Why Most Diets Don't Work and Why They Actually Make You Gain Weight

You’ve probably known someone – or been someone – who started out a diet with the best of intentions. You would lose weight, feel better, and enjoy greater health and confidence.

 Disappointment set in when, months or years later, you or your friend weighed in at a much heavier weight than ever before. Why did the diet only work in the short-term, and why was there a net gain when it was over?

The problem with diets is that they’re diets. Many of us try the newest diet fads out of desperation, at times when we’re feeling especially frustrated with our current weight. Something in the back of our minds tells us that we can’t subsist on cabbage soup for the rest of our lives, but we ignore it in the rush to lose weight as fast as we can.

Diets do not result in lasting weight loss. Why? Because all diets come to an end, and when we go back to our former way of eating, we risk going back to our normal weight as well.

There is science to support the conclusion that diets can make you gain weight. Our bodies’ efficient fat-storage served our ancestors well.

When food was scarce, their bodies lived off of stored fat to stay alive. In times when food was plentiful, their bodies continued to store fat because another famine was likely on the way.

Today, most of us are fortunate enough not to face true famine. But we do put our bodies through self-imposed famines, or diets.

When food is taken away, the body responds with its natural self-defense mechanism: feeding on stored fat. The problem occurs when the diet ends; that’s when the body kicks its fat storage into high gear in preparation for the next diet.

There might be emotional issues at play, too. Some diets are so strict that they leave people feeling hungry. Feelings of deprivation cause some dieters to comfort themselves with food. This leads to a downward spiral of overeating, guilt and shame, and more overeating.

In 2009, Susie Orbach told the New York Times that she was interested in filing a class action lawsuit against Weight Watchers International. Her contention is that the diet industry thrives on repeat business, therefore it has no interest in helping its customers attain long-term weight loss.

That view might seem radical to some, but rigid food rules can lead to obsession and compulsive eating or starvation. Orbach advocates a more natural approach whereby people learn to identify true hunger and eat intuitively rather than eating predetermined amounts at preset times.

So if you can’t trust diets to help you lose weight, what can you do? Make a sustainable lifestyle change. Eat nutritious foods. Get out and move regularly. Find ways to relieve stress. Learn to identify things that masquerade as hunger, such as loneliness, boredom, and depression. These changes might not make you lose weight as fast as an all-juice diet, but the weight you do lose will stay gone.

Remember: “Diet” is a four-letter word. To reach your health goals, you don’t need a temporary fix.

What you need is a permanent lifestyle makeover. When assessing a new eating plan, ask yourself, “Could I eat this way for the rest of my life and be healthy and happy?” If the answer is yes, you’ve found a sustainable eating plan to last a lifetime.