The Nutrition gurus have always told us to eat less and exercise more if we want to lose weight. In theory, this makes sense – burn more calories than you eat, and the weight will come off.

But study after study shows that, in the long run, dieting is rarely effective. Not only that, but eating fewer calories does not reliably improve health and can do more harm than good.

From research that has been conducted, 30 long-term dieting studies showed that more than two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they lost. Dieters are more likely than non-dieters to gain weight over time, even after accounting for genetics. And, despite what most people think, the problem is not willpower.

Everyone weight range varies from person to person, and is determined by both genes and life experience. Our bodies are wired for survival and, as far as your body is concerned, dieting is a form of starvation. When you attempt to eat fewer calories than you need, your body switches into survival mode. Metabolism slows down as your body attempts to conserve energy. Levels of leptin – an appetite hormone – decrease, causing you to feel hungrier and increasing cravings. As you continue to eat less than you need, your body starts to break down muscle to use for energy. This muscle loss causes metabolism to slow further, so you burn even fewer calories.

Typical calorie restriction behaviors like limiting or cutting out certain foods can also cause psychological damage. Diet backlash occurs, where even the thought of a “forbidden” food is enough to trigger overeating. As soon as you tell yourself you can’t have something, it becomes impossible to stop thinking about it. The more you try not to eat certain foods, the more likely you are to overeat once you have access to them, since you don’t know when you’ll be able to eat them again. This cycle continues: food or calorie restriction, followed by deprivation, which causes overeating, then guilt.

If eating fewer calories doesn’t work, what should you do instead? Practice intuitive eating. Intuitive eating is about learning to trust your body and its signals.

Get back in touch with the intuitive eater inside of you with these four tips:

1. Give yourself permission to eat all kinds of food

Stop categorizing foods as “good” or “bad.” Allow all foods to fit in your diet and give yourself unconditional permission to eat whatever you want. Remember, food rules start the cycle of restriction-deprivation-overeating-guilt. By allowing yourself to eat whatever you want, you stop this cycle in its tracks. As your body learns to trust that it has access to any and all foods, cravings and overeating decrease.

2. Learn to honor your hunger and fullness cues

Hunger is a normal, biological process. If you try to override this process by cutting calories, skipping meals or not eating enough, your body will respond with cravings and overeating. Your body needs to be able to trust that it will consistently have access to food, so start tuning in to feelings of hunger and feeding your body. At the same time, feel your fullness. Halfway through a meal or snack, pause and check in with your body. How does the food taste? Are you starting to feel full? How satisfied are you? Do the same check toward the end of your meal. The hunger-fullness scale can help with this.

3. Don’t discount the importance of satisfaction.

You can be physically full and still not feel satisfied, which leaves you looking for more and more food until you feel content. Make a list of the foods that feel satisfying to you and incorporate them on a regular basis. For example, yogurt and granola could be a filling breakfast, but if you’re more satisfied with a hot meal, you may end up overeating later on. When you eat the foods you really want and really enjoy, the feeling of satisfaction will help you be more content (and often with less food).

4. Get rid of the food police.

The food police are the thoughts in your head that monitor everything you eat or think about eating. They are the unreasonable food rules that you’ve developed over years of hearing diet talk. It’s the voice that says you’re “good” when you have salad for lunch and “bad” when you eat dessert. Challenging the food police is an essential step in becoming an intuitive eater.

If you are to go on very restricted diet I would suggest to only go on this for 6-8 weeks, and only if you are going on holiday or a wedding etc. For more nutritional information please follow @shanewalshfitness on Instagram or if you are looking for a tailored plan feel free to drop me an email