Why Diets Fail and How to Achieve Sustainable Weight Loss

Weight loss isn’t an issue

Studies have shown surprising statistics in this regard. Of those who are dieting, most are actually able to lose the weight. The problem arises in trying to keep the weight off. This is why diets don’t work. 6 out 7 individuals who experience issues with being overweight will lose the extra pounds. The rate of low weight retention, though, is astoundingly low. Within the first year, 70% of those who have successfully dropped the pounds will regain all of the weight back. Within two years, 80% will have done so, and, within 3 years, a staggering 95% of those who’ve lost all of their extra body weight will see it return in full. So, in truth, the sustainable weight loss success rate for dieting is a paltry 5%. It’s not losing the weight that’s the problem- it’s keeping it off…

So, why do diets fail?

Essentially, diets, even those touted far and wide as being the ‘best diet’ for weight loss, unless it is a system or method which is implemented into new, life-long habits, rather than put on a set time frame (i.e. going on a two month diet just before swimsuit season or right after the holidays) are doomed to failure. Why? Surely, many people have seen tremendous success with all different dieting techniques.

While dieting can initially get the extra weight off, many also promote extreme changes in the dieter’s nutrition and mineral intake. These sudden and abrupt changes may produce the desired results… for a time. The reality, though, is many of these dieting techniques fail because of their inherent extremism. If the method involves eating and/or doing things the dieter does not see as developing into lifelong, sustainable habits, they are very likely to see the weight return, and possibly even increase.

This is why diets fail. It’s not that they don’t work completely, it’s the way they’re formed and utilized. Diets, according to modern methodologies, are what many people think of as a short-term solution to a long-term problem. As such, the dieter basically deprives their bodies of its usual sustenance. The biochemistry involved in the scientific process of dieting is just as extreme as some of the diets, themselves.

The Science of Dieting

When you go on a diet, regardless of the sort you choose, the loss of energy from fat cells in your body triggers a sort of defense mechanism. When deprived of its typical energy from fat, the body acts as though your environment is not conducive to survival. Diets essentially trick your body into believing the usual energy resources are no longer available. This kicks things into overdrive.

With the loss of fat, your body’s energy will begin to decrease, resulting in fatigue and weakness. The depleted fat reserves and fluctuating nutrition intake will trigger hunger, which thereby increases the dieter’s desire to eat. Adding in exercise to these regimes will exacerbate these issues. When a diet is introduced, it creates an energy gap within the body. The body, then, to combat this gap in energy coming in and energy going out, will lower its energy expenditure (resulting in weakness and fatigue as mentioned before) and will increase its signals for more energy-rich foods (feeling of hunger).

The body is an enigma. The way it works can boggle the mind sometimes. This is the case with much of the science surrounding dieting and its ramifications. When a healthy person (not calorie deficit) eats a meal high in calories, their body will dissipate the excess energy as body heat (thermogenesis). When a calorie deficit person, such as many people who are on diets, intakes a high-calorie meal, their body will store the energy consumed, rather than expelling it.

When you’re on a diet and losing that energy from fat, your body will store all nutrients from any consumed foods to stabilize the longevity of its resources. Imagine you really were in a situation in which you were facing starvation. If you found food, with nutrients of which your body was highly deprived, it would store all the energy gained from consuming the food. Rather than dissipating it as heat, your body would hold onto those reserves to increase the chances of defeating starvation.

Generally speaking, a person has a fairly set amount of fat cells. It is possible, however, during the transition period from weight loss to weight management, for the number of fat cells in the dieter’s body to actually increase. This is the body’s way of preparing to fight any future ‘starvation’ problems and may be why a lot of repeat dieters find it becomes more and more difficult to lose the weight with each subsequent diet.

In one scientific dieting study performed on rats, the animals were put on two rounds of dieting and regaining. In the first round, it was found the rats lost weight at what would be considered a normal rate. Then, they were allowed to regain their normal body weight before being put on another diet. In each setting, both during dieting and regaining, the rats were given the same amount of calories in their meals. What was found at the conclusion of this study was profound.

It was reported the rats having begun losing weight at a normal rate and then regaining the weight, also at a normal rate, would then lose the weight in the second round of dieting at half the rate they had in the first round. Further compelling results were found when having the rats regain the weight for the second time, they gained at three times the original rate. Yes, this study was done on rats, yet the parallels between this species and humans when it comes to dieting is undeniable.

There have been some studies done with humans, however. A study looking at the dieting habits of homozygous twins (having identical genetic makeup) found the twin who dieted more often throughout their lifetime was more likely to have an increased number of fat cells than the twin who dieted less.

Metabolic Adaptation and Energy Efficiency

When you go on a diet, you’re essentially initiating a controlled starvation technique. During this caloric deficit, you will experience fluctuations in your metabolism. Metabolic adaptation is a term used to describe these fluctuations. The body will regulate a decrease in the metabolic rate when experiencing a decrease in the dieter’s total daily energy expenditure due to metabolic changes taking place during weight loss. When a caloric deficit technique (a diet) is initiated, the body will employ a number of mechanisms which will function to reduce the overall effects of weight loss by way of promoting these metabolic adaptations. Anyone who consumes a very low amount of calories for an extended period of time is likely to experience metabolic adaptations.

Your total daily energy expenditure is comprised of four main categories, those being your BMR (basal metabolic rate), your NEAT (non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis), your intake of TEFs (thermic effective foods), and your EA (exercise activity). Your basal metabolic rate is the measurement of your body’s metabolic rate while you are completely at rest, though still conscious. It is essentially the measurement of how much energy it takes to keep your body functioning on the most basic level. Non-exercise adaptive thermogenesis, or NEAT, is the energy which is expended during all activities not related to eating, sleeping, or routine and/or intense exercising. Basically, NEAT covers any involuntary movements and other energy expenditures which are considered non-excessive in nature (such as fidgeting and even the simple act of standing upright).

Thermic effective foods comprise 15% of your body’s total daily energy expenditure. When we eat, the body does not absorb and utilize all of the available nutrients. We can absorb up to 30% of protein and 2-3% of fat nutrients. Thermic effective foods require more calories to digest, which plays into the delicate balancing act of energy (and calorie) intake and output. Exercise activity is fairly self-explanatory. This refers to how much actual physical exercise one performs daily.

All of these variables combined are affected when one goes on a diet. Our bodies are incredibly efficient at storing energy and utilizing available nutrients, which is a great inherent ability for survival purposes. This efficiency, though, makes for a difficult time in trying to burn through the existing fat reserves, as the body will try to stretch all of its available resources. When dieting, these four categories determine a basic ‘starting point’. Your typical BMR, NEAT, TEF, and EA rates and measurements set a standard and, the more one drives to change or raise a certain standard will find the more they do so, the more their body will become accustomed to the new standard, thereby expending less energy to meet the requirements of the new standard. This will lead the individual to notice hitting a plateau of sorts in their diet and/or exercise regime and force them to push themselves to yet another, higher standard. This, in essence, is the metabolic adaptation at its finest.

How to Diet Right!

The biggest reason diets don’t work isn’t that they aren’t the ‘best’ diet for weight loss. It is due to their lack of sustainability over a long period of time. Still, dieting, itself, is not the culprit. As you will quickly learn, why diets don’t work has more to do with their structure and time frame than with the suggested foods and exercise advice. The actual best diet for weight loss is one which is employed by that 5 % of people who succeed at their sustainable weight loss goals. Studies have shown it is not the diet, but the dieter, which give the best chance of weight loss success.

Those who mare likely to sustain their weight loss and consistently meet their weight loss goals adhere to a method which proves uncontestedly what is the best diet for weight loss and that is one which is able to be managed over a long period of time. Developing healthy habits, rather than jumping into a new strict, but temporary diet every few months (also referred to as yo-yo dieting) will increase the likelihood of weight loss retention and drastically lower your body’s natural metabolic adaptations. Understanding how your body utilizes energy can mean the difference between its inherent efficiency work for or against your weight loss goals.

That 5% of people who are successful at achieving sustainable weight loss have some common core characteristics. Those who have a predisposition for self-monitoring and cognitive restraint, along with those who already have a structured exercise regime and good support system are much more likely to sustain their weight loss.

As you can see, it isn’t necessarily about picking the ‘right’ or ‘best’ diet, but about the sustainability of healthy dieting habits. Those who are looking for a ‘quick fix’ solution will find their weight will return within one, two, or three years as they fall into the 70, 80, or 95% percentiles. The more often a diet is initiated, the more likely the dieter is to end up with more fat cells than they initially started with. This doesn’t discount the benefits of dieting, rather serves to highlight the necessity of consistent healthy dieting habits, rather than fluctuating back and forth between one strict regime or another (whether it’s from one diet to another or bouncing back and forth from dieting to indulging).

The success of the diet depends greatly upon the habits and even personality characteristics of the dieter, themselves. Those who seek to understand how their body works and adapts to a specific diet will, in turn, profess a greater rate of weight loss retention, while those who have less self-control and/or support or ability to exercise or diet as suggested, will note they will be much less successful in keeping the weight off.

The main goal of our bodies is to efficiently store and utilize nutrients and resources from the foods we eat. Providing the right foods in the right circumstances and developing those circumstances into sustainable habits will result in the dieter being in that top 5% of success stories.

About the author


View all posts