3 Reasons Why Dieting Makes Us Feel So Good

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You’ve heard the claims before, perhaps you’ve even said them:

“This diet has increased my energy so much that I’m waking up easily in the mornings and feeling alert and active all day.”

“I’m not even hungry on this (low calorie) diet. My cravings have disappeared.”

“It’s like the weight is just falling off.  I’ve finally found the plan that works!”

“My sore joints and stiffness are gone and my {INSERT PHYSICAL AILMENT OR CONDITION HERE} has decreased tremendously.”

And so it goes.

While I’m admittedly anti-diet, I can’t – IN GOOD CONSCIENCE  – refute these assertions.  In fact, I’ve experienced them myself in my meal plan/calorie-counting days.  Diets do, for a period of time, make us feel AMAZING. They often do result in increased energy, decreased cravings and feelings of health and vitality. They often do produce initial weight loss. So, rather than disprove these common diet exclamations I’m choosing to explain them:


Wait, what?  How does stress explain the positive physical benefits of fad-diets, calorie restriction and elimination protocols?

Because the human body is awesome – that’s how.

You see, when our bodies are stressed whether it be from life events, excessive rigorous exercise, macronutrient restriction (think: low carb or low fat diets), fasting, or long term calorie deficits they automatically initiate a sympathetic nervous system response, otherwise known as fight-or-flight.  As a result of this primal process, stimulatory adrenal hormones known as catecholamines are elevated. And wouldn’t you know it – a rise in catecholamines causes a rise in body temperature, energy and mood as well as a decrease in fat tissue, pain and appetite.

Like I said, the claims of FEEL GOOD diets are REAL (at first).

However, continued sympathetic nervous system dominance doesn’t produce the same effect.  Eventually (like, after a month or two of dieting) cortisol is increased, insulin production is dercreased, and adrenal gland receptors begin to shut down. Fat stores increase, appetite and cravings sky rocket, mood and energy plummet and unwanted physical symptoms return.

Eventually, the very same diet that made us feel AH-MAZING starts making us feel like crap.  AND WHILE WE MAY BE LED TO BELIEVE (by businesses banking on our insecurity) THAT THIS IS SOMEHOW OUR FAULT – IT ISN’T.  OUR INEVITABLE RETURN FROM THE DIET HONEYMOON HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH A LACK OF WILL POWER, LAZINESS OR GOD FORBID – that COOKIE WE ATE YESTERDAY THAT WASN’T “ON PLAN.”  It has to do with our miracle of a body reacting quite appropriately to long term deprivation and stress.


In a society obsessed with thinness – a culture that vilifies fat and has confused health with gravitational pull – dieting is a means of proving ourselves worthy.

Moralistic views of food as “good” or “bad,” “guiltless” meals, and “sinful” desserts are but a few in a long list of SHAME-INDUCING TERMS coined by the diet industry and embraced by the people (that’s us).  This language reflects the pervasive belief that fixation on fat loss is a holy endeavor. 


And thus, when we control our food intake we join ourselves with something bigger. We become a community member (raw vegan, paleo, Whole30, SouthBeach, HCG, IF, IIFYM, WTF).  We become part of a group that claims to “know the truth” and “have the answers.” In this group we find safety in dogma designed to purify us by regulating our food beliefs and behaviors. AND we defy death – or at least try to delay it – with the weight loss, nutrition and health claims touted by our diet denomination.

Diet culture tells us that we are good people who are making responsible choices through eliminating food groups, restricting calories and decreasing our pant size.  And we all know that IT FEELS GOOD TO BE GOOD. Neuroscience has proven through various studies that when we act in ways which we believe are honorable, such as donating money to charity or helping an elderly person with their groceries, the very same areas of our brain are triggered as when we experience sexual pleasure. It follows that the same “feel good” hormones are released as well, diminishing pain, increasing heart rate and promoting feelings of euphoria.

So, is it any wonder that in this age when leanness is synonymous with godliness – dieting feels like heaven?


Food allergies are REAL.  Food sensitivities are REAL.  And the physical relief we feel after eliminating foods that our bodies don’t respond well to are also quite REAL.

Because most diets include an element of elimination like:

No dairy / No soy / No gluten /No meat

No grains / No legumes / No sugar

No fat / No carbs / No fruit

Dieters who do indeed have an allergy or sensitivity to an eliminated food will likely feel better as a result of the regimen. Decreased joint pain, digestive ease, elimination of fatigue and diminished inflammation are only a few of the valid, positive outcomes from cutting out allergens.

However, food allergies and sensitivities aren’t always (or often) the reason that diets feel good.  Most bodies, free from auto immune disorders such as Celiac or diseases of the digestive tract, don’t require the complete elimination of food groups in order to function optimally.  But, because the claim of food intolerance is an easy cover for weight-loss-motivated restriction “food sensitivity” has become increasingly common.


It’s true, dieting does make us feel better if it inadvertently eliminates a food our bodies react to poorly.  But, more often than not, any positive physiological effects of cutting calories or eliminating foods are likely attributed to the aforementioned reasons: physical stress response and diet culture righteousness. And eventually, these FEEL GOOD factors backfire. Fad diets fall in and out of favor faster than fashion trends and stress only gives us superpowers for so long. 

So, YES while I’d have to agree that there are valid reason why dieting makes us feel so good…


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1 thought on “3 Reasons Why Dieting Makes Us Feel So Good”

  1. Thanks for this explanation! It is so hard this time of year not to fall prey to all the endless dieting, meal plans, etc. flooding the media. I so appreciate blogs like yours for keeping us enlightened in a healthier and saner way 🙂


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