Ask the experts: Why don’t diets work?

Cultivating a healthy relationship with food can be tricky for some of us. Growing up with a backdrop of unrealistic beauty expectations and diet culture rhetoric has no doubt contributed to this. Telling us if we do X we’ll become Y and then (and only then) will we be socially acceptable.

Couple eating breakfast

So how can we navigate diet culture and find our way to a more intuitive way of eating? Nutritionist and yoga teacher Kacie Shoulders answers your questions, helping us understand why diets don’t work, and how we can move towards a more nourishing relationship with the food we eat.

How to reject diet culture

Why do many of us fall prey to diet culture?

Put simply, because we’re surrounded by it. We’ve come to believe that we must look a certain way to be healthy and that our weight is tied to our morality. I think it’s really important to stress the word culture here. And that it’s not our fault as individuals to fall victim to it.

I also think it’s easy to fall into the trap that if we look a certain way, our life will somehow be better. Trends such as the #thatgirl lifestyle promote the idea that in order to have our life together, we have to look and eat a certain way etc. We all just want to have it all together, because we assume everyone else does.

Why don’t diets work?

Dieting often means restriction – or undereating/cutting calories – often for a short period like six weeks or 12 weeks etc. As it’s only for this amount of time, we tend to follow quite drastic changes to our lives that we can’t keep up.

And at the first hurdle, we often think ‘I’ve ruined it now’ and the ‘what the hell’ effect occurs. We rebound the other way; normally ending up feeling guilty and committing to another diet – this is called the diet cycle. And it’s based on feelings of what you “should” eat and the inevitable guilt if you fail – not great motivations when you think about it.  

Diets are someone else saying what our body needs but don’t fit our schedules, tastes, activity levels etc. 

What is intuitive eating? 

Intuitive eating is a framework of 10 principles and was created by Elyse Resch and Evelyn Tribole. Although it’s evolved a lot since its creation, I always think its official source should be noted – because it’s a scientific framework at its heart, based on real clinical experience.

At its core, intuitive eating focuses on listening to your body’s internal cues when it comes to food and movement. This means knowing when you’re hungry, satisfied, emotional etc. and using that to inform you. Food and movement become part of your life but not the focus.

There’s an idea that it means eating as much junk food as you want, but often people find once they’re allowed “junk” food all the time they don’t want it nearly as much. Because nothing is off limits, and no guilt is involved.

What are your top tips for moving away from diet culture?

  1. Think about how diets aren’t serving you. Whether it’s a mental list, on your phone, or somewhere you can see it. Then when you see an advert for the latest diet you won’t jump straight onto it. Examples include missing social gatherings, food obsession, constant guilt etc.
  2. Take your time and know it’s a process. You’re not going to stop dieting and voilà adverts don’t affect you and you’re 100% in tune with your body. It takes time, but luckily every perceived ‘failure’ is just a lesson in disguise when working on your relationship with food.
  3. Lean on your community. Diet culture is everywhere, but there’s growing momentum in the anti-diet movement. And whether it’s on social media or in person, talk to those around you. This might help you when you need it, stop those around you talking about diets, and maybe even inspire others.

This article was originally published in Happiful Magazine (Issue 75 2023). You can order print copies online, or read the e-magazine for free on the Happiful app

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Written by Kat Nicholls
Kat is a Content Producer for Memiah and writer for Nutritionist Resource and Happiful magazine.
Written by Kat Nicholls
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