The Dodgy Returns Policy of the Failed Diet
Updated: Nov 5
I recently came across this strange new concept called the Non-Diet Approach, a concept that encourages health that is not focused on weight loss, calorie counting or eating the ‘right’ foods, but allows you to eat intuitively- letting your body decide and tell you what it needs at any given time.
Except it’s not a new concept, and it’s not all that strange either; it’s just that it’s a totally foreign concept to anyone who’s in, or in contact with, the health/fitness/wellness/diet industry.
The bottom line is, diets don’t work. They never have, and almost all dieters put weight back on within three years of losing the weight initially.
The diet industry is the only industry in the world that has a 95% failure rate, yet instead of the product being criticised for not delivering on its promises, the consumer is criticised.
This is because we’re told the only reason these diets don’t work is because YOU did it wrong. YOU failed at this otherwise successful diet, YOU didn’t have the willpower to stick with it, and therefore it’s YOUR fault that you didn’t get the promised results.
Diets also base themselves on the premise that being fat is bad, and that obesity is the main cause of lifestyle related health conditions. But, despite the ever-present and pervasive bias against fat and weight (almost 50% in some healthcare industries) the stats just don’t add up.
There are less negative health effects related to being consistently ‘overweight’ and ‘obese’ (25 – 35 BMI) than there are to ‘Yoyo dieting’, which has direct links to negative health outcomes including high blood pressure, chronic inflammation and some types of cancers.
So, while I’m still quite new to the concept and the research on the Non-Diet Approach, I wanted to share with you the idea that, in my opinion (and based on the research I have read), self-compassion, is much more important in successful nutrition, and long term happiness than any diet or a meal plan could be.
Let’s explore the idea that fat is bad.
The medical model for calculating BMI (Body Mass Index) is based on only one ‘standard’ body type, but this method is hugely flawed and it’s like basing the ideal health of all dogs on Poodles. There’s a great video that explains this concept called ‘Poodle Science’ (Watch it here).
If a Poodle decides the standard of what’s healthy for itself, it will probably stay pretty healthy, maintaining its weight at a healthy Poodle weight, eating the right amount of food for a Poodle and getting the best Poodle exercise every day. But, if this Poodle decides that all dogs should do what he does to be healthy, you’d have some very unhealthy, very unhappy Mastiffs, Great Danes and Chihuahua’s.
It completely ignores the fact that Poodles have very different lifestyles, exercise requirements, body compositions and nutritional needs to other dogs, and a one-size-fits-all approach will only ever serve that one size.
It’s the same for us humans. It’s easy to forget that there are a multitude of body types, shapes, sizes, genetics and lifestyles, because we’re repeatedly exposed to the ‘one type’ of body which, for women is ‘thin’, and for men is ‘lean’. It completely disregards that all ethnic groups and combinations thereof are different from each other and are all equally valuable.
Just think of the difference between a woman of Chinese descent and a woman of Maori descent. No matter what they do, one will never look like the other, nor should they have to… They’re both equally amazing women (if they're not, it won't be because of their body size!).
Look at The Rock and Kevin Hart. You could put them on the same diet and the same weightlifting regime and they will never weigh the same or be the same size. Neither of them should beat themselves up over not looking like the other.
In my experience as a trainer, aiming to follow a Poodle diet, to reach Poodle weight is futile when you’re a big friendly Mastiff. I’ve seen so many of my clients lose all confidence in themselves when they step on the scales and don’t see Poodle weight, time and time again, when really, they are the most amazing Mastiffs in the world. (OK I’ll stop comparing my clients to dog breeds now! You get the picture!)
A little bit of self-compassion changes the dynamic and allows you to be who you are, and eat what you need to eat, without the judgemental comparison of what or who you think you’re ‘meant to be’. It allows you to enjoy your life, without the guilt that so many of my clients experience when they eat a ‘bad’ food, or don’t exercise as much as they ‘should’.
It also opens up the opportunity for you eat intuitively (more on this later), learning to trust yourself and your hunger and fullness cues, and letting go of the idea that you have to be a certain type of person (or body shape) to be a worthy contributor to this society.
When you feel whole, you act whole, rather than trying to fill in the mythical gaps, and then beating yourself up over not getting it right.
So remember: Food is just food, it’s not a moral compass or an indicator of your worthiness. Self-compassion allows you to see that, and start enjoying food and movement for what it is again.