There has been no evidence that dieting works as a permanent solution to weight loss. Most studies actually show that most people who go on a diet end up gain all of their weight back. Mindful Eating on the other hand has plenty of characteristics that make it easy to maintain as a sustainable long-term habit. Mindful eating compared to dieting does not have as much scientific research and evidence when compared to dieting but I believe that mindful eating is an ideal solution for changing your eating habits long term.
If you consider the short term benefit, diets can be very successful. In a meta analysis of multiple weight loss studies after a year only about 30% of people who go on a diet gain their weight back. You might have noticed the success diets have had in your personal life. You might have noticed it in yourself or with other people in your life. Going on a diet for a couple of months and losing weight can work for people. The problem is that the weight loss you gain from dieting is very rarely permanent. The same meta analysis that says that only 30% of people regain weight after one months shows that after 3 years that number goes up to about 70% and after 5 years it goes to 80%.
Most people who go on a diet will end up regaining all of the weight that they have lost. A researcher has even published a study saying that "diets are not the answer" and “there is little support for the notion that diets lead to lasting weight loss or health benefits.”
One of the best explanations for why this happens is highlighted in a TED talk with neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt. The human body likes to stay in a static state and when your weight fluctuates up or down the body tries everything it can to get it back to normal. So when you lose weight you will start to feel more hungry and unconsciously eat more food than usual. The same works for when you gain weight. You will be less hungry and feel more full with a lesser amount of food than usual.
Sandra Aamodt argues that if you lose a significant amount of weight you must deal with being hungrier and eating less than someone who has always been that weight. That means that you have to deal with eating less than the average person who is at your weight forever in order to maintain it.
One benefit that you could give to dieting is that it works much faster than mindful eating. But studies have also shown that when comparing fast weight loss to slow weight loss there is no difference in the long-term weight loss."
Researchers found that patients who lost weight more quickly tended to have a bigger reduction in obesity and better health improvements than patients who lost weight slowly. However, these improvements in health associated with faster weight loss were abolished after adjusting for absolute weight loss."
This study shows that over the long term there is no benefit to losing weight faster compared to a slower weight-loss method. So while dieting may yield quicker results the best diet is actually the one that is sustainable for you.
There are more factors than just what you eat that determines how successful that you will be at dieting. This is where mindful eating enters the equation.
I believe that mindful eating is more sustainable long term than dieting.
There have not been enough studies done on mindful eating for the science to point to mindful eating as definitely more sustainable than dieting but I will use the research that exists in long-term behavior and habit change to make the argument why dieting is harder to sustain long term than mindful eating.
You can understand why mindful eating is more sustainable than dieting once you understand the science behind how long term habits are formed.
One of the reasons that mindful eating is easier to sustain for longer is that it is so much easier than dieting. When you diet you might have to do things such as eat brand new foods, stop eating some of the foods that you enjoy the most, keep track of the things that you are eating, and more.
With mindful eating, there are a lot fewer rules. You can eat anything that you want. You only have to do one thing, bring your awareness to your food and your body. It can only take as long as a few seconds before, during, or after a meal.
Psychology Today writes in a blog post about forming new habits: "Making the action easy to do increases the likelihood that it becomes a habit." When you want to form new habits the key is to try to repeat the behavior every day for as long as you can. Repeat the behavior long enough and it will eventually be programmed into your mind so you do it without effort.
Starting a new habit is tough because you need to override the habits that you have already been programmed with. If the habit is too tough you will always default to doing the thing that is easier which will be the behavior that you are already used to doing.
Another reason mindful eating is great for sustaining long term change is the fact that eating mindfully is such a small and short task. It only takes a few seconds to bring your awareness to your food and your feelings whenever you eat. This is something you can do anywhere you eat and at any time.
One of the biggest problems with dieting is how much effort it takes to actually do it successfully, especially if you have to track your calories for every meal that you ever eat. A single missed meal my set you back in progress.To give another example let's say you want to go out to dinner with a friend. You might have to spend time looking at the menu beforehand to see if there is something that can fit into your diet. There are just a bunch of little things that make dieting take a large amount of work.
The key to creating sustainable long term habits is to start with habits that are small and easy. James clear, and expert in forming habits, explains this in this habit guide.
He believes that one of the best ways to stick to a habit long term is to start so small you don't need motivation to do the task. This is how you start with Mindful Eating. Mindful eating involves nothing else besides becoming aware of your thoughts and feelings towards the food that you are eating. All it takes is a quick pause for a few seconds before you eat to become aware of the feels that you have at the moment.