Have you been on more than one diet? How many? Just answering that question tells you a lot. If diets worked you would not be spending your money on one diet (plan, book, program, supplement, diet foods, pill, etc.) after another. Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. (2011), an independent market research firm who is an analyst of the U.S. weight-loss industry since 1979 reports Americans are spending over $60 billion on dieting and weight loss products each year. The FTC reports an estimated 4.8 million of U.S. consumers were victims of fraudulent weight-loss products in 2007.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in 2011 that 35.7 percent of adults and 16.9 percent of children age 2 to 19 are obese. There are more overweight people in the US than any time in history. Weight loss has become a national obsession.

Diets don’t work! Even before a person starts a diet the thought of going on a diet begins to influence their overeating. They think, “I’ll go ahead and eat that cake now because tomorrow (or on Monday, or the first of the month or year) I am going on a diet.” So they overeat now and the day to start the diet may never come.
So how do we get hooked into the diet trap? Now let me contradict myself and say that “all diets work” . . . at least temporally. The problem is that people eventually go off the diet. Only internalize behaviors can be followed for a lifetime. Most people rebel against external controls. They get fed up with the diet and eat all the things they have been deprived of.

Then they gain the weight back… plus more. Due to the food restrictions of the diet, their metabolism has slowed down. The body thinks it is experiencing a famine; it is in starvation alert mode and is trying to store every calorie. The result is that they gain weight with a vengeance, faster than ever before.

It is reported that 95% of all dieters will regain their lost weight in 1-5 years (Grodstein, Levine, Spencer, Colditz, Stampfer, 1996).  When they “slip” on their diet they mentally beat themselves up for not having the willpower to stay on the diet. With every repeated failure their self-esteem suffers. They become depressed, withdrawn, or anxious because of their eating patterns. It affects every area of their lives and their family’s lives too.

Some people who are struggling with their weight eventually give up dieting and just accept obesity as their lot in life. Binge eating often starts as a direct result of dieting. Thirty-five percent of "normal dieters" progress to eating disorders (Shisslak, Crago, & Estes, 1995).

Because of following a diet (external control) a dieter becomes disconnected from their appetite. In fact they think they are being “good” if they are truly hungry, but not eating. It can become difficult to know when they are physically hungry or full because they depend on an outside source, the diet, to regulate their food intake.
Some people start using food for emotional reasons. They may confuse an emotion or feeling with being hungery. They use food or the compulsive thoughts about food, weight, diet, or body image as a way to push down feelings. After awhile they do not even know what they are feeling so they mistake any uncomfortable feeling with hunger.

Dieting or thinking about what to eat or not eat can become the primary focus. The most common characteristic of disordered eating is the obsessive thinking about food, weight, diet, exercise, and body image. People with eating disorders report 80-90% of each waking moment is consumed with these thoughts.
There are some people who have an addictive reaction to certain foods, especially sugar. Once they have one bite they experience a craving for more that seems impossible to control. Many people are not able to stay on a diet because they are not aware of their reaction to sugar or other substances found in processed foods.
To summarize, the reasons that diets don’t work are:

  1. Diets are a form of external control that further disconnects a person from their appetite and they lose the ability to know when they are hungry or full.
  2. Dieting changes the metabolism that leads to weight gain later.
  3. Dieting or restricting leads to binge eating.
  4. Sometimes there can be underlying emotions, feelings, trauma or situations that are the real problem and the eating or dieting is used to mask this.
  5. Dieting affects the dieters’ thinking and self-esteem.
  6. Dieting can become an obsession. Excessively thinking about diets, food, weight, body image, and/or exercise is a characteristic of eating disorders.
  7. Sometimes there may be an underlying sugar or food addiction present.     

Here are some things that do work:

Awareness is the key. You can’t change something if you are not aware of the reasons why diets don’t work. You need to learn how to connect back to your internal Self, so you can be in touch with your appetite.

To get back in touch with your appetite, practice checking your hunger level. When you are reaching for food and you are not hungry, this is your red flag, your alarm system. Pay attention. What do you really need? Eat when you are physically hungry and stop when full. You can always have more food when you are hungry again.
Get rid of the feelings that you may be using food to push down. Because the appetite is an internal mechanism if you also have unresolved feelings or trauma that prevent you from checking in with how you are feeling, get professional help to resolve it. Our feelings are there for a reason. They help us figure out what we need. They help us to learn what is working and what is not. We learn from experiences coupled with our feelings.

As you become more Self aware, you will start to notice the affects some foods have on our body, mind, and emotions. Many people see a link between sugar consumption and food cravings. You may notice you have a harder time controlling your food intake after you have eaten sugar. Once you make this connection you can think it through and decide if you want that candy bar right now. If you know that if you eat it you will be tired, depressed, and having cravings for more, you may decide not to have it right now. The thoughts will pass and eventually “thinking it through” will become a way of life.

If you think you need help with your relationship with food, Rebecca’s House Eating Disorder Treatment Programs provides free phone assessments by calling 800-711-2062.

(CDC) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Cynthia L. O., Carroll, M. D., Kit, B. K., and Flegal, K., M. (2012, January). Prevalence of Obesity in the United States, 2009–2010. NCHS Data Brief, No. 82, pg 1-2. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/databriefs/db82.htm 
(FTC) Federal Trade Commission (2007, October). FTC Releases Consumer Fraud Survey. http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2007/10/fraud.shtm 
Grodstein, F., Levine, R., Spencer, T., Colditz, G.A., Stampfer, M. J. (1996). Three year follow up of participants in a commercial weight loss program: can you keep it off? Archives of Internal Medicine. 156 (12),1302.
Marketdata Enterprises, Inc. http://www.prweb.com/releases/2011/5/prweb8393658.htm.
Shisslak, C. M., Crago, M., & Estes, L. S. (1995). The Spectrum of Eating Disturbances. International Journal of Eating Disorders, 18 (3): 209-219. Article first published online: 13 FEB 2006 | doi: 10.1002/1098-108X(199511)18:3<209::AID-EAT2260180303>3.0.CO;2-E

Author's Bio: 

Rebecca Cooper is a California licensed therapist, Certified Eating Disorder Specialist, and the author of Diets Don’t Work® www.DietsDontWork.org. She the founder of Rebecca’s House Eating Disorders Treatment Program™ www.Rebeccashouse.org. 800-711-2062.