Why So Many Diets Fail: It's Really Not Your Fault

Reviewed by James Brann, M.D.

In nature, many animals go through periods of feast and famine as the seasons change, the rains come (or don't), the herds move on - being an animal in the wild is no picnic. But nature has provided animals with the means to store food during the good times for use during the lean times (why do you think they're called 'lean times'). It is, of course, the ability to convert nutrients in food into fat that is then stored on the body.

Fat isn't evil or a punishment, a curse that's befallen you or simply the way things are. The simple fact is, if you eat more calories than you use, those extra calories are stored on the body as fat. Calories in = calories out - it's just that simple.

So, all diets are designed around the principle of eating fewer calories while expending more. There's no melt-away fat pill, no special foods you should or shouldn't eat and no magic elixir that will make you thinner. To lose weight, you eat fewer calories and start using the calories stored on the body as fat. Nothing to it, right? So, why do so many people fail to reach their weight and health goals through dieting.

Dieting Hurts
Hunger is an unpleasant feeling. It's a physical feeling and can lead to headaches, a lack of energy, depression and a host of other physical symptoms, none of them good. Why would we put ourselves in such a situation, knowing that it would make us uncomfortable for weeks or months on end? Even if you have an iron will and the self-discipline of a world-class athlete, no one can endure the unpleasant effects of long-term starvation and that's just what dieting is - long-term starvation.

Dieting Disrupts Your Routine
If you're used to eating things like eggs, pasta, cheese and such, but, overnight, switch to mung beans and tofu, you're not going to be a happy camper. The best diet is one on which you can eat the foods you've always eaten. Just less of them.

Eating Is A Habit
The foods we eat, and when we eat them, are based on long-ingrained habits, often learned when we're children. We eat a slice of grandma's shoofly pie because we loved it as kids and we want it now as adults.

If you have a big snack every night just before bed, that's a habit and you'll eat that snack, hungry or not. Old habits die hard. Some never die. Eating, for many of us, is simply a collection of bad habits learned long ago. Changing now is going to be tough.

Diets Start, Diets End
You start a diet, you reach your goal weight, you end the diet, returning to the old habits and favorite foods that got you into trouble in the first place.

Diets Don't Work
For all of the reasons in the center section, dieting doesn't work. The best way - the only way - to lose weight and keep it off is to slowly, over time, cut out calories by substituting less fattening foods for your current fat-ladened favorites. Simultaneously, increase your physical activity to use up more of the calories you do consume.

You don't have to spend a ton of money, change the foods you eat (except maybe gram's shoofly pie - now there's a diet buster) or even change your eating routine. All you have to do is eat less of the same foods you've always enjoyed, while walking around the block a few times a week and slowly, the pounds will disappear and new, healthier habits will be in place.

So, if you've tried them all, chuck them all. It's not your fault that you couldn't stick to a diet - no one can. Substitute healthier foods, move a little more and, over time, you'll reach your goal weight and stay there. Now, won't that be nice.