Why dieting doesn’t work (and what you can do about it)

Millions and millions of Americans are currently on a diet or have previously on a diet (or multiple). Somehow we became a nation where almost every women and many men have become obsessed with going on a diet and losing weight. We are also a country whose obesity has become an epidemic. Yes, losing weight for your health is to be commended. However, how is it that so many of these diets are unsuccessful? Even for the successful cases, many have reverted back to their pre-diet stage and have actually gained more weight than before (called the yo-yo effect).

You have done the usual. You go on a strict diet plan eating under a certain amount of calories or cutting carbs and fats out of your diet. You sign up for the gym and start drudging through the struggle that is working out. You have done everything right. Eat less and work out, the supposed magical equation of weight loss. So why can’t you lose weight and keep it off?

A few things may affect your weight and your diet plan. First off, everyone can agree that exercising has numerous benefits. Exercising has been shown to decrease your risk of depression, heart disease, cancer, you name it. However, there may be a caveat to exercising. An article published in a leading medical journal found that even though daily expenditure is influenced by the amount of physical activity, the link is weak. Also, this link was only present for people who were on the lower spectrum of physical activity. If you were on the middle to upper half of the spectrum, exercise did not significantly increase your daily energy expenditure.1 This means that if you are in the upper half of the spectrum, exercise may not do much to lose weight.

So what should you do? Here comes the tricky part: eat less and eat better. Which is also much easier said than done. Luckily, there may be a solution that could work for everyone across the activity level spectrum. Neuroscientist Sandra Aamodt (you can watch her TED talk on this subject in the following link: https://www.ted.com/talks/sandra_aamodt_why_dieting_doesn_t_usually_work?language=en) suggests a new approach to losing or maintaining weight without dieting: mindful eating.2 Mindful eating means instead of sticking to the calories or your diet restrictions, you listen to your body’s hunger. Paying attention to what you are eating and when you are full can surprisingly decrease the amount of food you are eating because you can learn to enjoy food more. This also helps you to spend less time thinking about food.

Unfortunately, there is no magic cure to losing weight. In fact, our chronic mindset of dieting and wanting to lose weight may further harm us mentally and physically. However, with the right combination of mindful eating and regular exercise (to be healthy and fit) can help you maintain or lose weight long term.


  1. Pontzer, Herman, et al. “Constrained total energy expenditure and metabolic adaptation to physical activity in adult humans.” Current Biology26.3 (2016): 410-417.
  2. http://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/08/opinion/sunday/why-you-cant-lose-weight-on-a-diet.html?_r=0


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