Dieting Is Not The Problem, HOW You’re Doing It Is The Problem

Dieting Is Not The Problem, HOW You’re Doing It Is The Problem

Dieting can be a huge problem for many but don’t be so quick to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Ivan Gavranic Ivan Gavranic · Oct 31st, 2022

Nutrition Intermediate
15 Mins


    A common theme I am seeing emerging over the last year within the fitness industry is the bashing of dieting in all forms, with special attention being given to the following statements.

    “98% of dieters fail.”

    “The biggest precursor to developing an eating disorder is dieting.”

    “According to the American National Eating Disorders Association, 35% of ‘normal dieters’ tend to become pathological dieters.”

    “Most diets, regardless of their particular nature, result in short-term weight loss that is not sustainable”

    And without context or a sound understanding of nutrition, I 100% agree with all of these statements.

    So many people struggle with nutrition their entire lives, always feeling like they are on a diet but continuing to gain weight and develop a dysfunctional relationship with food. 

    Our society definitely has its flaws and I do believe that “diet culture” is a very real thing. Tik Tok is a great example of this where the most common trends relating to nutrition (at the time of writing this) are people promoting ketogenic diets and “metabolism drops” to lose body fat. 

    Diet culture is a dominant cultural discourse that is ‘predicated on the fear of fatness and equates weight loss with health’. This is very easy to see when scrolling through social media, watching television but is also assumed when working with a company who specialises in seeing a world transformed through physical change.

    Considering that perception is everything, diet culture and dieting are not synonymous. In fact, the word diet comes from the Greek work “diaita” which means “way of life”. 

    And no, this is not to say that your life is just one big diet! Instead, what and how you eat should complement your life in a positive way.

    Let’s look at some other common ideas against dieting and dissect them with more scrutiny.

    “Dieting increases your risk of weight gain.”

    I understand the notion where this comes from but how most people interpret this message is “well if dieting causes weight gain, why bother trying?” which is absolutely not the case.

    Poor dietary methods and habits will definitely increase your chances of weight gain/regain. Some example of this include:

    • Restricting far more calories than what is needed.
    • Eliminating food groups completely.
    • Aiming for unrealistic rates of weight loss (above 1% of your BW for weeks on end).
    • Not eating enough protein, leading to muscle mass loss.
    • Not knowing when to make adjustments.
    • Being rigid in their thinking (can only eat “clean” foods).
    • Unnecessary fasting.
    • Unable to navigate social situations intelligently.
    • Using food as a coping mechanism.

    When dieting results in any of the above, then yes, dieting definitely increases the chances of weight gain but with a more methodical and educational approach (like we do here at RNT with all of our members) then you are reducing the risks substantially.

    “Dieting slows down your metabolism.”

    This is the one I hear quite a lot and at first glance, is technically true. Without getting too technical, energy expenditure (or how much energy we burn) can be broken down into the following categories.

    • Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)- The energy required to just “keep the lights on” if you were laying in bed all day.

    • Thermic Effect Of Food (TEF)- The energy required to digest and assimilate your food.

    • Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- The energy you burn during your exercise sessions.

    • Non- Exercise Activity Thermogenesis- The energy you burn doing NON exercise related activities such as walking, cleaning the house, fidgeting, etc.

    All of the above can and will be impacted by dieting but regardless, it simply doesn’t mean anything.

    By putting yourself into a caloric deficit via eating less, moving more or a combination of both then your metabolic rate may in fact slow down.

    Why does this happen? Being a smaller person in general requires less energy to sustain meaning the calories you were consuming at say 80kg, will be different to if you were at 65kg. 

    This does not mean that dieting “slowed down your metabolism” but instead, losing weight is what slowed down your metabolism which is a completely normal physiological response.

    Outside of that, there is definitely another component that impacts differently which is called “metabolic adaptation”. Put simply, it’s the difference between what someone is expected to be expending at their new body weight vs what they are actually expending.

    Using the same example from above, someone who has dieted from 80kg down to 65kg may go from eating 2800 calories per day down to 2300 to maintain their new body weight (predicted value). 

    But once this person actually gets there, they notice that they only need 2150 calories to maintain, meaning there was a 150 calorie ‘adaptation’ that occurred. This adaptation is never a massive difference and according to the latest research, appears to be between 5-15% which is never enough to augment someone’s progress meaning no matter how much the metabolism adapts or “slows down”, you can always continue losing weight.

    This may be a very crude example but if this wasn’t true, dying of starvation would be an impossibility and individuals with anorexia would not get down to such low body weights.

    “Dieting causes your appetite to increase, leading to the regaining of any weight you do lose.”

    Again, technically true as part of losing fat does come with increases in hunger. This is inevitable but can be managed through a variety of strategies which we have spoken about here and here.

    The thing is, extreme levels of hunger should NOT be part of the majority of your experience meaning that something within your plan is not set up appropriately (see point 2 above). 

    Granted, there are individual differences when it comes to how quickly someone experiences higher levels of hunger when they start dieting but with a well constructed plan, accountability, education and expert guidance, most people can get themselves to a healthy body weight without unnecessary friction.

    Going beyond this and to the extreme is a different story altogether and yes, high levels of hunger will become the norm for a period of time. We don’t recommend everyone goes to this level and we will always consult with the client and let them know what it’s in store but on the flipside, experiencing that hunger and learning how to deal with it can do wonders for mental fortitude.

    Can this be taken too far? Absolutely. In fact, many individuals with anorexia nervosa actually get a euphoric high from starving themselves. Yes, starving feels like taking ecstasy within this population but this is not what we are talking about within this article.

    The point is, experiencing bouts of tolerable hunger is nothing to be afraid of and can be a really good way to help you improve your behaviour around nutrition as for a lot of people, it’s very difficult to understand the difference between true physiological and hunger that is stemming from psychological or emotional triggers.

    “Dieting increases cravings and binges.”

    This may sound very plausible but when we look at the research into what risk factors are involved with binge eating disorder, the act of dieting to lose weight doesn’t even make the list.

    The below was taken from this book which was updated in 2022.

    • Childhood obesity
    • Loss of controlled eating in childhood
    • Perfectionism
    • Conduct problems
    • Substance abuse
    • Family weight concerns and eating problems
    • Family conflicts and parenting problems
    • Parental psychopathology
    • Physical and sexual abuse
    • Mental health impairment
    • Distorted body image perception

    If anything, these risk factors may also enhance someone’s desire to want to diet but as you can see, many of the risk factors come from deeper issues the individual must resolve.

    Anecdotally, all the individuals we have worked with who suffer from binge eating tendencies have had to work through problems in their personal lives. In these situations, taking control of your nutrition can be extremely empowering.

    Check out Bijal’s transformation story here as she is a perfect example of how someone who previously had a horrible relationship with food and her body, managed to fix it WHILE getting into the shape of her life.

    Bijal's Transformation
    The below are direct quotes from her!

    “For me The Grind was like a much needed detox. It was really tough but it had to be done! I am eternally grateful to RNT, the support they gave me throughout was invaluable and I found the strength to wake up and keep going in my journey. The really amazing thing was, I was walking on the treadmill, which is in the shed, and I noticed in the corner these cans of Nourishment. That’s what I used to drink when I was anorexic! My parents would feed me cans of that drink so I could put on some weight while I was recovering. 

    Being anorexic was a major part of my life but at some point I had blocked it out, I had totally forgotten that I had gone through that! And suddenly, in the free, uncluttered time on the treadmill, I remembered! I had flashbacks of going through anorexia, the struggles I had with my own self esteem at that time! I would cry thinking about all of the pain and embarrassment I had gone through. After The Grind when I look at myself in the mirror I see strong Bijal, I see someone who has shed a lot of negativity.”

    I have changed my thoughts, opinions, values and priorities. I now have a good, healthy relationship with food, I understand more about nutrition and how as long as I keep an eye on my macros, I can keep on top of my calories.”

    Dieting Done Right

    Here at RNT, we appear to always get individuals who have tried everything under the sun with very little hope that this time things will be different. We are always appalled by the horror stories we hear and frankly, a higher standard needs to be raised across the entire industry (a topic for another day!).

    I agree, health is far more than just what you weigh and what you look like. The World Health Organisation defines health with the following statement:

    “A state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

    But what many don’t seem to realise is that without a robust physical base, it’s very difficult to achieve all of those other markers of health.

    How can you contribute to society if you’re always feeling lethargic?

    How much can you really give to your work and if you cannot focus?

    How can you improve your relationships if you don’t feel confident within yourself?

    I can already hear you saying, “I don’t need to have a six pack or a flat stomach to do all of those things” - which is 100% true. We are not saying you need to be shredded or a fitness fanatic to do great things but from what we see all the time, a huge physical transformation (which involves dieting) can have incredible benefits to someone’s life.

    Do you think Priti, at 57 years old, is in a better place now or before she “dieted”?

    Priti's transformation
    “I have seen many family members struggle with their day to day mobility and I felt that I had to make my health a priority to remain independent and flexible for as long as possible and it was very much a now or never moment for me. This pushed me to seek a credible but safe environment where I would lose weight through eating nutritional foods, without compromising on my health and become fitter through exercise tailored to suit me. All this had to fit into my demanding and changeable day. A tall order, but RNT and its on-line coaching ticked all the boxes for me.”

    It’s also important to add that she suffers from rheumatoid arthritis which is an autoimmune condition that is categorised by a deterioration of the lining of specific joints over a long period of time. 

    At the start of her journey, she could barely move for longer than 5-10 minutes without pain which was exacerbated by carrying excessive body weight. Research shows that losing weight is one of the best things you can do for rheumatoid arthritis and on top of that, dietary interventions are also encouraged.

    “Conclusion: Some dietary approaches may improve RA symptoms and thus it is recommended that nutrition should be routinely addressed.”

    Wrapping Up

    As it always does in the fitness industry, I believe the pendulum has swung way too far in the opposite direction when it comes to dieting. 

    Yes, there are toxic ideas and misconceptions that need to change such as:

    But on the flipside, dieting when executed appropriately, under the guidance of professionals, amongst a community of like minded peers with ongoing education and support, it can be one of the most positive, life changing things you ever do. 

    Losing fat is not the only way to health, but you cannot argue with the evidence demonstrating that having healthy levels of body fat is simply far more protective against the following:

    • Cardiovascular disease
    • Stroke
    • Hypertension
    • Type II Diabetes
    • Metabolic Syndrome
    • Certain cancers
    • Osteoarthritis
    • Alzheimers
    • Dementia
    • GI disorders
    • Sleep Apnea

    Additionally, dieting is NOT something anyone should be doing for their entire life. We are big advocates of “do it once, do it right” when it comes to fat loss meaning as soon as you hit your first transformation checkpoint, we safely guide you to a position where you can maintain a very healthy weight without so much cognitive effort.

    Yes, you can lose body fat and keep it off over the long term just like many who have gone through the RNT process. 

    If you yourself have been a victim of the negatives of diet culture or feel like you have been dieting for decades with nothing to show for it, then make sure you register for our next intake and join the thousands of people we have already helped transform into the best versions of themselves. 

    Ivan GavranicIvan Gavranic

    Ivan Gavranic is RNT’s Head of Applied Research, where his focus is on translating scientific research into real world practical applications for our members. As one of our leading coaches based in Australia, Ivan has lived and breathed transformation for over ten years, staying now at sub 6% body fat year round, he continues to focus on attaining calisthenic and gymnastic skills you only see in the movies!

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