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Why Diets Fail (And What To Do Instead!)

For decades now, if you wanted to lose weight, you had one choice: go on a diet. Millions of people have done so (and continue to do so) if an effort to shed some unwanted pounds. However, research continually shows us that diets fail; they are almost always unsuccessful in the long run, leading to frustration and disappointment for those who try them.

diets fail

There have been numerous studies on the success rates of diets, and the data consistently shows that diets fail- they are almost always unsuccessful in the long term. Here are a few examples:

  • A study published in the American Psychologist found that while diets can result in short-term weight loss, the majority of individuals who lose weight through dieting regain the weight back within 5 years, with some gaining even more weight than they initially lost.
  • A review in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics found that after 2-5 years, most individuals who had lost weight through dieting regained most of the weight they had lost.
  • A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that there was no significant difference between a low-carb diet and a low-fat diet in terms of long-term weight loss or maintenance.
  • A review of popular diets published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism found that the most important factor in weight loss is adherence to a healthy lifestyle, rather than following a specific diet plan.

So why are diets so overwhelmingly unsuccessful and why do we keep doing this to ourselves?

One of the primary reasons that diets fail is that they are often very restrictive, eliminating entire food groups or severely limiting calorie intake. While this may lead to short-term weight loss, it is  unsustainable long term and can be harmful to overall health. This is because when the body is deprived of essential nutrients, it may start to break down muscle tissue for energy, leading to a decrease in metabolism and ultimately making it harder to lose weight.  So in the long run it’s actually making it harder for us to lose weight!

Furthermore, diets completely fail to address the underlying reasons for overeating or unhealthy habits. Emotional eating, stress, and lack of motivation, and self-sabotage are just a few factors that can contribute to weight gain and are never addressed by simply following a strict diet plan. Without addressing these underlying issues, individuals usually find themselves returning to their old habits and regaining any weight lost during the diet.  Again, a long-term failure.

Another problem with diets is that they often promote unrealistic expectations and goals. Many diets promise quick and dramatic weight loss, which can be appealing to those looking for a quick fix. However, these results are often short-lived, and the weight lost is quickly regained once the diet is stopped. This can lead to a cycle of yo-yo dieting, which can be harmful to both physical and mental health.

Finally, diets can also be expensive and time-consuming and, simply put, a pain in the ass! Specialized foods, supplements, and meal plans can be costly, and many diets require significant planning and preparation. This can be a challenge for those with busy schedules or limited resources, making it harder to stick to the diet long term.

While diets may offer short-term results, they are often unsuccessful in the long run. Restrictive diets can be harmful to overall health, and without addressing the underlying reasons for unhealthy habits, individuals usually find themselves returning to their old ways. Unrealistic expectations and goals, as well as the cost and time commitment of many diets, can also make them difficult to sustain. Instead of focusing on diets, individuals can be much healthier and more successful by utilizing a non-diet approach to weight management.  This can include aiming to make small, sustainable changes to their lifestyle, such as addressing sources of emotional eating and implementing manageable behavioral strategies, to achieve long-term weight loss and improved overall health.  Need help with that?  Just let me know!  😉

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Dr. Candice Seti


California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, Certified Nutrition Coach, and Certified Personal Trainer

Dr. Candice Seti

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