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6 Reasons Diets Simply Don’t Work

I recently read an incredibly fascinating (to me) book written by researcher Dr. Traci Mann, who runs the Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Mann has been studying diets and eating habits for over two decades, and during that time she and her students have searched high and low for ways in which to make dieting easier to stick to, and thus more successful. However, their research has always come out the same way: Diets don’t work.

In the book, Secrets From The Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again, Dr. Mann highlights a few key reasons why diets always falter, especially in the long term.

  1. Your genes want your weight to stay where it is. Your body has a set weight range of about 30 pounds in which it will be most comfortable. If you try to get below that range, your biological systems will kick in and do everything possible to help you get the weight back on (remember, this would have been a good thing in the days when food was scarce). The good news though, is that it works in the other direction as well, and if you manage to get too far above your weight range, you have to work hard (and eat quite a bit) to stay above that range.
  2. Blame it on your brain. When you’re dieting, you’re probably going to be hungry sometimes. When that happens, your brain actually responds differently to food. Not only are you more likely to notice food, but it will also look even more tempting than usual when you do see it. And, yikes, this urge gets stronger the longer you diet.
  3. Your hormones are working against your weight loss efforts. As you lose body fat, your hormone levels change. The hormones responsible for making you feel hungry increase and the ones responsible for helping you feel full decrease. I know, it’s terrible, and I’m sorry to be the bearer of bad news.
  4. The rumors are true: When you diet your metabolism slows down, making your body more efficient in its storage of calories. Exactly what you wanted–ha!
  5. When you remove a food from your diet, you are, psychologically speaking, going to be obsessed with it. Dr. Mann’s studies have shown that when students were forbidden to eat a particular food—even if it was a food they didn’t even like all that much—their thoughts about that food increased. And what is a diet? It’s you removing foods, ones you probably do like, from your repertoire. And then you can’t stop thinking about them, which does not make dieting easy.
  6. Studies have shown stress leads to overeating, sleeping less (which causes us to eat more), and exercising less. All of these add up to one thing: weight gain. But does dieting itself cause stress? An associate of Dr. Mann’s tested this, and yes, the act of restricting calories leads to a physiological stress response.

Before you think all hope is lost, though, consider this: one study assigned women to either exercise or diet for six weeks. The women who exercised had improved health, even though they didn’t lose weight, and the women who dieted lost weight, but their health did not improve.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.