Your New Year’s Diet Will Fail. Here’s Why You Should Give it Up Now, and What to Do Instead.

Your New Year’s Diet Will Fail. Here’s Why You Should Give it Up Now, and What to Do Instead.
Photo by Thought Catalog / Unsplash

The New Year has arrived and the festive season is already feeling like a distant memory, of which the only reminders are the stray fairy lights you forgot to take down, a pile of presents that don’t yet have a home and the extra pound or two of mince pie induced weight gain. If, like many people, you’re eying yourself up begrudgingly in the mirror (why oh why did I eat so much!) and promising yourself to lose a dress size or two before Easter… well, here’s your cue to stop right now.

Diets do not work. In this article, I want to show you why and, later, explain what you can do instead to be the happiest, healthiest version of yourself - with no deprivation or willpower needed. Are you ready to wave your carb-free, cabbage-soupy, keto-induced misery goodbye, and learn (quite literally) to trust your gut?


Why diets don’t work:

  • 98% of people who lose weight on a diet gain that weight back (and often more) within a year. This is because deprivation isn’t healthy or sustainable, either mentally or physically.
  • Dieting slows down your metabolism, which makes it more difficult for you to maintain your weight long term - meaning that, before too long, you’re likely to try and start yet another diet, further slowing your metabolism and continuing the vicious cycle.
  • This cycle (and the act of deprivation in the first place) is terrible for your mental health. It reinforces the idea that there is only one body type of value (ultra slim for women, muscular for men). This can make you feel like a failure if you’re unable to meet these (often unattainable) standards, and cause you to beat yourself up for not having enough willpower to stick to your (often impossible) diet.
  • Our bodies, brains and immune systems require energy to run optimally. Restrictive diets typically don’t provide enough energy and nutrients to meet even our day-to-day resting requirements - let alone additional energy needs when moving, concentrating, healing or adjusting to different temperatures. This is obviously damaging to our bodies and disruptive to what we want to achieve (how can we be productive if we have no energy?). It also makes us more susceptible to making (quote unquote) “bad” food choices - i.e. high sugar, high fat snacks - to quickly get enough energy into our fuel-deprived bodies.

    (NB. in reality there is no such thing as a good or bad food - labelling food in this way is a side effect of a diet / restriction mentality. Foods might be more or less nutritious, but they are not inherently good or bad, and all foods can have a place in a healthy, balanced diet. However, the point still stands that by restricting yourself, you’re more likely to crave the high-sugar and fat foods that you’re trying to avoid in the first place, to account for this calorie deficit).
  • Starving yourself so that your body can use its existing stores of energy does not mean that your body will automatically draw on your stored fat as fuel. Indeed, often you’ll lose muscle mass, making you weaker and not necessarily achieving the physique you’re after. Losing muscle may also slow down metabolism.
  • Dieting often leads to a terrible relationship with food. Food is one of our basic survival needs - like breathing, sleeping and water. You don’t want to mess up this relationship, turning food from something that is both a necessity and a pleasure into something highly controlled and abused. In fact, doing so often leads to eating disorders which are awful, difficult to cure and psychological conditions with one of the highest mortality rates, worldwide.
  • Deprivation often causes you to binge if you “fall off the wagon”. This can lead to you consuming way more food than is comfortable, in an all-or-nothing, “I’ll start again tomorrow” mentality. In doing this, it’s easy to drastically increase your overall calorie consumption, preventing weight loss (and sometimes leading to weight gain). Such binges can easily become a pattern of behaviour, fuelled by guilt or shame, triggering yet more deprivation and, sooner or later, another binge.
  • Diets aren’t supposed to work. The diet industry is worth more than £2 billion / year, in the UK alone. It’s so lucrative because it’s based on you coming back for more, month after month, year after year.
  • Your body isn’t necessarily supposed to look like the models you see in magazines or on Instagram - and no amount of dieting will make it do so.
Photo by Graphic Node / Unsplash

What you should do instead:

As someone who has struggled with (and happily recovered from) disordered eating, I can say first-hand that diets do not work. For ten miserable years, I tried to manipulate and deprive my body into changing, trying every diet in the book to do so. Initially, I lost weight quickly - too much weight, and far too quickly in fact.

I struggled with anorexia for a couple of years. Soon, this turned into binge eating disorder - an underdiagnosed condition, despite the fact that it’s thought to make up the majority of cases of disordered eating worldwide. For those of you who are lucky enough not to have struggled with BED, I implore you to look it up. It’s a horrible cycle to be stuck in, oscillating between periods of extreme deprivation and uncontrollable urges to eat, going into autopilot to do so, often to the point of feeling full to burst and very unwell. Both my anorexia and BED were the result of our society’s focus on being slim. How sad it is that by 15 years old, I was already facing the repercussions of extreme dieting?


I no longer struggle with disordered eating and I have a great relationship with food. I will never diet again, yet despite this I’m consistently at my lowest (but still healthy) weight than since pre-binge eating days - something I know only from the occasional doctor's appointment, as I no longer weigh myself regularly.

Sometimes the very best breakfast eats are the simplest.
Photo by Brooke Lark / Unsplash

How?

I stopped prioritising weight loss and focussed on what my body actually wanted - in other words, I unlearned everything I knew about dieting and learned to trust my intuition again. We’re born instinctively knowing when we want food and when we’re satiated - do you ever see a baby or wild animal binge eating or dieting? We also know, deep down, what kind of food we want - what will nourish us and make us feel good. If you can learn to listen to what you actually want and need and honour that, then dieting is no longer necessary.

I know that it sounds quite scary surrendering control and trusting yourself to make the “right” decisions about what to eat. Perhaps you’re imagining a free-for-all - and if you’re in the mindset of deprivation, at first it might be. You might want to eat anything and everything, as quickly as you can; pizza, chocolate, ice cream, and everything else you’ve avoided for years. My advice? Honour those cravings - eat it, as much of it as you like and whenever you want it. You need to let your body know that these things are no longer off-limits - eventually it’ll realise that it doesn’t need to gorge on it all right now (and that it doesn’t feel good to do so). There’ll be other chances, and you’ll enjoy them.


It can be terrifying to go from strict control over what you eat to total freedom, but it’s so important. Through this process, you’ll gradually learn that even though you can eat nothing but fast food and sweets all day if you choose to, that actually doesn’t feel that great in your body. You’ll start to become aware of what your body actually wants and needs to run optimally. Unsurprisingly, your body will typically want a wide range of nutritious and delicious foods that meet all of its demands in terms of energy and nutrients. If you learn to surrender to the wisdom of your body, it’ll do its job - which is to say it’ll keep you healthy and happy.

Photo by Caju Gomes / Unsplash

I’m not claiming here that you’re guaranteed to lose drastic amounts of weight (or even any at all), but then again, as I’ve explained, a diet cannot promise you this either. What I am promising you - if you’re willing to trust yourself - is another option away from the deprivation, self-flagellation and guilt that is dieting. It’s hard - it’s a whole new way of thinking and it does mean throwing aside the rulebook that’s likely governed your life for years - but my gosh is it worth it.

Eating intuitively (really listening and responding to your body’s actual wants and needs) is likely to help you become the healthiest version of yourself. Unlike the diet industry, I won’t bullsh*t you and tell you that you’ll soon resemble a catwalk model or hollywood superstar. What I can promise you, though, is that your mind and body will thank you, and you’ll feel much happier and healthier as a result.


Alex Grunnill works for Stillpoint, and is based in London, UK. She is passionate about psychology, travelling, sustainability and linguistics. She hopes eventually to train as a psychotherapist. You can find her on Linked In.


Stillpoint is an organisation that aims to make psychology more publicly accessible, through events, online content and a virtual community for the psychologically curious.