Why Diets Don't Work - And What To Do Instead

The diet industry is big business with the weight loss industry in the United States being worth $72 billion. Diets abound, with more than 1,000 developed or approved by published experts, and still more propounded in the media.

Studies define successful weight loss as intentional weight loss of at least 10% of body weight kept off for at least one year. Therefore, diet failure could be defined as the inability to maintain intentional weight loss of at least 10% of initial body weight for longer than one year. Some researchers believe that maintaining weight loss of 5% of body weight for a year or more should at least be considered moderate success due to the associated positive metabolic improvements. Yet most diets fail. In fact, most people gain back the weight they lost within 1 to 5 years. In some cases, people put on more weight than they lost in the first place.

This begs the question with so many different diets, and so many differing approaches, and so many experts and books why are diets unsuccessful? It turns out that the very premise of dieting works directly against your biology, psychology and our inborn need for pleasure.

Why Diets Fail

The reasons for the success or failure of a diet are complex and highly individual. 

Some possible reasons why adhering to your diet plan (and how to fix them) include:

Diets Slow Down Weight Loss

Your body experiences dieting as a stressor. When you are stressed, you produce high-levels of cortisol and adrenaline (stress hormones). These hormones cause our body to slow down the rate at which you burn calories. In essence, your body is intentionally slowing down your weight loss efforts, because it perceives your reduced calorie intake as a threat to survival. Your body is simply trying to keep you alive and as healthy as it can, every day, all day long.

As far as your body Is concerned, when you reduce caloric intake too much, you are putting yourself in a situation with limited food and fuel. Thousands of years of evolutionary conditioning inform your biology that it’s in your best interest to conserve energy (fat stores), just in case this low-calorie situation is prolonged. Your body’s primary job is to keep you alive.

Following a “diet” that is nutrient dense, giving your body all the macro- and micro-nutrients it needs to survive, whilst keeping you full and satisfied, will result in a lowered stress response and more effortless fat loss. The Paleo diet fits this requirement perfectly!

Read on here for more on the impacts of stress and strategies for stress management

Unrealistic Expectations

Once you’ve decided to “go on a diet”, and lose the extra weight, you may have high expectations for your weight loss. This is especially if you find yourself making multiple food-based sacrifices. You might also expect to lose more weight than you can safely achieve over a period of time. You are simply setting yourself up for failure.

Understanding that a safe and reasonable rate of weight loss is up to about 2 pounds per week. It is also important to recognize that when you’re working to establish healthy new habits, it’s natural to deviate once in a while. Rather than letting a diet slip turn into a diet fail and giving up altogether, you work on mistakes and allow some time for the new habits to get best results.

Not fitting Your Lifestyle

When you say you’re going “on a diet” it may also mean, at some point, you’ll be going “off your diet”. This often happens when people try to adopt a diet plan that doesn’t fit with their daily schedule or routine and happens most commonly with people who are made to follow arbitrary diets. Perhaps this chosen plan requires a lot of food preparation and you don’t enjoy cooking, or don’t have time. Maybe there are too many restrictions, you quickly get bored, or you can’t find anything you can eat when you go out with friends or family.

Instead of trying the latest fad and unsupervised “diet”, to shed weight, focus on making lifestyle changes for the long term. 

If you don’t have time to cook or don’t enjoy it, seek out recipes that are quick and easy and check out our Eating Out Guide to help with restaurant choices.

No time to cook? Get delicious healthy food delivered right to you, no apron required. Order this week’s menu here >>>>>>

All Or Nothing Mentality

The worst part of a diet might be the mentality that you are either “on a diet” or “off a diet.” Sometimes the best-laid plans can go astray. Your environment is filled with triggers, like the sight and smell of food, which can lead to you losing sight of your original intention. Simply because you ate what you don’t think you should have; doesn’t mean you totally blew it. Focus on making progress, not being perfect.” 

Your body is keeping score, even if you’re not. Healthier habits that can be incorporated into how you already eat will further help to keep the weight off in the long run.

It may be a good idea to figure out where you were “led astray,” and brainstorm how you could handle that situation more successfully next time. It is important to get back in the saddle again to keep making progress.

Lifestyle changes have greater success than diets!

Lifestyle changes are different from putting yourself on a diet. They are based on creating healthier habits and are not a one-size-fits-all prescription with a ton of arbitrary rules. Most importantly, lifestyle changes are considered to be those that people want to make for the long haul that are associated with a value proposition – something more important than simply weight loss

There are many opportunities and strategies to fulfil the intention of creating a healthier version of yourself:

Diets Are Poorly Designed

Most past diet failures have more to do with the diet’s bad design than your character. You are capable of making meaningful changes that will be better for your health and happiness so long as you go about it correctly.

Make Health Your Priority

It is important to primarily prioritize health and happiness as opposed to fixating on a number on the scale. This will lead to process-oriented, meaningful change as opposed to fearful, outcome-oriented thinking. If you operate with the expectation that you will feel better and become healthier, this sets the stage for more sustainable change.

Personalize Your Plan

No two people are the same. What works for one person may not work for another person.

You need to take into consideration factors including your values, lifestyle, schedule, pertinent medical history, priorities when determining which changes will make you healthier and happier. Create a template that fits your life as opposed to forcing your life around an arbitrary set of rules.

A well-formulated Paleo diet can be personalized for your food preferences, energy needs, family and environment.

Find out more on creating YOUR Paleo diet here

Enlist Support

You might be unclear on what healthy looks like for you when it comes to foods and patterns of eating. Don’t hesitate to consult with a knowledgeable professional, who will look at the total picture of you and then create an individualized plan. Anyone you go to should consider your overall medical history, lifestyle, and personal goals.

Joining an online (or in-person) community that can offer support, motivation and simple troubleshooting are a great resource. You can both learn from like-minded individuals going through similar changes as well as offer support and encouragement to others. Connection with others and finding a safe space to share your experiences and learn from theirs are key components to successful and sustainable lifestyle change.

A few examples of meaningful lifestyle changes could include:

  • Consuming less alcohol and making smarter choices if and when you do choose to drink (learn more about that here)
  • Doing yoga either in a studio or through an online app once a week to reduce stress
  • Choosing a variety of vegetables at the local farmer’s market and enjoying some seasonal produce
  • Removing junk food from the house to add more nutrient-dense foods to the diet
  • Meal prepping once a week so that there are always options that support good health. Alternatively, choose from this week’s menu and have healthy meals on the ready
  • Walking daily
  • Blocking workout times in a calendar so exercise and self-care is a priority
  • Having at least 50% of friend meet-ups be non-food related (this results in more exercise, which is beneficial to health)
  • Track your progress using an app or a chart. Monitoring tools are essential for staying on track, aware and accountable.

In Conclusion

The reasons why diets fail are complex and individual and healthy dietary changes can be hard to maintain. Instead, look at how you can become a happier and healthier version of yourself. Take inventory of your habits and systems. Then identify ways that you can feel better and healthier for the foreseeable future. Then incorporate those lifestyle changes. Choosing a nutrient dense, real-food-based, Paleo diet and customizing it to your goals, needs and concerns will support creating these long-term, sustainable dietary and lifestyle shifts – it’s the one diet that has worked for millions of years!

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