributed so I really want to make sure I tone up my flabby arms the most over everything else. I love 2 1/2 inches off of everywhere already, arms included but I’m not sure if I’m starting to tone up at all. My strength training exercises are dumbbell and bodyweight exercises/videos. Do you think these two alone will help me tone up my arms? I tend to do arms 3x a week and cardio (spinning, softball, jogging, exercise vids) everyday. I can’t get that comment you said in another article about the fat deflating and the importance of starting to weight/strength train early out of my head. Thanks!

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2013 - 8:52 AM

I can’t tell you much without looking at you and your workout plan, but what I can tell you is that, unless you’re somewhere around 6’7″, you’re not going to see much definition at 250lbs.

In terms of tone, you should start to see a LITTLE something-something somewhere around 30% body fat. Keep chipping away at it and lifting, and you’ll see what I mean.

Besides, it takes a long time – I mean, a LONG TIME – to develop muscle, which is why I tell people who are on the road to being “formerly obese” to start training as SOON as possible. They often don’t have as much muscle as they thought they did, and need to develop it ASAPtually.

Juli May 27, 2013 - 12:52 PM

In regards to number 3….

I was working out before I started dieting, in fact, working out is probably why I was able to maintain my weight with horrible eating habits. Now that I’ve added calorie counting to the slew, my weight is dropping by 2-3 pounds a week. My question is, per your theory, would my metabolism still be lower when I hit my goal weight? And am I still losing muscle?

When I say working out I mean 30+ minutes of cardio 6 days a week and 30 minutes of resistance three days a week. I have scant definition but I can already outlift most girls and any guy that’s lean *and* my height or shorter.

Erika Nicole Kendall May 27, 2013 - 7:43 PM

“would my metabolism still be lower when I hit my goal weight?”

I don’t have enough information to give you insight on this.

“And am I still losing muscle?”

Not necessarily. You can preserve muscle, but build it on this kind of routine? It depends on some very specific variables being met. Is your cardio super-intense? Are you getting in enough protein? Are you lifting heavy? Those matter, and affect your ability to build and preserve muscle in a weight loss routine, IMO.

peech June 7, 2013 - 11:07 AM

Thank you for sharing this! It’s a really great read!

Marloes June 7, 2013 - 11:46 AM

First: I really like your site. (English is not my first language, so if I express this wrong or weird, I’m sorry, but…) you go beyond what most weight loss/exercise websites write. I read your articles with much pleasure, and learn from them, they are really inspiring. So thanks!
Second, I have this quote on a postcard in the kitchen: “the first thing you lose while dieting, is your good mood” with a picture of some grumpy ladies at a table 🙂

Kami November 4, 2013 - 10:03 AM

Must keep this in mind

Adena March 25, 2018 - 9:21 AM

I loved reading this. I’ve been trying to focus more on mindful eating, strength training, and adding more healthy foods to my diet (leafy green vegetables) rather than simply restricting my food intake and avoiding “bad” foods. I know this is the right approach, but as a woman who still weighs over 300 pounds and has significant weight to lose, I wonder if I’m getting ahead of myself and this stuff should come later. It’s hard for me to believe that a true lifestyle change without severe restriction can lead to a 130-pound weight loss. It just shows how ingrained the “going on a diet” mindset is as much as I try to change my way of thinking.

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