written by Matt Marchant
What if I told you that every diet you have ever been on has failed you? Notice what I said, “Your diet failed you, you did not fail the diet? How does that make you feel to hear that? Even if you had “successful” results from your diet, I invite you to consider that it still failed you.
In this article, I will share with you what I have found true to my personal and professional experience. In part 1 of this article we will cover the five reasons why most, if not all diets fail. Part 2 discusses the seven “benefits” to following a diet that fails us. Yes you read that right, the benefits to failing in a diet and the benefits to being overweight or unhealthy. The 3rd and final part to this article, will explan the five factors that make going on a diet so tempting to us, even after we have discovered their limitations and possible complete failure.
So, if going on a diet is not ideal, what should we do? My answer is: Start a personalized Eating Plan. That may sound like another way of describing a diet, but I believe it is much different, and much more effective. Here is how they differ:
Eating Plan vs. Diet
Something you can do throughout your life
Something you can do only temporarily
It fits to you
You must fit to it
It uses reasonable approaches which make sense to the basic laws of nature
It typically uses unreasonbale approaches which rarely make sense to the basic laws of nature
Diets by their nature are not meant for long term success physically, mentally, or emotionally. A diet is for temporary use only, if ever. They may have a purpose - they can stimulate and get us started on the right eating plan. That benefit can get ugly real quick if the diet convinces us of its dogmatic views or runs us through its shame cycle. User beware!
Dieting is a risk not only for our long term success, but for our immediate, physical, mental, and emotional health.
An correct and personalized Eating Plan, respects our body’s physical, mental, and emotional needs.
Next, let’s dive into how diets actually fail us,
The 5 reasons why most, if not all diets fail us:
1. Diets function much more on generalizing health than individualizing health.
You are a biochemically unique individual. That means that your nutritional and hormonal needs are different from everyone else on the planet - even if you happen to be an identical twin. The term “biochemical individuality” first gained recognition from Roger J. Williams, in his nutritional studies of the 1940’s and 50’s. He said in his book “Biochemical Individuality: The Key to Understanding what Shapes your Health”:
“No two human beings possess the same genes. Even in ‘identical’ twins, although the genes are theoretically identical initially... metabolism in fully developed ‘identical’ twins is likely not to be identical in every respect.”
Everyone is unique and deserves to be treated as such.
Studies have found the following differences in humans:
Stomach: The stomach can vary in how much it can hold by 6-8 times and the position on the stomach varies greatly. The stomach is where protein is digested.
Small Intestine: The length of the small intestine can vary between 17-35 feet (507-1194 cm). The small intestine is where protein, carbohydrates, and fats continue to digest.
Esophagus: The esophagus can vary by at least 4 fold in size affecting swallowing. This may affect amount of food eaten in one sitting.
Saliva (uric acid content): The uric acid content varied by 98.66%. The saliva is where carbohydrates start their digestion process.
Teeth (number of, or malocclusion): The teeth of humans vary greatly. It is where food begins to process. Food that is not properly chewed, do to missing teeth or an under or over bite, will affect digestion.
Colon: The position of both the Transverse and Pelvic colon vary greatly (anywhere from right under the sternum to 10-12 below), this may affect the transit time or efficiency in passing stools.
The point to these findings are: We are much more unique than previously thought. At every stage in food digestion, from chewing to eliminating, our bodies have their own way of doing things. Although there may be some standard health parameters that most of us fit into, generalizing how we should eat, digest, and eliminate, without an individual assessment is negligent at best.
Dr. Williams discovered that there is no scientific basis for the term “normal”. When the extent of human variety is considered - normal cannot be defined or measured.
Are you being helped or hindered by following a generalized diet? It is commonly said that a generalized or “photocopied” diet will help 33% of the people following it, will have no affect for 33%, and the last 33% may actually be hindered or hurt by the nutrition advice it gives them. Whether these percentages are anything close to reality is besides the point - What are your odds of a general diet working for you? Is it worth your time, money, and effort? You will have to decide that for yourself.
An optimal eating plan treats you as a unique person.
2. Diets are dogmatic belief systems - meaning they do not allow room for change or growth.
“Do it this way.” “For how long?” “Forever.” This is a typical approach to diets that become dogmatic belief systems. When you were a child, believing in Santa Claus may have enhanced your Christmas experience, but I doubt that you still need to hold onto that belief today to enjoy the holidays. How have some diets become a “Believing in Santa”?
“This diet has worked for millions of people! It will work for you too, but you have to fit into it.” Have you heard this one before? It will work for me? says the advertisement, but how, it doesn’t even know me? This provides an example of dieting turned dogma.
For sake of being on the same page, might we define dogma as: “Stubbornly clinging to one’s own beliefs while refusing to consider that there may be merit to the beliefs of others; Believing that the one way and best way of doing something is always your way; Being Mind-Blind as opposed to being Mind-Full.”
There are many people that have had “success” on popular dogmatic diet programs, and they can easily turn into proselytizing new converts for the author, book or system, but what of those who do not “succeed” or fit in? Well, they become the heretics to that specific dieting program.
How can you spot dogmatic belief systems? You will hear...
A. “I do it, why doesn’t everyone else?”
Dogmatic belief systems want everyone to do the same thing, but not just anything - their thing.
B. “It works for me, it should work for you.”
Dogmatic belief systems views everyone the same - “You must be just like me.” Those who follow this thought process typically seem stunned when they find out that what they are doing doesn’t always work for others.
C. “If it works for you today, it will work for you tomorrow.”
Dogmatic belief systems hate change. To be more specific, they fear change. Fear is natural, but when fear paints us into a corner, and that corner can ruin our health and vitality, it may be time to walk through wet paint.
D. “If it no longer works for you, you must be doing it wrong.”
Dogmatic belief systems do not take responsibility for failure. This is the old, “The system did not fail, you did!” approach. Dogmatic belief systems show both their desire for power and control, and rigidity, by their inability to consider, let alone admit, that the beliefs they hold and the behavior they endorse, may not actually be working.
E. “Don’t question my approach.”
Dogmatic belief systems do not believe that any philosophy worth living is worth testing. They believe that the testing has been done, and once done, it is never to be visited again. With that approach to science, mankind might have been stuck with only the invention of the wheel.
Can you spot where the diets you have tried in the past have been stuck within their own dogma?
All life on this planet adapts. The study of Evolutionary Biology has taught us this: Adapt or Die. Our approach to developing an optimal eating plan should be no different - We must adapt to our changing bodies and world. Here are few key areas that when changed, will require us to reevaluate our eating plan and possibly adapt:
- Season of the year
- Physical work load
- Mental or emotional stress
Does your current eating plan allow for change and reevaluation? Even better, does your eating plan or diet invite questions and concerns? Would it or its creator be open to considering that the plan might be wrongly prescribed for the client, or would they be more apt to assign the failure of results onto the client?
An optimal eating plan has a system of checks and balances and constantly reevaluates itself.
3. Diets do not educate on health, they dictate about health.
Some diets follow the “Give a man a fish” principle: Give a hungry man a fish, so that he may eat, but tomorrow he’ll be back to get another. That plan may work to for some, but does it educate people on how to make their own decisions in the future? This is not an approach that I enjoy teaching or following.
Another dieting approach may be the “Teach a man to fish” principle: Teach a man how to fish for himself, and he can feed himself in the future. This plan is definitely a step up from the last, but it has its limitations as well. Is teaching someone enough? How much free information is out there on how to eat healthy? Is it an information problem or a motivation problem? Here is an example: How many cigarette smokers are out there that are completely unaware that smoking is bad for their health? Probably zero right? Do they need information or inspiration?
The last approach in this thought process would then be the “Inspire a man to fish” principle: Fishing is not rocket science, the man will not need much teaching on how to do it, but if you inspire the man to motivate himself intrinsically (from the inside), he will then not only know how to fish, he will actually fish.
Eating is not rocket science either. People are really not in need of much more information. Anyone can go on the internet and get a lot of great advice on what to eat and what not to eat. There is also a ton of bad advice out there, but the point is - information is abundant! But do we even need the information? If you are gaining weight and you are eating ice cream every night, do you need me to tell you not to eat ice cream every night? I’m sure you’ve got that one figured out. If you back hurts and you sit all day at work and all night at home, do you need me to tell you to stand up once and a while and stretch? Again, probably not.
What most of us need is to find a source of inspiration. More information may actually be another source of frustration. I know I get tired of reading through piles of the same stuff - I know all I need for the moment, now I need to be inspired to actually start doing it!!!
Diets fail because they simply hand out more information on health. They may even teach you a thing or two, but what happens next is what is really important. When you are ready for inspiration, an eating plan is for you, but how do they inspire? Find the problem, then create a solution right? Well, that’s a start, and most diets do the same thing. What we need next, is to find the ignition to the solution. Let’s use and example:
"Ignition of a Solution" Example
A woman comes in to see me and wants to lose 50 lbs. That’s great, and some diets may help her do just that, but only that. There are many studies that can show she is very likely to regain all the weight back within the next 12 months. Why? Because we haven’t asked the right questions. I would ask the following questions:
1. What do you want most for your health?
She has already told me - to lose 50 lbs., but believe it or not most people have little to no clue what it is they actually want. The first step to going anywhere is to know where you want to go - exactly where you want to go. So, what is it that you want , specifically?
2. What would that mean to you if you where to achieve that?
We have immediately taken what we want out of the “literal” and into the “symbolic”. Finding out what, “what we want” really means to us, is such a profound step, that it cannot be overlooked. If we don’t find the truer or deeper meaning to our wants, goals, and dreams, we may become enslaved to chasing them forever.
Finding the meaning to our goals is like finding the ignition switch to a car - If you can’t turn the car on, you can’t go very far.
I have found, that finding the meaning hidden within our goals gives us the inspiration to achieve not just the information to achieve. Have you found the ignition you need to get moving towards your goals?
An optimal eating plan seeks to inspire and educate the individual.
4. Diets function on the shame cycle
A shame cycle is a cycle of behavior and beliefs that give us the temporary feeling of being in control, with the behavior of being out of control waiting right around the next corner. Another way of saying shame cycle would be the control & release cycle, and diets function on this premise. It is the cycle of being out of control and over-controlled, while never finding balance.
John Bradshaw, in his book “Healing the Shame That Binds You”, says the following about diets:
“For the most part diets are the greatest hoax ever perpetrated on a suffering group of people. Ninety-five percent of the people who diet gain the weight back within 5 years. Diets underscore one of the most paradoxical aspects of toxic shame. In dieting and losing weight, one has the sense of controlling and fixing the problem... With toxic shame, you are either more than human (super achieving) or less than human (underachieving)... Diets follow this control and release cycle.”
Diets and dieting are very tempting for anyone with compulsive/addictive behavior potential. Now before you think that sounds a bit rare and that it couldn’t possibly fit you, lets describe it in more detail. It still might not fit, but you may find that compulsive/addictive behavior is much more common than previously thought.
What is an addiction?
Author and Consultant on addictions, Pia Mellody has defined addiction as, “Any process used to avoid or take away intolerable reality.” Reality can be extremely painful, and as John Bradshaw has said, “Because it takes away intolerable pain, it becomes our highest priority. It does so much for us that it takes time and energy from other aspects of our life. It thus has life-damaging consequences.”
Addictions are rooted in shame-based beliefs. This means that an addict has created beliefs that they are shameful. But not only are addicts, as we would call them in modern society, plagued by shame-based beliefs, it is my opinion and experience that most if not all people have at least a few beliefs about themselves that come from shame. Whether that may or may not be true for you, diets do in fact work off of this shame cycle, and to start one may be biting off more than you can chew (the pun is intended).
What is shame?
Shame is the belief that, “I am bad”. It is not guilt which says, “What I have done is bad”. There is a major difference. Shame is the internalized belief that I as a human being am bad or flawed. It is the belief that there is no fixing me. Guilt on the other hand is the external realization that what I have done was bad or flawed. The belief is:
If I am guilty, I can apologize - “I can make it up to those I’ve wronged.”
If I am shameful, there is nothing I can do - “I was created this way, I am this way, I will die this way.”
How does shame and compulsive/addictive behaviors work?
Shame is painful to experience, and compulsive/addictive behavior seeks to lessen the pain. All pain is horrible, but in physical pain there are moments of relief. There is a hope that it can end - if by nothing else, death. In physical pain, the body may even go numb so that the pain is no longer felt. With the emotional pain of shame, there is no relief, no pain killer. The pain is continuous, day and night, awake or asleep. There is only emotional numbness. Compulsive or addictive behaviors numb us out or distract us from our pain. As authors, Fossum and Mason have said in the book, “Facing Shame”,
“One of the most clearly identifiable aspects of shame is addictive behavior.”
The addiction or compulsion hides the feelings of shame that a person feels. The paradox to this “hiding of shame” is this: the person in the shame cycle, believes that the pain caused by the addictive/compulsive behavior is much less than the pain of confronting their feelings of shame. This fear of confronting shame, or also known as the shame of feeling ashamed, is the fuel to the shame cycle.
What does Compulsive/Addictive behavior look like?
In each set of compulsive or addictive behaviors, there is an element to the addiction. The element to alcoholism is the alcohol, the element to being a work-a-holic is the job. In addictive behavior the element is glorified, in compulsive behavior the element is demonized (typically). The most interesting thing about compulsive and addictive behaviors is this:
Both compulsive and addictive behaviors are addictive. They are two side to the same coin.
For an example of this I will use the two side of the alcoholism coin: wet drunks and dry drunks. A wet drunk is the stereotypical alcoholic. The use of alcohol “hides” the pain of internal feelings of shame (internalized shame). The element, alcohol, has become gloried - it is their “Savor”, saving them from pain. A dry drunk is the compulsive counter to the addictive wet drunk. The avoidance of alcohol lets them “hide” from their internal feelings of shame. How? By becoming excessive in their behavior to avoid it, thus being compulsive. Just as a wet drunk may think often about having a drink, the dry drunk thinks often about not having one. The element then for the dry drunk saves they just as well. It is the avoidance or abstinence of the alcohol that becomes their “Savior”, saving them from pain.
The addictive person may be self loathing of their behavior, while the compulsive person may be self righteous of their behavior.
Here are some examples of compulsive and addictive behaviors:
Alcohol abstinence for personal moral/ethical reasons
Working too much by choice
Refusing to work
Tries to control others
No self control
Hoarding all your money
Spending all your money
Rescuer or caretaker (not caregiver)
Victim or punisher
Says no/never to sex for personal moral/ethical reasons
No sexual or physical boundaries
To state it again: The behaviors of being addictive or compulsive are two sides to the same coin. What is shared between the two opposite and seemingly unconnected behaviors, are the beliefs that one has created surrounding shame.
An optimal eating plan seeks to pull you out of and never push you into a shame cycle.
5. Diets fail to deliver the true message to the dieter.
Why do people go on diets?
I would guess most people go on a diet because they are, or at least they think they are, overweight. Yes there are people who go on a diet because they are sick or have a disease, but most of these people also state that they want to lose weight. So, can we agree that people go on diets because they are overweight, or in the words of many dieters, “I am fat.” Did you notice the shame in that statement “I am...”? We will cover that again later.
Is there a hidden message to being overweight?
Not the obvious message. We all know that one - it isn’t necessarily healthy, comfortable, or acceptable to be overweight. If we look deep enough past the clear physical messages, are there emotional messages? In the book “Being Fat Has Nothing to do with Food”, Pat tetHeun briefly outlines the work of therapist Lynda G. Smith, she states:
“Overweight is, in fact, an assertion, an expression of who you really are and how you really feel, and a way to show yourself and others that you want or need something.”
She goes on to clarify what an assertion is: Assertion - a positive statement or declaration. So what is the statement or declaration that I am trying to make by being overweight? If I am having to make this statement through my weight, does that mean that I am not able to make it verbally? The next question is, to whom am I trying to make this statement?
This type of assertion is very effective. Being overweight is not always easy to hide, and perhaps that is the point. Maybe by being overweight, we are “loudly” (in a non-verbal sense) proclaiming or needs, our wants, or our dissatisfaction.
What are the hidden messages to being overweight?
The messages to being overweight are many and are personal to each one of use. It is up to us to interpret what they are and what they may mean. There meaning may also change as we change with time. Your weight is a private message for you and you only.
That being said, there may be some universal messages that reflects parts of our own personal messages. One message, as from the book “Being Fat Has Nothing to do with Food”, may be:
“Eating is always a way to take care of yourself.”
“Your body is making a very strong statement to you. Your body is telling you in an obvious, embarrassing, and possibly dangerous way that you’re hungry for something; that you eat too much because you’re deriving yourself other ways. Your body is beautifully connected to your real feelings. It really isn’t working against you. You are trying to take care of yourself by eating.”
When you eat for comfort, you have the right idea... but the wrong solution.
Now that I am an adult, it is my job to comfort myself. In most cases, I have already learned how to comfort myself from watching how my parents comforted themselves, and how they comforted me and/or my siblings.
Human beings need comfort to survive, but what happens when the source or method of comfort is dysfunctional? Is there a way to comfort ourselves in a healthy and functional manner? I believe there is, and that will take the investment of time and the asking of important questions of ourselves. Let’s start the discovery process with these questions. I invite you to consider their importance.
What is it that my weight is trying to say?
To whom is this message intended?
Is there something I would like to say to a specific person, but have not done so yet?
If yes, how would I feel I if were told I must tell them right now? If no, think harder, what is it that you need to tell yourself?
Where in my body do I feel that?
What might my body feel like if i where in fact able to let it out, and tell them?
What would my heart feel like if I where in fact able to let it out, and tell them?
What might be the real message my weight has for me?
These questions may not be easy to answer. They may also be confusing. I invite you to consider that any question which presents a mental block to our answering, is not a hard question, and is not an irrelevant question. Might it be possible that in this moment it is the most important question? That may be why it is met with confusion or conflict.
The quality of our existence can be observed by the quality of questions we ask ourselves.
If we become aware to the message of the body, and hand ourselves some compassion for where we are, perhaps the body will no longer need to communicate to us in the same fashion as it has.
I invite you to consider whether these things may be true for you. It is my belief that our bodies act primarily as a reflection for us to learn more about our true selves. I am grateful for how my body “speaks” to me. Without it, I may never find peace and purpose to my life.
What is your body teaching you today?
If you would like to learn more about creating a personalized eating plan that is right for you, please feel free to contact me. If you would like to talk more about how your experience and beliefs about your weight or health have created challenges for you please feel free to contact me. Thank you for your time, patience, and courage. Please contact may me at: firstname.lastname@example.org or (714) 342-0359.
Resources to learn more:
“Healing the Shame that Binds You” by John Bradshaw
“Being Fat Has Nothing To Do With Food” by Pat terHeun
“Biochemical Individuality: The Key to Understanding What Shapes Your Health” by Roger, J. Williams, Ph.D.
“Digestive Wellness: Strengthen the Immune System and Prevent Disease Through Healthy Digestion” by Elizabeth Lipski, Ph.D.
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