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Is Dieting Making Us Fat?

  [ 77 votes ]   [ Discuss This Article ]
By Jennifer Benson, R.D. • • April 28, 2003

Editor’s Note: Jennifer Benson is a Registered Dietician with a private practice in Los Angeles, California. If you have any questions regarding your diet or proper nutrition, and would like to ask Jennifer a question, you can contact her by email at, or if you are in the Los Angeles area, you can contact her for an appointment at (310) 871-3981.

People, searching for sound nutrition advice, call me each month to schedule an appointment for nutrition counseling. Many times I am asked by potential clients to develop meal plans for them to assist them in weight loss. I inform them that my approach is different than just passing out one size fits all meal plans. The approach that I use is behaviorally and physiologically based. When this approach is explained to them, many times I hear “well, I will call you back if I want to schedule an appointment”. What they will likely do is find a dietitian who will hand them a 1500 or 1800 calorie meal plan. From my experience personally and professionally clients will follow these meal plans for about a week and then give up on them, especially if the plan denies a person his or her favorite foods. This is a classic example of yo-yo dieting that research is finding leads to becoming overweight and obese. So which diet should you follow to lose weight? The answer is easy, none!

Let’s begin by looking at infants and young children. It is natural for a child to eat only when he or she is hungry. It is also very natural for a child to stop eating when he or she is full, even if there is food left on the plate. This is not something that a child concentrates on; it is just something that is inborn. However, as one grows older and discovers the world of dieting, this innate ability to differentiate hunger and fullness is suppressed. Dieting changes the way we view food, and hunger and fullness.


1. Your body can only eat when the clock says a certain time of day.

2. Even if you are physically hungry, it is not okay to eat.

3. You cannot eat any “bad” foods.

4. Ravenous hunger is a good thing, and you have to feel hungry to loose weight.

5. You can never have complete satisfaction through eating.

All these things that dieting teaches, steers a person away from his or her natural eating habits from childhood. When calories are reduced too much, the human body goes into starvation mode. It tells itself “since I am not getting enough calories through food, I am going to have to hang on to the stores that I have”. If this happens it is harder to loose weight, because your body holds on to its fat stores instead of using the stores for energy.


Binge eating can be an effect of dieting. If a person denies himself or herself a favorite food, after about a week he or she may binge on that favorite food. This leads to eating more calories in that binge moment than would have been consumed if a little bit was eaten here or there throughout the week. Also common is a before dinner binge. Many dieters will not eat a snack between lunch and dinner, or the snack will not be substantial enough to sustain him or her until dinner. While this person is busy making dinner, he or she will snack on foods until dinner is done. So by the time this “dieter” is finished eating dinner, he or she will have had twice as many calories that would have been consumed had there been no snacking involved.


Individual foods are too often given a label of “good” or “bad”. It is important not to look at individual foods, but the diet overall. There are no “bad” foods. All foods can fit into a healthy diet. If we look back in history, there was a time when diets were not so prominent. People followed the rule of eating when they were hungry and stopping when they were full. A person ate without regard to “good” and “bad” foods and without regard to calories. It is interesting to note that during this time, obesity was not an epidemic. It seems the more our society labels foods and follows calorie restrictions, the more overweight and obese we become.


So, what is the take home message? Stop dieting. As I tell many clients, get back to the child in you. Teach yourself to recognize hunger and fullness. I use the word teach, because it takes time to re-teach oneself what hunger and fullness feel like. Individuals are surprised that hunger is something that they have lost touch with after years of dieting. With the help of a tool called a hunger scale, it is easier for a person to get reacquainted with his or her hunger. With this technique, it is important to let go of food misperceptions such as “good” and “bad” foods, and eat what your body wants. For many people this is hard because for years our society had heard what is good and what is bad for us. Of course, nobody should just eat junk all of the time. The human body is a remarkable thing, and will let you know what it wants. This non-diet approach to eating can teach many positive things such as:

1. It is okay to include the foods that you like to eat, even if you previously labeled them “bad” foods.

2. It is okay to eat when you are physiologically hungry.

3. It is not good to be ravenously hungry; it will lead to a binge.

4. You can be completely satisfied through eating, and include your favorite foods.

To adopt this approach, it is a good idea to work with a Registered Dietitian that uses this philosophy in his or her practice. To find a Registered Dietitian in your area, you can visit the American Dietetic Association website at If you are in the Los Angeles area, you can contact me for an appointment at (310) 871-3981.

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