“It’s Not a Diet It’s a Lifestyle Change” is Bullshit

Talking NonsenseYou’ve heard it. I’ve heard it. We’ve all heard it. Back in my dieting days before I did my research I believed it. The secret to lasting weight loss, they say, is that you can’t go on a diet, you have to make a lifestyle change.

This is total, complete, utter bullshit. It’s a lifestyle change alright – you change to a lifestyle where you’re dieting all the time, and it still doesn’t work.  One of the big issues that the weight loss industry has created is a world where any weight loss claim said with authority that sounds even remotely plausible is accepted and repeated as proven fact.  Even in the world of peer-reviewed research, incredible liberties are given to weight loss research when it comes to not having to support their assumptions with evidence.

I was on a panel at a very prestigious school for their Eating Disorder Awareness Week. At one point the school’s dietitian who was on the panel said that the reason people don’t maintain weight loss is that they lose the weight too fast, that you you should lose 1/2 pound a week and then you would keep the weight off. I wasn’t surprised to hear it, there have been versions of this going around since I was a kid.

I knew that the students at the school were super smart and data driven so I said “I must have missed those studies, , who conducted the research.”  She stammered for a moment, then said “Oh, there isn’t any research.” Had I not been there those students would have heard only from a professional dietitian employed by their school authoritatively telling them that they could achieve lasting weight loss by losing 1/2 pound a week as if she was stating a fact, despite having not a shred of evidence to back up her claim.

I think that one of the hardest things we have to come to grips with as we get off the diet roller coaster and start a non-diet path is the sheer number of times we’ve been lied to, and the extraordinary breadth and depth of people who have done the lying.  Some because they believe the lies, some because they want to believe the lies (despite that fact that they’ve been weight cycling for years), some because they want clicks on their site and they know that anti-fat articles are always good for that, and many, many of them for profit.

I hear about far too many people who, on their death bed, regret having spent their entire life dieting. In order to break free of the diet and weight loss paradigm that holds us down we have to see it for what it is – a lie, created on lies, supported by lies, and perpetuated by those who lie for profit.  It’s a Galileo issue – the idea that anyone who tries hard enough to lose weight can do it is widely believed, supported fervently with religious zeal, and not at all supported by the evidence.

My life got better immensely and immediately when I stopped buying the lies that I could manipulate my body size, and that doing so was a worthy pursuit in the first place. When it comes to diet culture, that’s the only lifestyle change that I’m interested in.

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31 thoughts on ““It’s Not a Diet It’s a Lifestyle Change” is Bullshit

  1. Amen.

    If you’re making a lifestyle change, make it for the sake of the change itself. Lifestyle changes can produce a little weight loss, a little weight gain, or no difference at all. In any event, lifestyle changes are meant to change your lifestyle. An effort to change your body size is a diet. They are not the same thing.

    Thank you for this: I have posted it to my professorial FB page. I am always trying to get students to look at whether there’s empirical support for a statement! And this is a better, more succinct statement than some I have made in lecture.

    1. Yes, exactly! If you truly want to change what you eat (for medical reasons, for ethical reasons, for religious reasons, for whatever reasons), then do so with the idea of achieving THAT goal, not weight loss. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t.

  2. this one really irritates me; the current favourite “diet club” in our area uses just that phrase. A guy in my friendship group starting going, and lost a lot of weight in a very very short length of time – something like * stone in 7 months. And so lots of other people in the group – we are a sort of club so there are about 50 or 60 of us – started going. People in our meetings would all be sharing about their weight loss. The guy in question had quite a following anyway, he was considered very wise and astute etc. His following became even larger though, as everyone went on about how wonderful he was doing. He won a prize for his weight loss. Loads of people were enthralled, and more people went to the “diet club”. Lots of people lost a lot of weight very quickly and were boasting how they were now “maintaining”. Now, 12 months on, everyone except the guy who first went has gained all the weight and more besides, and are feeling failures, bad about themselves etc etc. And their “guru” hasn’t gained noticeable weight, so they feel even worse. And he goes on about lifestyle choice. They mostly know my opinion, and anyway I don’t bother to join in the conversations. What does concern me is that at least one lady has had WLS as a result of her “failure”.

  3. Now that I can no longer eat eggs or diary, I get annoyed with people who avoid them for purposes of ‘diet’. ENJOY LIFE! You only get one shot.

    1. I like eggs. And as for the cholesterol and the yolks, the “proven scientific knowledge” about them has zigged and zagged so many times, sometimes within weeks of each other, that I just decided that science doesn’t know diddly about eggs, and ignore everything they say about eggs, because they are too caught up in politics to do actual science.

      I also like dairy, and basically ignore all the varying zig-zagging on that, as well.

      Oddly, there is very little zig-zagging on broccoli. Everyone acknowledges that it is nutritious. But I have seen both bananas and cucumbers listed as “never eat this again!” foods, without any actual studies cited.

      I think I’ll just eat what my body craves, and leave it at that. I’ll probably die of something else long before food has a chance to kill me.

      1. That is a good motto. I can’t eat ‘real’ dairy anymore, and as a result of a decade of eating lactose free, when I smell pizza or something, it makes me want to puke.

        As for eggs, I try to eat at least 3 a day!

  4. I wish I could go back to my old lifestyle I just get the special dietetic food that Is served to me to help me lose weight and I just hate it I want to just be left alone.

    1. I’m so sorry, Denny. I wish you could have your old lifestyle back, and go to restaurants, and live your life on your own terms. I wish I could make it better for you. All I can do is tell you I’m thinking of you.

  5. My views have changed a lot on “lifestyle choices”, I make bad lifestyle choices, I eat crap and don’t make time for myself or for exercise and because of my choices I am not leading a healthy lifestyle. So I am working to change this, but I am not changing it all at once because for me it is not sustainable. So I make small changes like trying to make sure I have veggies or salad every day, trying to make meal plans for dinner so that I don’t get stuck and just get take out.
    Because Hubby and I both work night shift on Fridays I used to just pick up McDonalds or Hungry Jacks on the way home for dinner. We no longer do this and generally have a toasted sandwich instead. Neither of us have lost weight from this change, but we have a few dollars more each week and are healthier for making that choice.
    I don’t lose weight easily, Docs want me too, but my thoughts have shifted a bit (I hope they will more) because I was so desperately unhappy trying to lose weight, I felt like a failure and a monster, but apparently I need to do it so we can go through IVF. So now I am trying to make changes to be healthier and happier, I go for 5km walks, I go with a friend to the gym, I walk at lunch everyday with friends from work – not exercise walks, just to the local shops to get coffee and back, but it gets us all moving and supports local business 🙂 These are changes that make me happy, I haven’t lost weight, but I am in a much better place mentally (for the most part).

    1. I hope your doctors will focus on your healthy activities and food choices, and less on the scale, when determining whether you can do IVF.

      Good luck! I hope you can have the baby you crave. Actually, I really hope that the increased exercise and more nutritious eating will do the trick, and you won’t have to go through the pain and expense of IVF. Sometimes, bodies just take you by surprise that way.

      Either way, you are NOT a monster, and NOT a failure. Even if you never lose a pound, you are exercising and eating healthy, and how can that be a failure? Especially if these changes are making you happy, in their own right.

      Again, good luck, and internet hugs, if you want them!

      1. Thanks so much 🙂
        I am now with a doc who only mentioned increasing healthy activities in our first meeting. She has never mentioned weight as a barrier for IVF. I saw her again yesterday and we are moving forward immediately with treatment. Makes a HUGE difference to the 2 years of fat shaming from the other doctor. 😀
        Thanks for the hugs too

          1. Thanks! 🙂
            I’m just going to keep thinking positively until the blood test tells me otherwise and then try to keep moving forward until it does work 🙂
            Having a different doc has made me feel very different this time.

        1. That is such great news. Fatphobia is one of the worst things a fertility doctor can do to us. The thing we want the most in the world, they are telling is all our fault why we don’t have.
          Without saying it they are also telling you to look away from all the fat mothers who had no problem getting pregnant, look away from the skinny women who are also infertile, don’t look at the bad medicine I’m practicing, just leave here and take the entire blame into yourself and go fix the problem by losing weight. Never mind that weight loss isn’t possible.

          1. It wasn’t good. It’s really awful. If he really felt that my lifestyle was a problem then there are different ways to address it than not helping me until I lose 10kgs. Which I did by the way and still didn’t get pregnant… then it all went back on plus some. Stupid!
            I did ask him about the big women I see everyday wandering about with 3 kids in tow and he basically inferred that sometimes people just get lucky. I guess that is true, but I didn’t really think it was a very good medical opinion hahaha.

      2. Good luck with that IVF; I am so happy for you, that you are being given the chance to be a lovely mummy, and don’t let any of the general crap about weight and pregnancy get to you.

  6. “She stammered for a moment, then said “Oh, there isn’t any research.”

    There isn’t any research, and yet she’s OK with stating it as fact?

    I want to say to her: Science. You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.

    Hopefully, those smart, data-driven students had the brains to say, “wut.” and step off the roller-coaster of just-so stories and “everyone knows.”

  7. Dieting does suck, and I am lately realizing that it is not just us fat people that submit ourselves to it. I swear, everyone is on a diet. My husband’s roommate (he has another apartment in the city he works in,) who is very tall and thin, is on a diet because his doctor told him his cholesterol was high, all he eats is quinoa and yogurt and an occasional piece of boiled chicken breast. My new FNP nurse, who I think is great, is maybe about 110 pounds, and she is on a very strict diet because her mom has diabetes. On my last appointment, she was telling me how absolutely terrible and guilty she felt the whole day because in the morning she was really craving a bowl of cereal and so she ate a tiny bowl of shredded wheat and the guilt was destroying her day. She was agreeing with me that the diet mentality takes a huge toll on your mental/emotional health, and that this, in the end, is probably worse than any extra weight or any would be illnesses. Yet, even though she knows this, she said she diets every day and said she thinks about food choices all day long. There are so many more examples I have of all my thin friends and neighbors. So really it is not just us that fall into the diet trap, it is many people, of whatever size, and especially women. Even though I try not to diet, the pull is always so strong, and I have been doing it my entire life, since forced to do it when little. I just don’t know how to live free, how to eat what I want, and how to not feel a whole world of guilt as soon as a drop of high fructose corn syrup hits my tongue. This is my life, constantly worrying about what I eat, and I do make very healthy choices, I don’t like to eat junk food, only occasionally eat out, and am a veggie freak, and I am active. Yet, I am still in a fat body, and so it never feels like what I am doing is good enough, and my body is my punishment. The emotional struggle of this is real, and it is very hard to overcome, I hope some day I can get there.

      1. Thanks so much for that. You are right, my body is not a punishment and that is not how I actually feel. I guess the punishment is the way people/society treats people like us 😦 Others see that my body is punishment, a consequence of my “choices.” Oh well, screw them, I have a great life and a great family.

  8. It isn’t easy; but I have escaped mostly from it now. I find I don’t snack, I have no wish to snack, now I don’t diet. I am coeliac, but avoiding gluten is part of life, and it makes me so ill I never crave it. I also have type 2 DM, and that is pretty well controlled, I exercise at the gym most days, although I haven’t been much this past couple of weeks, but I feel ok about that. I was 60 last week, and have a birthday cake – fruit cake – which is gluten free. I am aware of the sugar content, think icing and thick marzipan, and lots of fruit. For the sake of my blood sugar, I am generally only having one slice a day, after a meal, but that doesn’t feel like a diet, it feels like common sense for genuine health reasons. The freedom from not dieting is FANTASTIC!!!!!

    1. Congrats on your birthday!

      I too avoid gluten, I’m sure I have celiac, I have all the symptoms. I discovered it also causes arthritis flare ups, starting with my hands. I had an exposure a couple weeks ago (I didn’t feel like cooking so went to McD’s) and for 2 days my right hand was pretty useless.

      Of course my parents think I’m making it all up, and that celiac is a fake disease.

      1. There’s a screening test for celiac. You should talk to your doctor about doing this so that you know for sure. This is your body; not your parent’s.

  9. What irks me is that I’m actually trying to make a lifestyle change over here, and trying to find other people who are working on a lifestyle change without trying to manipulate their body size is hella hard in meatspace in my town.

    Basically, I used to eat hardly any sugar, and over the years I started eating more and more of it. Diabetes runs in my family. So does some kind of tenacious and painful soft tissue inflammation that isn’t arthritis but I don’t know what exactly it is. I know that there are foods that tend to set off both conditions, and sugar is definitely one of them. But I have also been using sugar as a mood elevator, because depression combined with idiosyncratic drug reactions that make the warning labels on anti-depressants extremely scary. But but but I am ALSO trying to teach my children moderation.

    So, after whacking at the problem in different ways, I looked up the concentration and dosage at which chocolate actually has a benefit, found some 70 percent dark chocolate varieties that I like, and eat 2 ounces of that as my sweet each day. So far it seems to be helping me avoid the dumps and keep down sugar cravings. Meanwhile the fam can buy candy and pop with their own money if they want to and I make dessert for them on special occasions.

    But I can’t talk about this with people around here because half of them are “ZOMG you are eating chocolate while fat yer gonna dieeeee” and the other half are “Oh, is it helping you lose weight? Tell me more about losing weight.” Losing weight is not the point. Normal blood sugar and reduced daily average pain number are the points. But that might as well be Greek. Agh.

    1. Update: So far it seems to be working. I eat chocolate in the morning, the way that people used to drink their chocolate back when it was regarded mainly as a stimulant on the same level as coffee. No big energy slumps during the day, and (so far) no spells of the blues. I’ll probably switch to making drinking chocolate when the weather gets colder.

        1. Update: I got a new job that includes free access to a Keurig! I tried an unsweetened mocha on a whim, and I love it. Just enough caffeine to sharpen me up without increasing my heart rate, and just enough chocolate to fill my chocolate craving for the day. And I don’t have to pay for it. 🙂 Also, the workplace has to be minimally heated for reasons, so I’m probably going to be enjoying hot drinks for 10 months per year. My average daily sugar cravings and pain level are both still dropping!

  10. god, ive known this “1 pound per week doesnt slow down your metabolism“ myth for literally 19 years (I started dieting when I was 16 and there it was on the magazines.. except in my country it is half a kilo). when i was that young, losing half a kilo per week was so easy, in my 30s (when I stopped dieting for good, at the age of 31 to be more precise) I had to laugh at it.. starving myself, exercising everyday, logging calories and id lose 2 pounds every 2 months (and regain when I binged, something that happened often since I was obviously too stressed). years ago when i stopped dieting for good your blog, along with the fat nutritionist, was the one that helped me the most. i havent come here in a while but I just wanna say thanks and its nice to know the blog is still going strong!

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