Stepping on that torture tool I call the scale won’t make fat come off any faster. When it comes to losing weight, reality is not that simple. There are complex mechanisms operating here. I will try to simplify those for you.

When you’re dieting, your body must find a way to function without the appropriate calories, usually those coming from carbohydrates. But by doing so, you are losing lean tissue; therefore, you are not gaining muscle mass. The brain needs carbohydrates and when not enough comes from food, it uses up the carbs stored as glycogen in your muscles. Glucose is the form of sugar that travels in your bloodstream, responsible for your brain power. Glucose is the only fuel normally used by brain cells. This blood sugar is obtained from carbohydrates: the starches and sugars you eat in the form of grains and legumes, fruits and vegetables.

Too much sugar or refined carbohydrates at one time, however, can actually deprive your brain of glucose – depleting its energy supply and compromising your brain's power to concentrate, remember, and learn. Mental activity requires a lot of energy.

When you do that long enough, your body will get the wrong message: it will increase your hunger signals and intensify your interest in food, making you get off that diet. You become so deprived that seeing and smelling food will only make you hungrier! Resisting will lead to irritability, lack of concentration, and eventually depressive symptoms. It's purely physical.

That is usually what leads to compulsive eating. You eat more than needed because the body wants you to store calories as fat. By dieting the wrong way, you've told your body that it’s in starvation mode; therefore, a reserve of fat is needed!

So dieting ultimately leads to the replacement of healthy muscle into ‘not so healthy fat’, usually around the waist. That is called ‘slowing down of metabolism’. Consequently, having less muscle mass means that the body has to function with fewer calories in order to survive. So when you go back to doing the same diet you were on before, your body has learned to store a bigger part of your intake.

Another important factor one must pay heed to is that losing muscle leads to dehydration. Muscles are normally full of water, less muscle means letting go of that water, which has a weight of its own. So when you step on the scale and see the numbers go down, it’s just an illusion. All the weight you lose that way is likely to be replaced by fat sooner or later.

Once you learn the facts, can you say it works?There are ways to reverse this slowing down of the metabolism, making sure that fat is lost, not muscle mass. It is certainly not through food deprivation. The fat you have accumulated through dieting will not come off with diets. So eating according to your own needs is the first step. Think long term. Establishing a healthy relationship with food so that it can accelerate your metabolism can be done with proper guidance. Feeling better about yourself does not mean depriving yourself of the foods you love.

Start by being kind to yourself and respecting your body. The first step to a healthier and happier you is breaking free from diets!

About the Author:

Marie-France Lalancette, registered dietician, is the director of Nutrition Familia, which offers the “Break free from diets” program, an eight-week program to help people with a long diet history to reintegrate a healthy lifestyle. She is the author of the The Stop dieting, Start living program, published at Les Éditions de l’Homme and has 17 years of experience in healthy weight management programs and helping people with body image issues.