Why Diets Fail Psychologically, According To Long Term Science

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Last updated on April 11, 2020

dieting psychology fail

A compulsive eater sits across from me and asks “Why do diets fail psychologically?”

I’ve been doing a free local workshop for months now in South Bay …

And now I am listening to an Asian woman sit across me and tell me about how her friend.

“My friend has lost 30 lbs on a diet.”

I nod my head.

The Asian woman explains, “My friend lost 30 lbs by only eating 2x a day.”

She pops the question – “So my question is – how do I control my food to build habit of only eating 2x a day?”

And so in this article:

  • I am going to pop your bubble BIG TIME (because there is no “Trick” to losing weight)
  • Show you WHY all weight loss “tricks” fail and cause you to develop binge eating problems
  • And then I’m going to show you HOW TO spot your own blindspots

Here is the summary in case you are in a rush:

1 – Diets Rely On Willpower – Logic and willpower aren’t long-term solutions to managing your food

2 – Diets Are All About Weight Loss – food is a part of life. If you just take an approach to your food based on weight loss, you’ll eat in such a way that deprives you of your emotional needs. Your body and DNA will rebel against such a limited approach to eating.

3 – Diets Make You Die – Die is in the word diet. Think about. You’re starving yourself. Starving yourself leads to death. There are other ways to lose weight where you take into account your emotional needs, and feel great. Any diet that fails to mention psychology, or your emotional needs is something to stay away from.

Why do diets fail psychologically?

The answer isn’t obvious.

In fact, I believe you need to have an Enlightenment in order to understand the answer.

Here’s the Enlightenment – in order to become much more healthy around food, lose weight, etc then in the beginning you paradoxically have to “let go” of trying to lose weight.

Letting go of weight loss? This can be really tough to understand.

Hell, it wasn’t until I had worked in a corporate gym as a Personal Trainer that I began to question the wisdom of dieting.

I had been an athlete my whole life. Yet when I wrestled in highschool, I developed some binge eating habits.

These habits got worse – I became anemic – and became significantly underweight for my body size.

Yet then I became a monk where I stumbled almost miraculously into eating intuitively.

(I know I’m paraphrasing my story, you can read the rest of it, here)

Anyways – by getting away from all the “noise” I was able to listen to my body and cure my bad eating habits.

And then I became a Personal Trainer.

I was given instructions to put people on diet plans.

Someone would sign up at the gym for personal training, and someone at the gym told me:

“Listen, these people who buy personal training, they just have to see some weight loss and then they’ll be satisfied with their purchase. Also, they won’t ask for a refund if they are satisfied with their purchase!

But something felt wrong to me. When I lived as a monk, I ate intuitively. Now, according to the “science” of dieting, I should be telling people to diet.

And that’s when fortunately, I stumbled into the long-term science of dieting when in graduate school for counseling.

The LONG-TERM science of why do diets fail psychologically:

Basically by trying to lose weight, you are paradoxically setting yourself up for likely failure and poor health outcomes.

Here are the facts:

  • A team of UCLA researchers reviewed 31 long term studies on the effectiveness of dieting and concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain—up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost (Mann 2007).

So … this is how hopefully, I popped your bubble.

Now you know dieting leads to weight gain!!

Yet …

Here I was sitting across from a concerned Asian woman in South Bay …

When I told her about the science of long-term dieting.

I expected her to recoil in horror once she heard about how dieting causes weight gain (in 2/3rds of people).

Yet her face was blank.

She said, “I see diet studies saying diets work.”

In essence, this woman had heard of other scientific studies out there saying diets DO work.

So to answer her question of WHY diets fail psychologically, I realized I needed to …

Explore the long-term research on dieting

So I thought …

Why Not Ask Weight Watchers?

Below is a picture from Weight Watcher’s research center website:

why diets fail psychologically

Additionally, our broader culture sees weight loss in the same terms!

For example, John Hopkins University does a thorough, robust review of the research. They find 31 great scientific studies and then they only take 11 of these studies for review.

These 11 studies only measure weight loss up until 1 year!

how to lose weight fast

This means we need an ENLIGHTENMENT to see that DIETING is BAD!

Fortunately this enlightenment is taking place right now. It’s going on right beneath your nose. For example, the health at every size movement is growing and is adamant that dieting is bad.

dieting psychology fail

So how do we start to truly internalize how we are dieting?

Well, here’s an exercise where we can start to uproot some of limiting beliefs and discover how we may be dieting yet not even know it!

Here’s a simple list you can go through.

I got this exercise from the Intuitive Eating workbook I own at home. If you are at all interested in Intuitive Eating Exercises, I think this book is great!

This is an affiliate link to the book, containing the following exercise:

Just take note and bring awareness to all the subtle forms of dieting. Remember, don’t judge yourself for having some of these behaviors. Just try to evaluate yourself objectively.

Please realize many of these behaviors are seen as normal, but nonetheless can be done obsessively and lead to dieting behavior

Here are 11 forms of subtle dieting:

  1. I count calories or points and try not to exceed a daily total of (fill in the blank for you)
  2. Oftentimes, I will not let myself eat a particular snack if it exceeds a certain number of calories or points
  3. When I eat out at restaurants, I choose entrees that have the lowest calories or points
  4. I will not let myself eat a particular meal if it exceeds a certain number of calories or points
  5. When I eat out at restaurants, I choose entrees that have the lowest calories or points
  6. I do not allow myself to drink beverages that have any calories
  7. I choose physical activities and exercise based on the amount of calories it burns
  8. Oftentimes, I cannot eat a particular food or meal if I do not know the calories or points
  9. I avoid eating foods that are high in carbohydrates such as bread, cereal, and pasta
  10. I avoid eating foods that contain sugar
  11. Oftentimes, I avoid eating foods that contain fat
  12. I weight myself frequently
  13. I measure my food to be sure I am not eating too many calories
  14. I count the exact amount of food I need to eat (such as nuts or crackers), in order to be sure that I don’t eat more than one serving or portion size
  15. I weight my food to be sure I am not eating too much.
  16. If I think I ate too much food, I will compensate by exercising more.
  17. I google articles on new diet plans and how to lose weight.
  18. I read blogs and websites about dieting and “thinspiration”
  19. Oftentimes, I save books on various diets and dieting plans
  20. I collect low-calorie recipes to help lose weight.
  21. I take supplements, including teas, which are supposed to burn fat, speed metabolism up, or to lose weight.

These subtle forms of dieting may cause rebound overeating. Now that’s all for now.

And last but not least ...

Are you friggin' finally frustrated with food and done feeling guilty and shameful about your body and your eating habits? 

If you’ve finally had enough binge eating and emotional overeating — you’ve arrived in the right place!

I’ll help you learn how to let go of dieting and binge eating — so you can clear your mind of food & body image thoughts and reach a state of zen with your weight, self talk, food relationship and body image.

If I may suggest, please try out my FREE Zen Mindful Eating Guide. Accessing the guide will give you useful information and add you to my email list. I sent out a few emails per week and also offer free weekly live streaming yoga to the community. 

Most people aren't ready to chat with me until they get to know me over email over many weeks and months. However, if you trust that I'm an expert and can help you, then you're welcome to book a FREE Discovery Session with me