Why Diets Don’t Work (& What You Can Do About it)

Diets don’t work. Habits do.

It’s a bold statement, but the reality is that “diets” in the most common sense of the word are almost always unsustainable. Typical diets are restrictive, complicated, hard to adapt to in real life scenarios, and based on taking away things.

What would like look like if you could eat the foods you love while achieving the body and lifestyle you want? For most women, this is TOTALLY POSSIBLE! But it’s not going to happen while on a diet, and trying a restrictive diet is unlikely to get you to your goal weight. Let’s talk about why:

Why Diets Work in the Short-Term

If you look at the underlying principles of almost every diet, they almost all work on the same idea: consume less energy (aka, calories) than you expend. From a scientific perspective, very simply stated, that weight loss always comes down to fewer calories in than fewer calories out. There are many, many factors that affect this, so it’s not entirely that simple, but at a basic level this is a true statement. Diets that have you eat in points, zones, or other strategic portions are determining your caloric intake for you. Almost all of these diets encourage you to eat vegetables, which are naturally low in calories and high in fiber, making them an excellent way to feel full, consume nutrients, and not gain weight. Most of these diets also encourage lean proteins like chicken, fish and egg whites. Very few people will argue that these are unhealthy principles. Applied consistently, eating like this will almost always result in weight loss. So yes, these diets DO work…short-term.

Why Diets Don’t Work Long-Term

Most diets in the health + fitness marketplace have a long list of foods you shouldn’t consume. Some diets even say “if you consume any of these foods, you must start over.” There is NO margin of error. But, we’re humans. We make mistakes. We consciously choose a no-no food. We subconsciously sabotage ourselves. We give into cravings, or we make concessions when we’re traveling. I remember when I completed the Whole30 Challenge last summer. I was making a “compliant” soup and added a frozen package of veggies. It wasn’t until I had consumed an entire bowl that I realized the mixed veggies contained lima beans, an “off-limits” food. I was devastated. Do I restart? Instead, I chalked it up to a mistake, and unwilling to throw the leftovers away, picked lima beans out of every bowl of soup I ate for the next few days. What a miserable existence. (Now, after completing my Nutrition Coaching Certification and looking back at this, I’m embarrassed that I ever spent time on this “diet,” not to mention encouraged friends and family to do it. If I had a dollar for every time I didn’t eat a banana or a bean because it was “bad,” I could buy a private island.)

Something that makes you feel bad psychologically is NOT sustainable. Your brain is wired for pleasure, so over time, even with astounding willpower, you will cheat, slip up, or consciously decide to stop the diet.

So What Do We Do About This?

We practice healthy habits. We decide what behaviors are healthy and ones we want to engage in our lives, and we work on following through on these consistently. When we can’t do these behaviors consistently, we step back and try to see what is preventing it, and then we work to root that out — often by implementing smaller, easier, positive changes. If it sounds too simple or easy, I assure you that it isn’t. Changing is hard work! But, it’s something you only have to do once! After you create a healthy habit, you generally drop negative habits. This happens because there is often not room for both, and remember what I said earlier: your body is wired for pleasure! With practice, your body begins to naturally gravitate towards the new, healthier behaviors. If you think back to the last time you dieted, there is probably a healthy, positive change that resulted that you still carry with you. Maybe it’s eating fruit at breakfast, or dropping sugar in your coffee. Maybe it’s a lunchtime walk or eating your veggies first at meals.

Diets aren’t successful as a whole because they require you to make big changes, fast. They expect you to pick up a plethora of new, (sometimes) healthy habits quickly, and make very little allowances for the human condition. They perpetuate thinking of “good” vs “bad” and don’t incentivize intuition and learning what your body likes or doesn’t like. You learn static, unyielding rules instead of how to navigate real-life situations. You’re setup for failure, yet you feel like it’s your fault when you don’t succeed.

Life can be better. Life can be healthier, happier, and flexible. Want to learn what that looks like? Jump on a free call with me. There’s no obligation to hire me as your coach, but I would love the opportunity to chat and see if I can help get you on the road towards your goals once and for all!