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  • Haleh Olsen, MS.CN

Why diets don’t work, and what to do instead

Updated: Sep 9


How can I love myself, knowing that I'm going to always be fluffy?


When my client asked me this question, I didn’t know what to say. I didn’t see her as “fluffy” or “thin,” I saw her as a whole, worthy person. Before coming to me, she had tried everything under the sun to lose weight, with no luck. She counted calories, cut out food groups, exercised to the point of over training, but the weight stayed. She’d begun to believe that the occasional donut or glass of wine, or tiny bite of rice while cooking dinner had derailed her weight loss efforts. 


So when she came to me frustrated and said, “I’d like my body back,” I had to tell her I didn’t actually know how to help with the weight. But I did know how to make her body feel better and run better. 


As a nutritionist, I am opposed to dieting. I believe in starting simple and addressing the nutrition basics. I teach clients how to make easy, impactful lifestyle changes that will support their health throughout life. Often during that journey, extra weight often starts to fall off on its own. No harsh diets required.


Why don’t diets work? 

Diets, in my opinion, are designed as a shortcut to weight loss. While some folks reach their weight goals through dieting, it’s not possible for everyone. And in most cases, maintaining that harsh diet becomes an overwhelming challenge. When you think of your health in terms of, “How quickly can I get there?” you set yourself up for both disappointment and health complications. 


Your body needs a certain number of calories each day to function properly. Think of it like paying the mortgage on a house. You are expected to pay a certain amount of dollars every month. If you skip a payment, or pay even one dollar less than the required amount, you get into trouble. Your body is the same way. If you eat 100 calories less than you need to function, your body will notice. If you do this every day, eventually your calorie debt to your body gets so high that you stop absorbing nutrients from your food. At that point, your body says, “Okay, I know you have this much debt, so I'm going to support myself by holding on to the weight I already have, slowing the metabolism, and increasing inflammation.” 


This is why after initially losing weight on a diet, people often notice the weight creeping back on in a short period of time. Then suddenly, they jump above their starting weight. Coming down from that new number becomes even more difficult as the body becomes more resistant to weight loss. The cycle just continues.


Don’t fight your body, support it.

If you’re feeling frustrated about diets, I have some wonderful news for you. You can stop dieting. You are worthy just as you are. Understand that your body is doing its best to protect you. It responds poorly to diets because deprivation makes it think you’re starving to death, so it holds on to your weight to keep you alive. That’s a helpful instinct! Your body is on your side. 


Rather than torturing your body with calorie restriction, let’s find ways to nourish and support it. This approach tends to melt some extra pounds off on its own, but even if it doesn’t, your body will feel better and run better. That’s what matters. So here are a few things you can do instead of dieting to nourish your body: 

  • Focus on healing existing health issues. Got high blood pressure? Cholesterol issues? Work on those before anything else.

  • Build a supportive health team. Fully addressing your health can involve your primary care doctor, a mental health professional, a nutritionist, and other specialists. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help. If money is a concern, ask about insurance options and sliding scale policies that can help you cut costs. 

  • Look closely at your personal relationships. Try to surround yourself with supportive loved ones who can encourage you to reach your wellness goals, and celebrate with you along the way. 

  • Move your body. Find a way to exercise that feels good to you. Walk, jog, lift weights, try pilates, the sky’s the limit. Even if it’s simply doing some stretches before bed, movement is essential for the body.

  • Throw out your scale! I promise you, you don’t need it. Focus on the way you feel instead of an arbitrary goal weight.

Though the client I mentioned earlier initially resisted giving up dieting and over-exercising, once she got on board with this balanced approach, she finally started seeing results. Within three months, she noticed a few small health issues had cleared up and she felt much better than usual. Within four months, she’d lost 10 pounds. Without dieting, deprivation, or over-exercising.  If you need support on your nutrition journey; Contact me to set up a virtual consultation. I would love to help you make friends with your food.

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Haleh inspires me! With her vast knowledge and ability to explain everything in terms that are easy for a nutritional novice to understand. I greatly value Haleh! She is a Godsend!

I enjoy meeting up with Haleh, I feel like i am meeting with someone who understands and genuinely care about me. Thank you.

Haleh did a great job of asking questions, explaining fully what she thought I might be struggling with and making suggestions that were right for my life and budget. Highly recommend!