Diets are sad – and don’t work

Diets are sad

I often hear from people about their experience with diets or the fact that they need to go on one. Because of this, I thought I would write about why, based on all the research I have read, diets are not only sad – they also don’t work.


♦  About 41% of people end up gaining back MORE weight than they had lost from being on a diet, often leading to yo-yo dieting (source).

Explanation: When you take in too few calories, your body thinks it is starving and reacts by adjusting its metabolism to preserve energy to actively avoid rapid weight loss. This happens after about eight weeks of dieting and dates back to our cavemen days when less calories actually meant less chance of survival. Unfortunately, our bodies have not changed with modern life so when you start eating normally again, your metabolism has not readjusted and is still in ‘burn as few calories as possible’ mode.

♦ Most diets involve some form of restriction and/or deprivation. And while most dieters think this is the epitome of discipline, studies have shown that even just thinking about deprivation can actually lead to the opposite behavior. This might not be immediate: Most people manage to go through a phase of restriction or deprivation for a short period, but this is often followed by uncontrolled eating of the ‘forbidden’ food or bingeing later on. As Kelly McGonigal writes in her book, The Willpower Instinct:

From the very first forbidden fruit, prohibition has led to problems, and science is now confirming that restricting a food automatically increases your cravings for it…The more you try to avoid the food, the more your mind will be preoccupied by it.

♦ Dieting brings with it a slew of rigid rules that often lead to stress and guilt. Guilt or feeling bad about slipping up has been shown to lead to more eating in an effort to soothe oneself (source: Kelly McGonigal, The Willpower Instinct).

♦ Dieting implies an ‘all or nothing’ approach: You are either following the diet or you are not. Researchers have found that this leads to extremist decisions such as the ‘what-the-hell-effect': When dieters slip and eat a ‘forbidden’ food, they tend to think, ‘I already failed miserably at my diet by eating cake, I might as well polish the whole thing off!’ (source).

Superficial, time-limited change set diets up for failure from the beginning. Most dieters expect to have to ‘survive’ a period of restricted eating for a short while, lose weight, be fabulous, and then go back to their usual way of eating while staying fabulous. Unfortunately, when eating habits and awareness related to food haven’t actually changed, this is not going to be a long-term solution.

Above all, as stated in The Economist, dieting makes us ignore our body’s innate wisdom:

…dieting is harmful. People who diet deliberately ignore cues like hunger and satiety. As a consequence, over time, they seem to lose the ability to use them.

OK, so now that you know about what doesn’t work, next post will look into making lifestyle changes that can lead to healthy weight loss. In the meantime, eat real food but don’t diet!


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  • Hiba on Apr 17, 2013 Reply

    Thanks for your comment – I totally agree that it is more about lifestyle changes and that is what I will look into for the next post!

    As for getting your mojo back, try to look at things beyond the numbers on a scale. Why do you want to lose weight and become healthier? What would this be a launchpad towards? Fitting into your summer clothes? Actually being able to feel your age? Try to find a vision for your future self and focus on that!

  • Faris on Apr 17, 2013 Reply

    In my loooong experience with diets, I agree with your reasons above!
    I found that the most successful “diet” I was on was not about dieting at all but rather about making small changes over time.

    Now I find myself unable to get motivated to go back to that mindset. Any suggestions on how I can get my mojo back?

    Looking forward to part II!

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