Why you shouldn’t start a diet in January

07-01-2022 Cecily Ellis

January is that time of year when everyone seems to be on a diet, just giving up on a diet, or trying to sell you something for their new miracle diet. A survey conducted by Blauw Research done in January 2020 found that 25% of people wanted to lose weight [1]. And while there’s nothing wrong with using the new year to look at your life and evaluate if there are things you wish to change, I’m just here to ask the question if a diet is the solution you think it is.

By now we know very well that dieting is a risky business. In one study they followed a group of nearly 200 participants for 3 years after losing weight during a guided nutrition program. They found that only twelve percent of the participants maintained 75% of their weight loss after leaving the diet program, 57% maintained at least 5% of the loss, and 40% gained back more than they had lost during the diet [2]. Now I’m not a gambling gal, but those aren’t great odds. And keep in mind, these people received guidance from a diet clinic. I think we can all agree the chance of success is likely much lower for those embarking single-handedly on crash diets.

However, you could also look at the numbers above and think; “I might be in that 12 percent”. And you are right, you might be. But by dieting you are risking more than just weight gain in the long term. The USA National Eating Disorders Association found that 35% of dieting becomes obsessive, and 20 to 25% of those diets turn into eating disorders [3]. I for one would be interested to know how many people in that study didn’t develop a full blown eating disorder, but did worsen their relationship with food during that diet.

So what should you do? A good way to start is to ask yourself why you want to lose weight in the first place. Do you want to improve your health? Do you not like what you see in the mirror? Are you worried what other people think of how you look? There is no wrong answer to this question, but if answered truthfully it opens up a whole realm of options to work on besides focussing on weight loss.

Let’s say you want to work on your health. In that case you could focus on your sleep quality and duration. Or maybe work to improve your stress management. Or you could commit to finding a type of exercise that you enjoy, and start working out on a regular basis. There are so many lower risk, higher reward ways to improve your health. And you never know, you might end up losing weight naturally along the way.

Maybe you don’t like what you see in the mirror, and that can be a horrible experience. But while how you feel about your body is always valid, it might not always be realistic or even true. Ask yourself if losing 10 kg is really going to change how you feel. Sometimes it’s not our bodies that should change, but the way we view ourselves. Also, take a moment to reflect on if this really is something you want, or if it’s something imposed on you by others, or by what you believe others think. If anyone who is not a certified medical professional with relevant medical test results is telling you to go on a diet, perhaps you would do better to lose them rather than lose weight.

Now just to clarify, sometimes weight loss is the right answer. However, I believe that many people opt for a diet when there are safer, healthier and more efficient alternatives available. I believe that many people would benefit more from being kinder to the person in the mirror than changing it. And I believe that those who do decide to attempt weight loss should do so with the right guidance, and should be fully aware of what they’re getting into. Find yourself a qualified nutritionist who won’t just calculate your macros or give you a diet plan, but will help you build new, healthy habits that will last a lifetime. Be prepared to look at more than just the food you eat, but work on your stress management, sleep and your relationship with food. Don’t diet as a quick fix, change your lifestyle for the long haul.

Whatever you decide to do, I hope you now embark with more knowledge and valid options to choose from. May this new year bring you health, happiness and positive change. And cake, because cake is awesome.

[1] https://nieuws.ah.nl/download/819097/onderzoekgezonderetenvanalbertheijnuitgevoerddoorblauwresearch.pdf
[2] Grodstein, F., Levine, R., Troy, L., Spencer, T., Colditz, G. A., & Stampfer, M. J. (1996). Three-year follow-up of participants in a commercial weight loss program. Can you keep it off?. Archives of internal medicine, 156(12), 1302–1306.
[3] “Eating Disorders on the College Campus.” National Eating Disorders Association, Feb. 2013.

Cecily Ellis

About Cecily Ellis

Cecily is a CrossFit, Strength and Olympic weightlifting coach at UnScared. She devoted most of her young life to competitive swimming and gymnastics, only to discover UnScared and fall in love with CrossFit and Olympic Weightlifting. She now spends her days studying computer science, doing snatches and baking protein-filled goods. Don’t let her love of fluffy animals and British accent deceive you however, her puns are still unBEARable.

Leave a comment