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Diets Don’t Work – Even If You Have Diabetes

By Michelle May, M.D.

If you’re like most people, you have a hard time sticking to a diet. It probably didn’t get any easier just because you have diabetes. Let’s look at why restrictive diets aren’t the answer for most people.

Your Body is Programmed to Survive

diet scale and tape measureYour body has a primitive survival mechanism that helps your body adapt to limited periods of starvation. When you go on a significantly restrictive diet you’ll lose water, fat, and even muscle-particularly if you are not exercising regularly. If you return to your previous eating habits, your body quickly replaces its fat stores. But unless you are actively exercising, you will not regain the majority of the muscle tissue you lost during the diet. Ultimately, this causes you to have a lower metabolic rate, a higher body fat percentage, and more insulin resistance than before the diet. This explains the irony that most people are less healthy than before they tried to diet.

Deprivation Can Lead to Cravings

But it’s not just your body that rebels when you diet. Your mind rebels too. When certain foods are forbidden, you may begin to feel deprived which can lead to powerful cravings. When you finally give in to the cravings for these “bad” foods, you feel guilty and out of control. You may give up the diet and binge on the foods you’ve been missing. This often leads people to develop a painful “love-hate” relationship with food. Of course, most people with diabetes blame themselves when the diet fails, but in reality, dieting itself is to blame.

Diets Ignore the Rest of You

Another problem is that diets focus on what and how much to eat and don’t address why people eat in the first place. Many people eat or overeat because of environmental triggers such as appealing food, automatic meal times, or learned messages like “clean your plate.” Restaurants, break rooms, holidays, and vacations are full of tempting “bad” foods that aren’t allowed on a diet. You can deal with it while your motivation is high, like when you were first diagnosed with diabetes or when your doctor says your A1C is way too high, but in the long run, you may feel that changing your diet to manage your diabetes just isn’t worth it.

In addition, many of your urges to eat may be triggered by emotions such as stress, boredom, loneliness, sadness, or anger. Since these emotional triggers didn’t go away when you were diagnosed or by imposing a strict set of rules, you may try to cope with them by eating the “allowed foods.” In other words, you never really give up emotional eating or learn other coping skills, so when the diet is over, you go right back to eating the way you did before. This is a problem because diabetes doesn’t go away. At this point you are probably thinking, “If diets don’t work, what am I supposed to do?” The real solution lies in relearning to trust your innate ability to know when and how much to eat so you can begin to eat in a way that fuels your body, mind, and spirit.


About the author

Michelle May, M.D. is a recovered yo-yo dieter and the founder of the Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs and Training. She is the award-winning author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat: A Mindful Eating Program to Break Your Eat-Repent-Repeat Cycle , winner of seven publishing awards. She is also the author of Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat with Diabetes, Eat What You Love, Love What You Eat for Binge Eating, and Am I Hungry? Mindful Eating for Bariatric Surgery. Michelle shares her compelling message and constructive keynotes with audiences around the country, offers workplace wellness programs, and has trained and licensed hundreds of health professionals to facilitate Am I Hungry?® Mindful Eating Programs worldwide. She has been featured on Dr. Oz, the Discovery Health Channel, and Oprah Radio, and quoted in Diabetic Living, Fitness, Health, Huffington Post, Parents, Self, USA Weekend, US News & World Report, WebMD and many others. Her personal success story was published in Chicken Soup for the Dieter's Soul. Michelle cherishes her relationships with her husband, Owen and grown children, Tyler and Elyse. She regularly enjoys practicing yoga and hiking near her home in Phoenix, Arizona. She and Owen, a professional chef, share a passion for gourmet and healthful cooking, wine tasting, photography, and traveling.

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