Have You Ever Fallen into the One-Last-Diet Trap?

Have you ever fallen into the one-last-diet trap? It looks something like this:

  • Even though I always gain the weight back, I have a strong feeling that this diet will be different.

  • I’ll just do this one last diet, lose the weight for good, and then I’ll deal with my food issues.

  • I’ve sworn off dieting, but so many of my coworkers are raving about their success on this new diet, I think I’ll give it a try.

  • I’m going to be really good this time so this will be the last diet I’ll ever need to do.

  • Let me just lose some quick pounds so I can leave dieting behind and start focusing on dating and job hunting.

Ignores the Facts
While the desire to lose weight is completely understandable given our weight-stigmatizing culture and its obsession with unrealistic body standards and tendency to equate thinness with health, falling into the one-last-diet trap ignores the fact that diets don’t work for most people.

There is not one study that shows that any intentional weight loss program leads to long-term weight loss.

Instead, research has found that 95 percent of dieters eventually regain the weight they lost and up to two-thirds gain back more than they lost.

Rebound weight gain is not due to a lack of willpower, poor self-discipline, or not following the right diet. Your body isn’t wired for restriction. It’s wired for survival.

When you deprive your body of food, it thinks it’s being subjected to a famine and will do everything it can to survive. This includes triggering numerous compensatory processes, such as hormonal changes that increase appetite and decrease metabolism

Dieting’s Dark Side

While almost any diet can result in initial short-term weight loss (hence their allure!), the most predictable outcome of dieting is weight cycling (yo-yo dieting), which can have a detrimental impact on your physical and mental health. 

Not only can dieting result in weight cycling, it can also lead to food and body preoccupation, intense food cravings, chronic overeating, binge eating, secret eating, disordered eating, eating disorders, guilt, shame, anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, social isolation, reduced metabolism, elevated cholesterol and more.

I love what the originators of Intuitive Eating have to say about the futility of dieting and the harm it can cause:

“If dieting programs had to stand up to the same scrutiny as medication, they would never be allowed for public consumption. Imagine, for example, taking an asthma medication, which improves your breathing for a few weeks, but in the long run, causes your lungs and breathing to worsen.”

Be Informed, Be Honest

As I said, the desire to diet and lose weight is completely understandable.

However, I think it’s critical that before embarking on yet another diet, you are fully informed of ALL the potential outcomes—especially all the stuff the diet ads and success stories don’t warn you about.

I also think it’s important to be really honest with yourself when it comes to your own personal experience with dieting.

Would you describe it as successful?

How has it affected you physically, mentally, emotionally and socially?

How has it impacted your relationship with food and your body?

Is it truly aligned with what you value the most in your life?

Dieting Won’t Bring You Peace

If you want a more peaceful and accepting relationship with your body, it can’t be achieved through dieting.

Rather than put all your energy toward depriving yourself for a short-term result, what if you put it towards healing your relationship with food and your body so you can avoid the traps and get off the dieting roller coaster once and for all?

I’m Being So Bad! I’m Not Supposed to be Eating This!

A few years ago, while dishing up a bowl of oatmeal in the buffet line at a retreat center, a guest next to me was adding fresh berries to her granola.

As she drizzled honey on top of the fruit, she turned to me and said, “I’m being so bad! I’m not supposed to be eating this!”

Her comment caught me off guard.

Uncertain how to respond, I just smiled at her and went about my breakfast-gathering business.

Hoping to Hear
I’m not exactly sure what response the woman was looking for, but I have a few ideas.

It’s possible she was hoping for some reassurance that she and her actions were okay, that she wouldn’t get caught cheating on her diet or completely go to pot after eating an apparently forbidden food.

Maybe she felt that by confessing her food sin she’d be absolved of the guilt she was feeling.

Perhaps she wanted me to give her some sort of permission, like, “Hey, you only live once—go for it!” or “Heck, you work hard, you deserve it!”

Or she might have been hoping for a bonding moment, a shared experience of being bad. Something along the lines of: “I hear ya. I’m going to pay for eating all these carbs!”

A Lasting Impression
Although it lasted only a few seconds, the encounter left a lasting impression on me.

I was struck by her need to call attention to her food choice, especially to me, a complete stranger. It was as if she was trying to say: “I know better! I rarely eat like this so please don’t judge me based on this one food crime.”

The entire episode left me feeling a little sad.

I could actually really relate to what the woman was experiencing because I saw myself in her when I was imprisoned in the diet mentality.

Our Oppressive Diet Culture
This is what our toxic diet culture has done to us.

It has convinced us that there are good and bad foods and that we’re either good or bad depending upon which list we choose from.

It’s made us believe our choices are a reflection of our character, morality, willpower and intelligence.

It has conditioned us to feel guilty and ashamed of our innate human desire to eat and enjoy pleasurable food.

It’s trained us to think we need to apologize and atone for our so-called eating transgressions.

And, it’s caused us to spend an insane amount of time, energy and headspace thinking about what we should or shouldn’t eat.

Designed to Keep Us in Line
Food moralism is designed by an oppressive system to keep us in line. In our attempt to be obedient and follow the rules, many of us have developed a really disordered relationship with food and our body.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

At any moment, you can decide to defy diet culture and reclaim your power.

Perhaps your first step is simply becoming more aware of when you judge your eating—and yourself—as good or bad. Start to question whether this is really true and if such labeling is helpful or harmful.

Stealing is Bad; Eating Food Isn’t
If I could go back in time to that buffet line, I would look at that woman with compassion and empathy and say something that may have helped her view the situation and her beliefs differently, something like:

Are you stealing the food? No? Well, then there’s absolutely no reason to feel bad or guilty. Truly. Enjoy your breakfast. Lick the bowl clean. Don't look back.

What Hitting Diet Rock Bottom Looks Like

Josie has been dieting for more than 20 years.

At the age of 11, she went on her first diet. She’s been riding the dieting roller coaster ever since.

Over the years, she’s tried dozens of plans and programs, some of them multiple times.

She can easily rattle off the number of calories, points and carbs in hundreds of different foods.

Again and again, she’s felt the euphoria that comes with weight loss—and the shame that accompanies rebound weight gain.

When friends, co-workers and celebrities have raved about their new diet, she’s always jumped on board believing “This might finally be the one!”

Lately, however, she just can’t muster up her usual enthusiasm.

She’ll start a new diet then abandon it after a week or two.

Her decades of yo-yo dieting have left her feeling frustrated, exhausted, depressed and hopeless—and like a huge failure.

Josie's ready to throw her hands up in the air.

She's finally hit diet rock bottom.

Hitting Diet Rock Bottom
Although she’s unhappy with her weight, Josie can’t stand the thought of going on another diet.

She can’t stomach one more Last Supper, one more Monday of starting over, one more list of good and bad foods.

She’s burned out on tracking, counting, measuring and weighing.

She’s sick of letting her bathroom scale dictate her mood, her behavior and how her day unfolds.

So much of her life, she feels, has been wasted obsessing over every bite, feeling guilty about her choices and strategizing how she can make up for her food sins.

Josie’s tired of packing her own food to take to social gatherings and being preoccupied at parties by all the food she’s not allowed to eat but really, really wants.

She’s sad about how many events she’s skipped because she feared falling off the wagon or didn’t like how she looked.

After decades of being told what to eat, Josie doesn’t even know what she likes anymore.

She eats what she thinks she should, which often leaves her feeling unsatisfied and, understandably, scrounging for more food.

Her long list of food rules has sucked all the joy and pleasure out of eating.

The more she deprives herself, the more she finds herself eating in secret and bingeing on all her forbidden foods.

Many foods are banned from her house because she simply doesn’t trust herself with them.

Josie’s tired of denying her cravings, sneaking food, swinging from restricting to bingeing, and feeling out of control and ashamed.

She’s flat out dieted-out.

No matter how tempting the latest new diet may sound, she now knows all too well that it will not improve her relationship with food and her body—it will only make it worse.

Yet, she doesn’t know what to do. For most of her life, all she’s known is dieting.

Sound Familiar?
If any of this sounds familiar, you’ve likely hit diet rock bottom, too.

Please know, you’re not alone.

I’ve heard hundreds of stories like Josie’s over the years.

And while you might feel like you’re stuck and at a dead end, you’re not.

Rejecting the diet mentality is the first step toward reclaiming your power from our toxic diet culture—an oppressive system that keeps you stuck in a vicious cycle and distracts you from more meaningful, fulfilling life pursuits.

The next step is learning how to listen to and trust your body again so you can eat intuitively—that is, according to your inner cues (e.g., hunger, fullness, pleasure, satisfaction) versus external rules.

By putting the same effort you put into dieting toward getting out of it, you can cultivate a more peaceful, trusting, intuitive and roller coaster-free relationship with food and your body.

As I’ve said before, I don't have any magical powers. Neither do my clients. If we can do it, so can you.