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4 Reasons Why Diets Don’t Work

I hear it all the time: You have tried every diet out there, and absolutely nothing has worked. You’re still overweight, have no energy and you’re pretty much ready to just give in to the idea that this is how your life is going to be forever. Or, maybe you finally lost the weight or you are healthy, but it’s a constant struggle. One tiny step in the wrong direction threatens to undo all of your hard work and sabotage everything you’ve accomplished so far. Why does this happen?

Diets don’t work.


It’s as simple as that. There’s a lot of hype out there surrounding dieting and what the perfect program is. But the fact of the matter is, what works for those people on TV or your best friend may not work for you at all. Thirty percent of Americans are trying to lose weight, while another 30 percent are just trying to maintain their weight. Nearly two-thirds of Americans who lose weight on diets gain it back within one year, and a whopping 98 percent of those people gain back their weight and more within two years.

With facts and studies like this, it’s easy to get really discouraged. However, it should also be very clear that the reason for these shocking statistics is that diets simply do not work. Why not? And what can you do to find what works for you?

1. Diets tend to be all or nothing.

Any time a diet plan cuts out major food groups, or has you going from zero to 60 in one day, you’re bound to fail. A lot of the plans out there are incredibly restrictive. The more restrictive the diet – no matter how well-prepared you are – the higher your chances of ending that diet with a righteous binge that takes you off track permanently. Life happens, and most diets don’t account for any type of wiggle room.

It’s all about the willpower. Once your willpower is depleted, cravings can overpower you and give you that perfect excuse to trash your diet plan and “get back on track on Monday.” To be effective, a plan needs to meet you where you are and not where you “should” be. As a fellow colleague of mine, Joni Jones, of Sustainable Life and Health, says: “Create healthy habits, not restrictions.”

2. Most diets are not goal-oriented.

Sure, the goal may be to lose weight, but how much weight? In what amount of time? What’s the driving force behind wanting to lose weight or maintain your current weight? Lofty goals that only focus on the end result tend to feel unattainable. When the little triumphs happen along the way that weren’t the focus of your end goal, it’s easy to miss them and instead dwell on what you haven’t accomplished yet. When was the last time your diet focused on S.M.A.R.T. goals? That is, goals that are specific, measureable, attainable, realistic and timely?

3. “Calories in versus calories out” is a very outdated way of thinking.

It is more about the quality, not the quantity, of calories that can make or break you. A 300-calorie plate of kale is very different from 300 calories of chips or cookies. Packaged and processed food – even the stuff in the 100-calorie packs or the “healthy” frozen food aisle at the grocery store – are keeping you from losing weight and reaching your goals. I hate to burst your bubble, but that stuff is not healthy and it’s not helping you.

When you eat food, your body digests it and pulls the nutrients from the food to feed the cells in your body. If your cells aren’t getting everything they need, they will keep sending signals to your brain to eat more food. You could spend years feeling physically full, but be nutritionally starved. In order to lose weight or maintain the weight you’ve worked so hard to get off, you have to be ready to make lasting lifestyle changes. If the foods you’re eating are keeping you inflamed, not meeting your nutritional needs or depriving you to the point where it’s all you can think about, you’re setting yourself up for failure.

4. Support systems are integral to success.

Diet programs that don’t offer any one-on-one attention or a support system of readily accessible peers are basically just trying to sell you something that works only for the obsessively dedicated. Unless you have all the time and energy in the world to put toward your diet plan, you’re going to need some kind of support. Questions and concerns come up while following a diet program all the time. Who is going to answer those questions? Who is going to support you in putting down that pint of Ben and Jerry’s when you’ve had a bad day and help you focus on the reason you turn to junk when things are bad?

This is where health coaches, for one, have taken front and center. They pick up where doctors and diets leave off and offer support and one-on-one guidance to help you make changes that are sustainable for a lifetime. My health coaching practice, Whole Green You, for example, works with individuals – both one-on-one and in very supportive small groups – to help make life-long changes. In fact, you can listen to one of our group calls and download the handouts to get started on your road to success.

In the end, anything that deprives you, pushes too quickly, doesn’t focus on nutrition, or isn’t goal- and support-oriented isn’t going to work for the long haul.

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