Why diets fail: We all know dieting isn’t sustainable for 90% of the people who diet. But why?
Popular culture tells us the convenient truth that if someone fails at dieting it’s because he or she lacks will power, is lazy, immoral and, frankly, in need of some loud shaming a la Jillian Michaels. It’s not hard to track this narrative to its source. Who wants us to believe that dieting is our personal failure instead of the failure of the diet itself?
The $66B weight-loss industry, that’s who!
If we keep believing that it’s our fault, we’ll masochistically keep coming back for more. Life-long customers = recurring revenue = cha ching!
Weight-loss products are the only products where we all take for granted that it’s USER FAILURE not product failure to blame for the reason 95% of us fail to maintain a significant weight loss for more than 5 years. Even worse, most of us don’t even ask whether we should be dieting at all!
If your doctor prescribes you a drug, that drug had to be tested and there’s no way in hell a drug would be prescribed if it only had a 5% chance of working and dubious results at best. But that’s what dieting is–it’s a technique prescribed to pretty much everyone even though the odds are against us and even though for most people who take the drug, the symptoms only get worse! That’s right–most people who diet end up fatter than they were before!
These are the 7 main reasons diets fail people:
1. Behavioral Relapse, a.k.a. “going off the diet,” is Fueled by Physiological & Mental Self-Preservation
We need to eat. Unlike other behaviors people try to ditch, like smoking and drinking, eating is something we have to do to live. There are mental, emotional and physiological factors that break down the more we deprive ourselves of our means to survive.
I recently explained it to a friend like this: your body needs to eat, so if you starve it, it’s going to do its JOB by making you want to eat. This is NOT something that is wrong with you (that you want to eat)–this is your body working for you! Your body is your ally!
2. Your Body Lowers its Energy Expenditure When You Lose Weight
Lose weight? Chances are that your body will slow down to preserve energy. It seems pretty logical, right? You lose body mass so it takes less energy to keep your body running. Decreased body temperature, less spontaneous activity, and lowered resting metabolic rate have been reserved.
The kicker, however, is that “the changes in energy expenditure resulting from dieting have been described as ‘disproportionate,’ meaning that they were greater than the changes expected for the amount of weight gain or loss, indicating that some compensatory mechanism meant to restore preferred weight may exist” (this has been called by some: “set point”). Basically, this means that just because you weigh 160lbs does not mean that you and your friend who is also 160lbs will have the same basal metabolic rate (in other words: you won’t burn the same amount of calories).
3. Your Body Increases in Fat Storage & Insulin Sensitivity As You Diet
Michelle writes, “With weight loss, cells become more sensitive to insulin, which allows glucose to enter the cell once more. Those cells use that glucose, and the fat that would otherwise be used for energy is directed back into storage, which may spell weight gain.”
4. Your appetite increases…
In news we all know to be true, people who diet show a higher preference for high-calorie, high-sugar and high-fat foods.
5. Some people are genetically predisposed to gain weight.
Michelle writes, “Research in pairs of identical twins shows that there is also a significant genetic component to weight loss, including how much and what type of fat is lost, and the rate of fat burning relative to use of glucose for energy.
On the other side of the coin, population studies of twins have shown an association between dieting attempts and subsequent weight gain, which probably reflects a pre-existing tendency to gain weight that is powerful enough to counteract weight loss attempts.”
In addition to these 5 facts above, what else can I tell you about dieting purely from experience?
6. Dieting makes you lose your connection with your body.
7. Dieting makes you hate food, especially foods you feel you “can’t” eat.
Diets are also thieves. They take your time, money, & patience. They exacerbate the symptom you’re trying to “cure” and there’s still so many problems we’re just learning about.
Are You on a Diet?
If you are currently dieting–that is engaging in a set of a behaviors with the intention of losing weight–I would suggest you ask yourself the following critical questions and be incredibly honest with yourself:
- How is dieting working for you?
- Do you want to do this for the rest of your life?
- How important is your weight really?
- What do you really want and can you get it by focusing outside of your weight?
- Can dieting actually be harmful?
- What’s holding you back from quitting dieting?
- What’s the worst that can happen if you stop dieting?
It’s infuriating to me that we blindly follow the zeitgeist that fat=bad and that the solution to all our woes (and insert “stat” here about how much obesity “costs” all of us) is that people lose weight. Why? We believe that people who lose weight are invariably healthier than they are at their higher weight and this is just NOT fact. Worse, we privilege the act of dieting and deprivation over the act of feeding our bodies. This is nuts!
My Dieting Advice
Want my dieting advice: Follow the great, famous quote by Michael Pollan:
“Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.”
Ok, got that? Do that, and the rest will work itself out.
Rebuttal: No, 95% of diets don’t fail