Let’s just say that the stats on diet failure are frightening. Diets fail. Again and again. In fact, there is around a 95% failure rate. And yet people keep trying another and another and another. More stats: The average person who is trying to lose weight does so 4-5 times a year!
This group of people make up about half of Americans, including young people.
What does that tell you?
First of all, a LOT of people are trying! Whatever their reason (health, looks, feeling better to name a few) the stats show that people would rather weigh less.
And yet, the diets continue and the weight may come off for a while, but then it comes back on. Try, try, again. You have to give people credit for persistence!
Apparently even persistence is not working. So, what is missing? How come diets don’t work for weight loss and maintenance of the weight loss? In fact, when you think about it, maintenance of weight loss is the key. People lose weight, but they don’t keep it off. Often the weight regain happens even though weight loss makes the person feels better, look better, and feel healthier. That positive reinforcement is not enough.
For a look at one major part of the puzzle, let’s wander over to Precision Nutrition. This organization has helped over 100,000 clients lose over 1,000,000 pounds. As a routine part of the process, clients are asked what their biggest challenges are when it comes to weight loss.
The number one challenge? A whopping 63% responded that it is emotional/stress eating. A close second and third place came in at lack of planning (53%) and cravings (52%). Notice that both of these are related to emotions and stress. Other highly rated problems reported were also related to emotional/stress eating. Snacking when not hungry, eating quickly, having a sweet tooth, eating out frequently, and large portions.
It seems evident that a diet program that does not address emotional/stress eating is going to be difficult to maintain.
Here is another stat that I saw: At least 8 out of 10 dieters go for it on their own, without a supported program. That means that they read about a diet (these days, paleo and keto come to mind) and give it a try.
Two Approaches That Have Been Successful
Let’s leave that for a minute , and take a look at two approaches that have had success.
The main one comes from studies using mindfulness as an intervention. This is not the kind of mindfulness where you sit around for 30 minutes at a time and let your thoughts flow. Rather, it is a targeted, short-duration event related to making food choices. A literature review of a bunch of these studies concludes that mindfulness can have a major effect on binge eating, emotional eating, and external eating (eating when not hungry).
Another approach that is now being used is motivational interviewing. Motivational interviewing establishes an empathetic interpersonal connection and then leads the client to initiate their own change talk.
A Change of Focus
What do these two approaches have in common? They change the focus of dieting from following directions and advice to developing the internal skills needed to conquer emotions related to food and eating.
Having said all that, perhaps part of the solution is to ask potential dieters 8 quick questions to encourage personal reflection about the process. More specifically, bringing out the fundamental concept of conquering emotional eating to avoid relapse back to previous habits.
- What results are you expecting from this diet? Will you be getting to your ideal weight and maintaining it?
- What do you hope to learn from your diet approach this time?
- Why did you discontinue your last diet?
- Are you hoping this next diet will stop you from overeating for good?
- Do you, like so many others, eat because of emotions or stress, not hunger?
- Do you believe your next diet will help you with that?
- Does this next diet feel like an exercise in willpower or a real change to healthier eating?
- Do you know that becoming mindful of what drives you to eat has been shown to be an effective way to help you lose weight and keep it off?
Clearly, there are no easy answers or quick-fixes to help people get off the diet roller-coaster. The issue of diets and why people eat is extremely complex. But, the more we can encourage people to consider an internal approach rather than an external one and offer some proven solutions, the closer to making progress in this area we will be.
© 2020 Kristen Carter. All rights reserved.