7 Reasons Why Diets Fail and How You Can Succeed

7 Reasons Why Diets Fail and How You Can Succeed

Have you reached a weight loss plateau?

Have you reached a fat loss plateau? Are you stuck with unwanted weight you’ve tried for years to burn off? Are you frustrated because that stubborn fat seems to keep piling up on your butt, thighs, hips, and belly?

If so, you’ve probably tried every “name brand” diet out there. But nothing seems to work.

And it’s not just vanity that drives you. You are well aware that being overweight or obese sets the stage for chronic illnesses like type 2 diabetes, heart disease and more. Your very life could be at stake if you don’t lose some weight.

If this describes you, you are not alone. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), almost 13 million children and over 78 million adults in the U.S. are obese.

The experts at the AHA recommend engaging in a medically supervised weight loss program two to three times a month for at least 6 months. According to the AHA, a weight loss treatment plan must involve:

  1. Eating fewer calories than what the body needs.
  2. Doing aerobic exercise for thirty minutes on most days of the week.
  3. Learning the necessary skills to change unhealthy behaviors.

This sounds great, except who has time for a medically supervised weight loss plan? And how many of us have tried these strategies only to see them fail over and over again? What gives?

Well, while the AHA certainly has some things right about losing weight, increasing evidence is showing that conventional ideas about diet and weight loss don’t reveal the full truth. For example, we now know that “a calorie is not a calorie.” As Robert Lustig explains, calories from fiber, protein, and healthy fats are simply better than calories coming from sugar.

This makes perfect sense, but it goes against everything we hear in the media about losing weight.

Of course, exercising is good for you. But did you know that 30 minutes of aerobic exercise may not be enough, and that exercise alone results in minimal weight loss?

And while we all sit around beating ourselves up because we don’t have the willpower to stick with a healthy diet and exercise routine, increasing evidence suggests that willpower is a finite resource and we can’t rely on willpower alone to avoid unhealthy foods and get regular exercise.

So, what CAN you do?

Actually, a quite a bit can be done.  We’ll discuss that in a moment. But first, let’s talk about the top 7 reasons diets fail. Then, I’ll share a few simple but effective tricks to burn off that unwanted fat once and for all.

The Top 7 Reasons Most Diets Fail

  1. Unrealistic and disruptive diets.

You’ve probably heard about special diets like the South Beach Diet, Jenny Craig diet, Biggest Loser diet, Atkins diet, Vegan diet, Paleo diet, Medifast diet, Zone diet, and many, many more.

A lot of people can’t stick to their chosen diet plan. They tend to hop from one method to the next simply because they cannot sustain the will to follow the diet plans. One of the reasons behind this is that some diets are so restrictive and unrealistic that they are difficult to adhere to.

Fad diets make one lose weight rapidly. That’s why they’re so popular. But at what cost?

They demand a dramatic reduction in your calorie intake. Once your body senses the headaches, fatigue, irritability, mood swings, stomach upset, and extreme hunger, your body will want to rebel and seek its natural inclinations – to eat, seek energy and be happy.

Some diets are really hard to fit into your lifestyle. Maybe they require you to cook your own meals daily. Perhaps you’re compelled to weigh your food or strictly count those calories you take in. Or maybe you’ll have to give up an entire food group such as carbohydrates or fats.

If a diet relies heavily on willpower or disrupts your life too much,  failure is often the result.

  1. Not eating enough protein.

You need enough protein to make your diet work.

You can’t stick to a diet plan that starves you. If you get too hungry, there’s only one course of action that makes sense: EAT.

Some people get hungry between meals and they end up eating unhealthy snacks from a convenience store or a vending machine at work. They do not eat enough protein.

Many diets encourage you to eat foods that are low in sugar and fat to reduce the number of calories you consume. The result is that your body will lack an important source of energy to serve as fuel while you work, exercise, or do your daily routine. Your body will then crave high-calorie food to satisfy its needs.

According to experts like Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, author of The Diet Fix: Why Diets Fail, the best way to reduce hunger is to eat protein at every meal.

  1. Underestimating the calories you eat.

We often underestimate the amount of calories in the food we eat.

A donut has 195 calories. It will take you around half an hour of aerobic exercise to burn all those calories. Now add to that a can of soda which has 182 calories. That’s another 22 minutes of aerobic exercise.

The problem is that it’s too easy to overindulge in high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.

According to Dr. Jessica Bartfield, who specializes in nutrition and weight management at the Loyola Center for Metabolic Surgery & Bariatric Care, only 20% of people who diet succeed in weight-loss and maintenance. It’s because most people underestimate the amount of calories they consume daily.

One study showed that in spite of the drop in saturated fat intake of Americans, people still eat too much “bad” fats, which mostly come from processed foods and fast foods.

Do this: Write down everything you eat in a day including “bites,” “tastes” of food and drinks. Writing in a food journal is one of the best ways to promote mindful eating. Pay attention to the serving sizes you consume and keep your portions reasonable.

Remember that foods served outside the home tend to have larger portion sizes and may have higher calories. Look for nutrition information about your favorite restaurant foods or take-out meals and choose a healthy meal before ordering.

Replace some high-density foods (those with less water and more fat) with high-volume, low-density foods.  Energy-dense or high-density foods are high in fat and have twice as many calories as either protein or carbohydrates. High-volume, low-density foods, on the other hand, have more water and less fat, such as fruits,  vegetables, and legumes. They keep you feeling full, but with fewer calories.

  1. Emotional eating trumps dieting.

Emotional eating trumps dieting.

Sometimes diets fail because they are viewed as “punishment” for being obese or “self-torture,” which validates deep-seated feelings of negativity. Some people eat when they feel angry, sad, upset, scared, lonely or just bored.

Even positive emotions can be powerful triggers to binge – like celebrating a promotion or a birthday. Dieting efforts go down the drain whenever your emotions take over your eating behaviors. Common symptoms of emotional eating include:

  • A change in your eating habits when you experience more stress.
  • Eating to calm your feelings.
  • Eating even when you are full/not hungry.
  • Eating to evade stressful situations.
  • Eating as a reward.

Psychologist Leslie Becker-Phelps, Ph.D., says, however, that emotional eating is not always unhealthy. It may be a natural thing to do occasionally, but it becomes a problem when done frequently. All you need to distract yourself from eating for a short time is to let the emotion pass.  After all, many emotions usually do not last long, and they may simmer down in just ten minutes to an hour.

New York psychologist Patricia Farrell, Ph.D., suggests pausing to delay the urge to eat, snapping a rubber band on your wrist to remind yourself about unnecessary snacks, and getting a burst of activity by walking for ten minutes to relieve stress.

  1. Too much emphasis on food.

Most diets emphasize food too much.

Many weight-loss plans put too much emphasis on food – what to eat, how much to eat, when to eat, and so on. But health experts say that weight loss is a result of a balance between calorie intake and calorie expenditure. You lose weight when you reduce the amount of calories you consume and increase the number of calories you burn. Therefore, for a weight-loss plan to succeed, regular exercise must be an important part of it.

One problem, however, is that people often overestimate the calories they expend in exercise. Experts say that you need to burn about 500 calories per day to lose a pound of body weight per week. This is not easy to do, as one will need to do at least 60 minutes of vigorous activity daily to achieve this goal. This is one reason why people sometimes give up on exercise.

A more realistic goal would be to try to increase one’s activity throughout the day by walking more, climbing stairs, doing chores, and playing more. Studies also show that reducing sitting time can help people become more active and reduce their risk of obesity and chronic disease.

AHA experts recommend getting at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise (e.g. jogging, tennis, biking, hiking or walking briskly up hill) to improve overall cardiovascular health. Alternatively, you can do 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise (e.g. running, skiing, swimming, aerobic exercise, stair climbing at a fast pace) or a combination of moderate and vigorous activities).

It may be easier to remember a goal of 30 minutes a day, 5 times a week. However, you do not have to do this in one session – you will also experience the benefits of exercise even if you do 10 to 15 minutes segments of exercise, two to three times a day.

  1. Poor timing of meals.

We need a constant supply of energy throughout the day to maintain optimal function and to prevent our metabolism from slowing down.

By eating three meals a day, consisting of breakfast, lunch and dinner, you won’t get too hungry. Eating a small, low-calorie snack with protein between meals helps you to avoid overeating during meals. When you skip meals, especially breakfast, or eat a late lunch or dinner, you’ll get really hungry during the day. You may overcompensate by eating more during the next meal.

Weight-management experts recommend eating breakfast daily, within an hour of waking up, and eating a healthy meal or snack every three to four hours. It is best not to go longer than five hours without eating to keep metabolism at a steady rate.

They also warn about night-time eating, especially after dinner, before going to sleep. Stick with eating light and healthy snacks like low-fat, low-salt popcorn, fruit or low-fat yogurt INSTEAD OF cookies and milk, ice-cream, or chips.

  1. Lack of Sleep.

Sleep deprivation is a risk factor for obesity.

Studies have shown that people who do not get enough sleep (fewer than six hours) are more likely to become obese. A large study that followed about 68,000 American women for 16 years found that compared to those who got seven hours of sleep per night, those who slept less were 15% more likely to become obese. Those who worked night shifts were more often at greater risk for developing diabetes.

Research shows that sleep deprivation increases your chances of weight gain in two ways: it can increase your energy intake and decrease your energy expenditure. Sleep deprivation increases your levels of ghrelin, a hormone that stimulates appetite, especially for high-calorie foods. It also raises your cortisol levels, a stress hormone that can lead to weight gain.

Scientists found that people who were deprived of sleep had lower levels of leptin, a satiety-inducing hormone, which led to an increase in hunger and appetite.

People who sleep less every night have more time to eat. They usually surround themselves with unhealthy snacks to keep them awake and to sustain their energy. They are also more likely to eat out and have irregular meal patterns.

When you sleep less, your body spends less energy. You become less physically active. You’re more tired during the day.  Some studies show that sleep deprivation may lead people to spend more time in front of their TV and have less time for sports and other physically activities. Doctors therefore recommend improving your sleeping habits to increase your chances of success with weight management.


The National Weight Control Registry reports that 98% of adults who successfully maintain their weight loss have improved their eating behaviors.

It is not about what type of diet they chose to follow, but more about the modification of their lifestyle, which they were able to sustain. Other factors that contribute to successful weight loss include an increase in the level of physical activity, reducing sitting time, and eating a healthy breakfast every day. These are simple steps every adult can make to achieve their weight-loss goals and to maintain a healthy weight.

Rockwell Nutrition recommends some measures on how one can modify food intake:

  1. Keep a food diary by documenting everything you eat, including the time you eat. This allows you to keep track of your eating behaviors. It will give you an idea of when you are most likely to experience hunger pangs and help you prepare a healthy snack instead of dashing off to a vending machine. It will help you to become mindful of the kind of foods you eat and the amount of calories you consume.
  2. Keep track of your success by keeping a weight notebook and weighing yourself weekly. This will help you evaluate your progress and maintain your weight. It has been shown that 75% of adults who successfully maintained their weight loss weigh themselves weekly.

To eat a balanced diet, you must include a variety of nutrient-dense foods in your daily menu instead of eliminating food groups such as carbohydrates. However, you must always watch your portion sizes during the day. An average adult ideally consumes 1,600 to 2,000 calories per day. To get the nutrients you need based on the most recent science, eat a dietary pattern that emphasizes:

  • fruits, vegetables
  • poultry, fish, legumes and nuts
  • whole grains
  • dairy or non-dairy products
  • while limiting red meat, refined carbs, sugary foods and beverages, and alcohol
  1. Plan your weekday meals and prepare them over the weekend so they will be ready when the family comes home each night. It is better to have a healthy prepared meal instead of buying fast food or frozen dinners.
  2. Plan your daily breakfast and choose high-fiber, high-protein, and low-sugar products when shopping at the grocery store. If you do not have time for a sit-down breakfast meal, prepare healthy granola bars, a box of whole-grain cereal, low -sugar instant oatmeal, or fresh fruit to eat at work or while on the go.
  3. Avoid eating as a response to stress and negative emotions. Avoid binge eating at all costs.

Fighting obesity is not easy to do alone. You always have to find ways to motivate yourself to maintain your hard work. You may have a greater chance of succeeding with the help of family, friends, and medical professionals who can reinforce your healthy eating habits. It is best to consult your doctor or nutritionist/dietitian if you plan to start on a weight-loss program and to avoid experimenting with fad diets, which may not be suitable for you.


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Loyola University Health System. Top four reasons why diets fail. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/01/130103192352.htm

WebMD. Are You a Low-Carb Diet Dropout? http://www.webmd.com/diet/are-you-a-low-carb-diet-dropout?page=2

WebMD. U.S. Diets Still Contain Too Many Bad Fats: Study. http://www.webmd.com/diet/20141022/study-finds-us-diets-still-contain-too-many-bad-fats

WebMD. More Food, Fewer Calories? http://www.webmd.com/diet/more-food-fewer-calories?page=1

WebMD. Should You Jump on the Protein Bandwagon? http://www.webmd.com/diet/20141103/protein-trend

WebMD. Emotional Eating: What Helps. http://www.webmd.com/diet/emotional-eating

WebMD. Emotional Eating: Topic Overviewhttp://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/emotional-eating-topic-overview

Huffington Post. 5 Reasons Most Diets Fail Within 7 Days. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/09/24/why-diets-dont-work_n_3975610.html

St. Louis Psychologist and Counseling Information. 10 Reasons Diets Fail.  http://www.psychtreatment.com/weight_loss_reason_diets_fail_page1.htm

AHA. Weight Management. http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/GettingHealthy/WeightManagement/Obesity/Obesity-Information_UCM_307908_Article.jsp

HSPH. Sleep. http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/obesity-prevention-source/obesity-causes/sleep-and-obesity/


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