Why Diets Fail and How to Diet Successfully


People throughout the world spend billions on weight-loss products every year. Governments around the globe spend billions on trying to get people to lose weight because of the staggering cost of the obesity epidemic. TV programs such as 'The Biggest Loser, Excess Baggage, the Weight is Over' are like watching modern gladiators do battle with their bulges, but the advice is misleading - extreme exercise does not work in the long term.

There is so much advice and methods available - low-calorie prepared meals, meal-replacement shakes, supplements, diet books, dieting programs and schemes. But most people are doomed to failure with at least 90% of all people who try to lose weight failing and reverting to their original weight or putting on more weight. Research has shown that dieting makes some people fatter. So what works and what can be done to lose weight and keep it off?

It is hard to lose weight. It takes a long time and too keep it off requires permanent lifestyle changes including regular exercise.

Recent research has identified the cause of the global obesity epidemic as passive over-consumption of modern foods that are too rich in fat and calories. See At Last - Cause of Global Obesity Identified - We Passively Eat Too Many Calories

People everywhere are getting heavier simply by eating normal food and normal meals. But the modern food we eat (since the 1970s) is highly processed and contains many more calories per weight and volume. Modern food processing has increased the calorie density of food so that its much higher than whole foods. This includes white four, bread and biscuits, white rice and packaged foods with added sugars and fats. Now when people eat normal meals, that is not fast foods, but home prepared meals, they passively consume too many calories. The term 'passive' means that people are not deliberately eating high fat and high calorie foods. Additionally both meal frequencies (snacks) and portion sizes increased substantially. Western diets, processed foods and western lifestyles cause obesity in most countries.

So people eat more, they eat more often, and most of what people eat is full of fat and calories for the same volume and weight of the food. Is it any wonder most people get fatter each year and that there is a world wide obesity epidemic?

The persistent increase in weight with age seems to be inevitable for all people including runners and those who exercise regularly. 

Calories Burnt for Various Exercises


A research study of some 22,000 men and women over a 5 year period, aged from 20-69 years, showed that their mean annual weight gain was about 400 g in women and 390 g in men.

These weight increases even apply to people who exercise regularly. 

A study of 4,769 regular runners, aged from 18 and 50 years, showed that the average male runner gained about 3.3 pounds (1.5 kg ) and increase their waist measurement by 3/4 inch (2cm) every 10 years.

Over a ten year period about 30% of the runners became moderately overweight as they gained weight every year. The study concluded that the only way to stop the inevitable weight gain was to run more and more as they got older. Running distance would have to be increased by 1.4 miles per week. This meant that runners who averaged 10 miles per week as 30 year olds would have to double their weekly distance to about 24 miles by the age of 40 years, just to maintain their original weight.

Clearly exercise helps in a weight loss program but it exercising will not keep the weight off and stop the inevitable gain in weight with age.

As the figures below show, exercising is a very inefficient way to lose weight and must be accompanied by reductions in food and calories eate

Calories burned for various types of exercises - It's a hard road!
Calories burned for various types of exercises - It's a hard road! Source: Public Domain
Calories in common foods and how long it takes to burn off those calories
Calories in common foods and how long it takes to burn off those calories. Source: Public Domain

Most Diets Fail. The Maintenance Phase is the Least Successful

The figure below shows that most diets fail and most people regain some of the weight they have lost.

Many people have unreal expectations of the rate they will lose weight and they become frustrated and give up. People should be realistic and expect to lose no more than 1 lb (0.5 kg) per week.

Successful dieting requires major lifestyle changes and eating habits that develops into the maintenance phase of dieting.

Changes in weight with various diets. How dieting fails
Changes in weight with various diets. How dieting fails. Source: Public Domain
Expected Rate Loss with Various Interventions (kg)
Expected Rate Loss with Various Interventions (kg). Source: Original Graphic by author
Expected Rate Loss with Various Interventions (lb)
Expected Rate Loss with Various Interventions (lb). How dieting fails. Source: Public Domain

What Calorie Reductions are Required to Lose Weight?

The generally recommended daily calorie intake for men is about 2550 calories per day for men and 1940 calories per day for women. The number of calories needed varies greatly depending on lifestyle, age, weight, your body composition and your basic level of daily activity.

So to lose weight and keep it off people should reduce their calorie intake by a 20 - 25%. This is equivalent to about one meal a day, given that the between-meal snacks and drinks add an extra meal to the three meals most people eat.

This has lead some to suggest not eating lunch or cutting out one of the other daily meals see ( Quickest Way to Lose Weight - Don't Eat Lunch ). Others have suggested reducing portion sizes at every meal by 25% - eating less at every meal ( Desize Me - Diets that Work by Reducing Portion Sizes - Only Eat the Better Half ). The other strategy is to replace what we eat now with whole foods or health foods to generate the same calorie reduction.

Basically what we have to do is eat 25% LESS than we eat now ALL the TIME.

Will-Power and Why Diets Fail

Diets don't work in the long run because:

Metabolic Suppression (Adaptation) in Response to Weight Loss and Dieting

Recent research has suggested that the cause of diet failure may not be willpower, but the body's natural tendency to maintain weight at a predefined 'set point'. This set point weight is determined by genes and life experience. It is related to the starvation response that triggers a decline in metabolic rate. When a person's weight drops below the set point various responses are triggered so that they burn fewer calories, they feel hungry and the brain acts to get the person to eat more food. It is akin to a starvation state of emergency. People who lose weight show a slowing of resting metabolic rate. Studies of participants in the “The Biggest Loser” televised weight loss competition confirmed that the suppression remained 6 years after the weight was lost. The study found that:

This suggests that the 'set point' persists and may even increase when people put on weight.

Conclusion: The metabolic adaptation or suppression is permanent impediment to weight loss attempts through dieting. This once again stresses the need for long term and permanent life-style changes in eating patterns, activity and exercise.

Does Exercise Help You to Lose Weight?

Once again the results can be discouraging. Many well-controlled studies have shown that many people put through exercise programs to lose weight often gain weight instead. It is not muscle but fat. People simply eat more when they exercise more.

Does Gastric Lap Band and Other Surgical Interventions Work?

The simple answer is Yes!

But it is very expensive and still requires will power and diet control to be effective in the long term.

It is known that about 5-10% of lap band surgery patients regain weight, largely because the things that caused them to be overweight in the first place remain after surgery.

About 80% of patients an upward creep in weight so that they gain 5-10 pounds.

About 20% of patients continue to increase in weight. The new tiny stomach (about the size of an egg) expands by 10-15% in most patients. Excess eating can stretch the stomach even more.

Eating too much of the wrong foods such as high-sugar and high-fat treats can bring the weight back.

So even surgery patients are required and encouraged to change their eating and exercise habits to maintain their new weight.

Interval of Staggered Progressive Weight Loss

This new approach aims to avoid weight gain after weight loss on diets by doing it in controlled stages or steps. The aim is to avoid triggering the hormonal response and 'fasting' reaction by aiming to lose a small amount of weight – typically 2 - 2.5 kilograms (4 - 5 lb) – over about one month. Then, there is a maintenance phase designed to maintain the new reduced weight for one month, shifting the body's 'set-point' time to a new threshold. In the third month a new weight-loss "interval" begins. The gradual slow process means there is no need for drastic restriction of food groups or extreme low-cal diets.

Conclusion: How to Lose Weight Successfully and Permanently without Surgery

The answer is simple:

Develop the Willpower to Reduce your Daily Calorie Intake by 20% (300 calories). 

Easy to Say! Hard to Do!

Keeping it Off! Reports from people who have succeeded in keeping weight off over a long period of time suggest the following requirements:

=> Exercising regularly and often

=> Putting up with hunger

=> Maintaining constant vigilance 

=> Resisting cravings to the best of their ability

=> Keeping a close track of weight - the 'scare graph'

=> Controlling what food is eaten (better diet) and how much (portion size and daily food intake)

=> Making permanent Lifestyle Changes in Eating Patterns ('skip lunch'), Activity and Exercise





There is a global obsesity problem that has no solution
There is a global obsesity problem that has no solution. Source: Public Domain
Smaller portion sizes and less rich food is needed, but it is hard to do when there is such abundance
Smaller portion sizes and less rich food is needed, but it is hard to do when there is such abundance. Source: Original Image by John Anderson
Gastric bands and other surgical interventions work but they are very expensive and no a general solution for the masses
Gastric bands and other surgical interventions work but they are very expensive and no a general solution for the masses. Source: Public Domain
Eat only the better half of each meal
Eat only the better half of each meal. Source: Original Image by John Anderson
One major problem is how portion and meal sizes have increased so dramatically over the last 20 years
One major problem is how portion and meal sizes have increased so dramatically over the last 20 years. Source: Public Domain
Portion size control is very important
Portion size control is very important. Source: Public Domain