Why diets don’t work

Why diets don’t work


Why diets don’t work

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

28th November 2018

Can you think back to the last time you went on a diet?

That doesn’t mean officially being ‘on a diet’, like following Weight Watchers or going to the extreme of ‘juice cleansing’.

A diet is anything undertaken for the purposes of trying to lower your weight. Even if it is reframed as ‘balance’ or a ‘lifestyle change’, it’s still a diet!

Other examples of pseudo diets include:

  • Cutting or counting carbohydrates.  
  • Only eating ‘safe foods’ that are low in carbohydrates, calories or fat. 
  • Only eating at certain times of the day. 
  • Making up for eating certain foods by skipping meals, eating less than you normally would, or telling yourself you will be ‘good’ tomorrow.
  • Cutting back when you are feeling fat, or in preparation for a special event. 
  • Basing what you are going to eat now, on what you have eaten earlier today, even if you are hungry or desire something different. 
  • Cutting out or restricting certain food groups based on the idea that they are ‘bad’ or not good for you. For example, cutting out gluten, dairy or sugar without underlying reasons for needing to do this.
  • Pacifying hunger by drinking coffee or diet coke. 
  • Putting on a false food face when out e.g. saying no to pudding/cake/dessert or certain foods in front of others when you actually really want it. You then leaving the meal and overeat on your way home, more than you would have done if you had just eaten the pudding. 

So, now you know what a diet is, let’s get back to the question…

Can you think back to the last time you went on a diet?

Did the diet work?

By that I don’t just mean did you lose weight. I mean, did you actually lose weight and keep it off? Was it sustainable? Do you still feel satisfied, fulfilled and free from continuous food and weight thoughts?

My best bet is a no. 

It’s become more and more known that diets don’t work among individuals and professionals. This article has been written to help you understand why dieting doesn’t work so you can start to break the habit of dieting.

Dieting is associated with:

Weight regain

Yep! It’s been published in the Australian Government Guidelines and is yet to slip into the UK’s. Based on reviewing the highest quality research, they state “Weight regain after intentional weight loss happens most of the time”.

Most weight re-gain tends to occur within 1 year, and the rest within the following 4 years. In Fiona Willer’s words, the evidence is strong, and “we can be as sure of this as we are that smoking causing cancer!”

Binge eating and food obsession

Dieting damages our relationship with food. When our bodies are deprived, our brain doesn’t know that you’re just trying to be ‘good’. It just thinks you are starving.

Have you ever had strong urges to want to eat when dieting? Perhaps scrolling through Instagram or Pinterest, drooling at delicious looking food.

We have biological survival mechanisms that kick in to make us want to eat, and there are a number of hormones that create this. Sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but fighting biology is a losing battle and these normal biological urges to want to eat will kick in at some point.

A loss of ability to detect hunger, fullness and satisfaction

Relying on outside food rules/diet plans/calories/points teaches us to ignore our natural biological signals that were created to help us detect hunger, fullness and satisfaction. This can result in over or under-eating.

For example, if you’re counting calories, what happens if you feel hungry but you’ve used up all of your calorie? You either remain hungry, or beat yourself up for going over and promise you will be ‘good’ tomorrow. Equally, what if you don’t use up all of your calories for the day? It’s unlikely you would let them go to waste, and eat them anyway!  

It’s no wonder our hunger and fullness signals don’t hang about any more. If we’re not listening to them, they are seen as wasted energy and don’t show up.

Slowed metabolism

Dieting makes it harder to not only lose weight again next time, but much easier to gain it back. Your body becomes better at storing fat, and more efficient at using less energy.

So what can you do if diets don’t work?

This can all be quite mind blowing, especially if you’ve been dieting for many many years. But there is a way out, I promise.

You can start below, with my FREE download. This will guide you through some of the first steps through Intuitive Eating, to help you step away from diet land, and build a peaceful relationship with food.  

What causes emotional eating, and is there a way to stop?

What causes emotional eating, and is there a way to stop?


What causes emotional eating and is there a way to stop?

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

19th November 2018

It often starts by digging through the fridge or cupboard, moves onto picking at a few crackers, and then the cheese, and before you know it you are elbow deep in ice-cream.

You go to bed feeling uncomfortable, sick and accompanied by guilt, shame. Worst of all, the initial uncomfortable emotion that triggered it all (perhaps stress, anger, loneliness) hasn’t really gone away.

This is a classic case of emotional eating.

But is it really so bad?

First let’s get something straight. Emotional eating is not inherently bad or wrong. If you think about it, it’s probably been one of the best coping mechanisms you have had available to you so far. So it’s has served a purpose and actually helped you take care of yourself when you’ve needed that comfort. It’s also a pretty benign coping mechanism. After all, there are worse things going on in the world than eating a heap of food in one sitting – the world is unlikely to cave in.

However, I appreciate you are here for tools to help. As a Registered Dietitian working with those who experience emotional eating, anxiety eating and feeling guilty after eating, I have outlined below a number of potential causes of emotional eating (if it really is that), and offer some suggestions to help. 

Video Caption

Emotional eating causes and how to stop 

So what are the possible causes?

1)    Firstly, you have to rule out actual physical hunger

I know this may sound obvious, but in my practice, I frequently see clients who consider themselves emotional eaters. However, when we dive into their eating patterns, it quickly becomes apparent that their episodes of emotional eating are driven by hunger (at least partly).

In addition, some are denying, ignoring, or not actually able to feel their hunger. This results in blood sugar levels dropping, which can manifest in anxiety, stress or feeling irritable. So when hunger manifests, it’s coupled with the anxiety, stress, irritability.  It’s pretty understandable to be scoffing down the first thing in site.

“So what feels like an episode of ‘emotional eating’ is in fact just as a result of leaving too long between eating, or simply not eating enough throughout the day, and then hunger catching up.”

2)    Check in with yourself – are you really satisfied?

Whether it’s food, relationships or our career, if we are not satisfied, we are not happy. To find satisfaction in the food we eat, the meal needs to be something we enjoy and actually want to eat.

It’s no good denying the pudding just to be ‘good’ if you find yourself scoffing a whole pack of biscuits the minute you return home. Equally, it’s no good eating the green salad when you really wanted a warming bowl of pasta. It’s likely that you will finish the meal unsatisfied and looking for other foods to satisfy your taste buds. So eating when you are not hungry is often mistaken for emotional eating, when it’s not entirely. It’s just a natural response to feeling unsatisfied by the foods you are eating.

Equally, if you imagine an experience you’ve had where you have eaten to push down your emotions. Again, it’s not a very satisfying experience, leaving you wanting to eat more. You are filling up your emotional hunger (as opposed to physical hunger), you will ultimately not feel very satisfied.

3)    Okay, you have realised it’s not hunger or the fact you are not satisfied… and you are still struggling?

As I mentioned before, emotional eating is not inherently bad or abnormal. We all have an emotional connection to food. Food is love, comfort, reward and a reliable friend. Sometimes it becomes our only friend, and when we consider how emotionally charged food is, this is completely understandable.

So when is it really a problem?

Emotional eating is only really a problem if you rely entirely on food to soothe your emotions and you have no other coping mechanisms.

So what can you do about it?

1)    Start reframing your thinking.

Rather than thinking negatively, try to look at your eating habits without judgement. Look at your habits with curiosity. Ask yourself “how has emotional eating been helpful for me? What need has this met for me?”. Reflect on this, and only then can you start to build up your emotional coping toolkit.

2)    How to identify your emotions

Start by really understanding your emotional triggers. Cravings for a specific food, or simply a desire to eat can be triggered by a variety of feelings and situations. Using the emotional feelings wheel below is a useful tool to identify these feelings. Writing your feelings out, talking to a friend, counsellor, or just sitting with the feeling and experiencing it (as uncomfortable as that may be), can also be helpful to identify the feelings you are experiencing.

3)    The power of 3

Having a list of 3 simple and accessible alternatives can be a handy way to deal with your feelings when they arise. This will reduce your need to push them down with food. It could include; calling a friend, writing down your feelings in a journal, letting yourself cry, breathing deeply, jumping around and shaking them off. Keep the list somewhere you can easily access it (e.g. your phone home screen).

We also sometimes eat through boredom, loneliness, fear or anxiety and simply distracting yourself can be a way to reduce overwhelm of trying to deal or feel the feelings in that instance. Reading a book, going for a drive, cleaning out a cupboard, doing a puzzle, taking a nap, playing on your phone or computer can also be great ways to distract yourself.

4)    Take care of yourself

Whilst some people learn from a young age that it’s okay to ask for a hug, or are taught how to look after themselves in productive and nurturing ways, some of us still need to discover unmet our needs. Some basic unmet needs can include; getting rest, expressing feelings, being intellectually and creatively stimulated, being heard, understood and accepted, receiving warmth and comfort, and being sensually stimulated.

Ginger Kara has created this self-care diagram which is an excellent demonstration of ways in which you could nurture yourself so that food loses its number one position in this role.

Remember, emotional eating is not inherently bad. It’s simply your body’s way of telling you that it needs something. We shouldn’t be driving to eradicate it as we will be fighting a losing battle. Rather, we should be pausing and asking questions like

“am I hungry?”

“What am I feeling?”

“What do I need?”

These needs can sometimes be met without food, you just have to find it. It’s okay for food to still be one of these coping mechanisms, just try not to let it be the only mechanism.

Your relationship with food will become more positive as you begin to let go of it as a single coping mechanism, and bring it back into your life as a pleasurable and calm experience.

For more on managing food problems like this such as binge eating, emotional eating, stress eating, yo-yo dieting, check out my FREE online nutrition course. This will guide you through some of the first steps of intuitive eating to help resolve your food problems.

This article is not intended to provide individual advice, and it’s important that you seek support from a qualified professional. 

How to stop cravings for sugary foods

How to stop cravings for sugary foods


How to stop cravings for sugary foods

KATHERINE KIMBER, Registered Dietitian

14th November 2018

I am sure many of us know that intense desire to eat a specific food when you know you are just not hungry. Usually, it’s for something we consider “bad”, that we think we “shouldn’t be eating too much of”.

There are a number of reasons why this might be, and in this article, I am going to share with you my eight top tips to help overcome sugar cravings.

1) Be specific and track patterns 

Can you pick up any specific patterns? For example, if it’s chocolate, what type of chocolate? Naming a brand and flavour, and identifying the times of day that you find most difficult may come in handy over the next few paragraphs. If you’re not sure, you could try keeping a little journal to identify patterns.

2) Tune in with your hunger 

I quite often hear that cravings for particular foods occur at 3-4pm in the afternoon. When I hear a history of what a client’s eaten that day (perhaps cereal/porridge for breakfast, and a salad for lunch) they have often not eaten enough, and it’s no wonder they are simply just hungry. Check in with what you’ve eaten throughout the day and allow yourself a proper snack. That could be a couple of biscuits and a yoghurt perhaps, or a dash of Nutella on toast with a banana if you are looking for that sugar hit. Combining a little sugar with some more nutritious food can be a good balance. Forbidding yourself from eating the sugary food will only fuel cravings further.

3) Quit forbidding food and give yourself permission

It’s pretty hard to sell the idea of ‘eat what you want’ when you’re probably thinking – “that’s exactly what brought me here in the first place”. However, the alternative approach to restriction and deprivation probably hasn’t worked either. Bingeing is a natural reaction to deprivation/restriction. Foods are not good or bad. You are not a good person if you eat lettuce and a bad person if you eat chocolate. They are all just food. Neutralising the language can take the pressure off.

Write out a list of foods that you forbid yourself to eat and start experimenting with them. Take one at a time a few days apart. As you eating your forbidden food, slow down, savour it and tune into how much you need to feel satisfied. This eating meditation practice may help. 

“As you become more comfortable with this practice of eating your ‘forbidden’ food, the foods become more ordinary and truly allowed. It’s a process called habituation. The food no longer has any moral value and doesn’t have control over you.”

4) Identify emotional triggers 

Once you have ruled out hunger and restriction as reasons for cravings, quite often what is thought to be an emotional eating problem, disappears. If you still find yourself wanting to dive into a tub of ice-cream regularly when you know you’re pretty stuffed perhaps your body is trying to tell you it needs something else. 

For more on this, head to my most recent article on emotional eating. 

5) Rule out thirst

It’s really common to mistake hunger with thirst, so make sure you’re topped up throughout the day. Teas, coffees, herbal teas, sparkling water and pretty much any fluids except alcohol count towards out fluid intake.


6) Avoid leaving long gaps between eating 

Leaving long gaps between meals fuels the risk of getting too hungry. This is when cravings can be at their strongest and it’s likely you will want to eat any food in site regardless of what it is. Eating every 3-4 hours, with 3 meals and 2-3 snacks in a day is what many people find works for them. It’s important to recognise what works best for you and to tune into your own hunger cues.

7) Pack your snacks

Of course the office chocolates or vending machine look more appealing than the brown squashed banana or bruised apple at the bottom of your bag. Pack tasty and delicious snacks that you look forward to eating. This way may be less likely to crave other foods. One of my favourites is oat cakes with nut butter and squashed berries or banana, or cream cheese, tomatoes and black pepper on some delicious toasted bread!

8) Get on top of your sleep

Tiredness makes cravings more intense, especially for fatty and sugary food. Your body is less likely to be giving out accurate hunger signals, so stick to eating regularly, bite the bullet and get yourself into bed early!

And finally…

Cravings can be a way of your body telling you that it needs something. It could be hungry, over-restricted, feeling intense emotion, not fed/watered or had enough sleep. Perhaps it needs a little self-love. Tune into your bodies signals, reflect and try to learn from them so you are able to give your body what it truly desires.

For more on managing food problems like this such as binge eating, emotional eating, stress eating, yo-yo dieting, check out my FREE download. This will guide you through some of the first steps to support you through your food problems.