Why Diets Don’t Work

Hey friends,

Thanks for the support on my struggles with breastfeeding and running.  I’m feeling more positive about it today, but it’s definitely not easy!

For today, I wanted to talk about diets and why they fail so often.  I was thinking lately about the cyclical nature of diets… have you ever noticed this?

According to John Douillard, it began when we started to understand calories and low calorie dieting was in.  The quality of food was less important.

Can you believe this was a real ad?!


Next came our attempt to limit fat and replace it with “healthier” versions like margarine, which of course we now know is much worse than good old butter.

As Americans attempted to restrict fat, the body rebelled with more cravings, binges and fat-storing.  So we tried to replace sugar with low-or-no-calorie artificial sweeteners.  Besides the many dangerous side effects and addictive nature (I’ve worked with many diet coke addicts!), fake sweeteners made sugar cravings worse and led to excess binging elsewhere.

Several high protein diets were introduced.  Some people lost weight- others began to crave carbohydrates and couldn’t maintain it.  Enter the high carb diets that told us as long as we stuck with complex carbs, we could eat as many as we wanted. But the continued growth of processed, convenient food in our culture soon led to a high sugar diet.

We then began to cut out animal fats to try to lower our cholesterol. But again, dieters felt restricted and binged on fat and sugar.  This led to an emphasis on exercise rather than diet, followed by the fear of red meat, the rise of vegetarianism, an emphasis on small meals and grazing, the Zone diet and an addiction to coffee for energy.

And this brings us full circle again to the calorie limiting diets, low-fat/high-carb diets and high-protein diets that are rising and falling in popularity again.

Dieters jump on each new fad with enthusiasm, hoping for the magic answer.  There is no shortage of diet books available yet most dieters still don’t feel like they have the answer.  (If they did, these books would stop selling, right?)

The problem with restrictive diets:

1) They make us ULTRA focused on food

2) We become less in touch with what our body wants and can no longer tell when it’s hungry or full

3) Yo-yo-ing can mess up our hormones and cause the body to store more fat in fear of starvation

4) Dieting adds to the stress in our lives (raising cortisol and fat-storing)

It should be simple.

De-stress, eat real food, learn to listen to your body and know what it needs to be full AND satisfied, sleep well, move your body, and get a few deep belly breaths- it sends powerful messages to the para-sympathetic system to relax.



It really shouldn’t be so difficult.  But it is difficult!

Few of us can eat whole, real foods 100% of the time, and when we begin to read labels and compare ingredients on packaged or convenient foods, there is all sorts of savvy marketing and confusing, mixed messages.  (Not to mention the refined and hydrogenated oils, processed corn products, and GMO soy that is in so much of our processed food and messes with our metabolism and hunger/fullness cues.)

Ideally, we should be able to eat real food without it feeling like a “diet” and learn how to intuitively determine what works best for our unique body.

Have you ever tried to follow a “diet” successfully?

How would you describe a healthy, balanced way of eating for you?

 PS- I’m going to dive into how to find what works for YOU in a 3 month group program, starting March 1st! If you’re interested in joining this group of savvy, health conscious women check out all the details here.

36 thoughts on “Why Diets Don’t Work

  1. I love this!!!! You are so right on with all the points you made and NO I cannot believe that was an actual ad. Holy wow!! I’m sure that 50 years from now someone will be saying the same about a lot of the craziness of some of the diet fads you mentioned.
    I’ve never really “dieted” but of course I think about how to fuel my body. I definitely tend to overthink food and become too focused on it when I’m training hard for a race. I will think twice about sweets or anything that isn’t “necessary” to fuel my body. I also think that as I get older, I need to be more careful. Other times, I just eat! It’s all about balance, right?
    Allie recently posted..I Need A FitLESS TrackerMy Profile

  2. I am in agreement that diets make us so focused on food that we are eventually going to burn out…and probably fail. No one wants to be that focused on food forever. I think staying simple and making small lifestyle choices is key.
    Hollie recently posted..Runners You Might See Part 2My Profile

  3. YES!!! Laura, I am always preaching this, Okay…..preaching sounds like a very patronizing word coming from me, but I wish more people would realize this. I heard a podcast the other day where they said that 90% of people who lose weight from diets put it back on (and usually more!!!) that is INSANE! It is ALL about a lifestyle change, and you have to do it gradually. Thank you for sharing, the world needs more of these posts, especially when they are about learning to love who you are right now, just slowly becoming a better version of yourself 🙂
    Tina Muir recently posted..Day in the Life of a Working Elite RunnerMy Profile

  4. Great post! The problem is so many people do not understand good portions. They can overeat even on the healthy food. Learning proper portion sizes and eating real whole foods would be the better option.

  5. Great post. I have watched so many friends do the yo yo with dieting and exercise. One monthe they take off 5 pounds, the next gain most of it back and so on. Being conscious of what you eat and making good choices with your lifestyle is how I have mainted the same weight for more than 45 years. Only when I was pregnant did I gain weight. hehe
    Pam and Christine recently posted..Training for the Boston Marathon while on vacation!My Profile

  6. I think the only time I tried “diets” was maybe in high school or college. Since then, it’s been a steady evolution of learning to eat real, whole foods with minimal processing. And my body is so much happier for it. I’ll never be one to go for restricted eating of any sort!
    misszippy recently posted..#TeamShorts vs. #TeamSkirtMy Profile

  7. I have used Weight Watchers whenever I feel like I am getting off track (like after holidays and vacations!) and it has worked for me – mostly because it helps me understand portion sizes. If something is in front of me (whether it’s a bowl of broccoli or a bowl of ice cream) I will eat all of it. I do focus on eating real food as much as possible, and I like that Weight Watchers doesn’t specify what you can or cannot eat, rather just to be mindful of how much you are eating. This works for my family, too because I’m not making anything special for myself – we are all eating the same nutritious foods! Thanks for this post! 🙂

  8. I’ve never really tried a strict diet. If I ever felt that I needed to lose a few pounds I just started being far more mindful of portions and those little snacks here and there that add up no matter how healthy they might be.

  9. I’ve never done a diet of any sort. I try to just be mindful of what I’m eating in relation to my activity.
    I know that a restrictive diet would never work for me – not enough will power!!!
    Kim recently posted..Taking ActionMy Profile

  10. This is such a great post – thank you so much for sharing! I did a low-calorie diet back in college when I returned from studying abroad in Germany (so much beer and bread!) and wanted to lose weight quick before getting back to teaching Pilates.
    Now I focus on eating whole foods with lots of fruits, vegetables, nuts, beans, and lean meats, and alcohol, sweets, and indulgences in moderation. My diet is by no means perfect but it’s healthy, sustainable, and energizing.
    Laura @ This Runner’s Recipes recently posted..Run Less Run Faster ReviewMy Profile

  11. This is such a great post! We have been sent such confusing and mixed messages for so long. Once I started eating real food and focusing on listening to my body, it became much easier and more satisfying! Plus I naturally figured out a healthy weight for my body (not even numbers-based, just going off of feel and how my clothes fit).
    Lisa @ Running Out Of Wine recently posted..WIAW: Travel EatsMy Profile

  12. It’s funny that once I gave myself permission to eat real food in moderation, I’ve been at a “normal” weight. When I obsessed over everything I ate and tried to “diet” I ate more. It’s all psychological. I think we all know the secret to a healthy weight but no one wants to hear about that. Where’s the quick fix?
    Angela @ Happy Fit Mama recently posted..How to Run 10 Miles (or more) Before WorkMy Profile

  13. This is good and SO TRUE! When did things become so complicated…I remember as a kid, just eating real foods, playing outside and always being active…It’s really that long ago, but my how things have changed. I haven’t dieted, but I have restricted for photos shoots, etc. and it’s not fun, nor is it healthy.
    She Rocks Fitness recently posted..Statements GIVEAWAY + Another WIAWMy Profile

  14. So true! As soon as I go on a diet — or even decide to just not eat xxxx all I can think about is what I decided not to eat — it’s like the elephant in the room. I think the problem is that sensible eating plans just are not exciting so it’s hard to get motivated even if that is what really works.
    Coco recently posted..Three Ways To Love Hemp HeartsMy Profile

  15. You nailed it! Love this and love your posts Laura! Yes yes yes! And I learn so much from you and am inspired by you! I’ve been thinking of this lots lately…why I see so many people on these fad diets that restrict things and are so strict. I’ve never done a diet like this…I’ve just always tried to have a healthy diet and enjoy my food while staying active and MINDFUL! I’ve been aware that the last few months have been pretty on the snacky side and I can go without getting as much veggies as i need/want but overall, just being more mindful is enough to polish/dust off my lazy habits. I LOVE food. And I love eating good food. But I also like that I don’t over think what I’m eating and can enjoy treats like pizza on Fridays! And even cheese and crackers! A diet where I thought about every little thing I put in my mouth and deprived myself of certain things would be dangerous for my already over thinking self. I’d be come way too obsessive. I think just as many people have orthrexia as other eating disorders. Thanks Laura! This is a post I’ve wanted to write lately but I would never have written it like you…mine would have been a long winded ramble. ha!
    Amanda@Runninghood recently posted..Boston Marathon Training: A Non-Running ComponentMy Profile

  16. I’m all about eating in a way that I can sustain. I can’t be restrictive all the time, just as I couldn’t indulge all the time. Finding a consistent balance between the healthy stuff AND the indulgences is how I stay on track.

    Diets aren’t meant to be sustained, which is the big reason most people put the weight back on after they stop.
    Laura @losingrace recently posted..Boston/Winter TrainingMy Profile

  17. I can’t believe that sugar ad was real! Wow.
    I went through a period of vegetarianism and then a little time as a vegan, but as I learned more about nutrition and about what MY body needed, I realized that I needed some animal products (eggs, meats) and more healthy fats for my health. Throughout my time at IIN I feel like I got a good grip on what my body thrives on, though I think that’s always a continuing journey 🙂
    Danica @ It’s Progression recently posted..Baby Buss #1My Profile

  18. I admit that I only say the sugar ad on the feed and came on to make sure this wasn’t one of those “eat carbs” posts. LOL. Great post on a touchy subject. Convincing some that the only “diet” they should be eating is a real food, and to stop with the fads, is … well … flammable. People cling to conventional wisdom of Low Fat doctrine that was forced to use through the 70’s and 80’s. Hell, people still carb load the night before races even though it doesn’t work, never has worked, and actually can hinder performance. I think the tide is turning though.
    Fat Slow Triathlete recently posted..Train Like a TriathleteMy Profile

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