Why do diets not work for long-term weight loss?

Traditional "diets" do not work for long-term weight loss because the majority fail to address the permanent lifestyle changes that are necessary for successful long-term weight loss. Traditional diets are often very low in calories, eliminate certain food groups, and deprive the body of necessary nutrients which can be harmful to your health.

Weight loss occurs when calories consumed are less than calories expended. Therefore, it does not matter what diet plan you follow, if your caloric intake is less than your caloric output, you will lose weight. Since diets restrict calories, they may work for short-term weight loss, but once you go back to your previous eating habits, you will quickly regain the weight. In other words, when the dieting stops, the weight gain begins.

Diets are also difficult to maintain for the long-term. No one likes to be on a 'diet'. It's hard work, unenjoyable, and leaves you feeling deprived most of the time. And the truth is, there is no quick fix, or temporary diet, that will give you long-term weight loss success. To be successful with long-term weight loss, and weight maintenance, you must commit to making permanent lifestyle and behavioral changes. This means changing your eating habits and increasing your daily physical activity levels for life! Healthy eating combined with regular physical activity is the best, and most successful, weight loss plan available today.

Weight loss will take time and should be a gradual process. Weight is not gained overnight and should not attempted to be lost overnight. Instead, make small and gradual changes over time. 3,500 calories is equivalent to one pound of fat. Therefore, creating a daily caloric deficit of 500 to 1,000 calories (through a combination of decreased daily caloric intake and increased physical activity) should result in approximately a 1-2 pound weekly weight loss.

I cannot stress enough that for successful weight loss to occur you MUST commit to making permanent lifestyle changes. Eat less, choose healthier foods, and move more, for life!
It should be noted that when we mean diet in the context of this answer, we are talking about "fad diets". These diets are usually packed with gimmicks, lofty promises and try to convince you that they have the "secret recipe" for weight loss. Diets often don't teach long term strategies that are realistic and based on your individual lifestyle. They usually provide a very specific strategy such as don't eat bananas on Tuesdays after 3pm or have you remove a food or food group completely from your normal daily intake. In the short term, diets work because these quirky strategies help you eat fewer calories. In the long tern however, they do little to teach you lifestyle skills that will help you manage your weight. When the diets end, we aren't prepared to make lifestyle changes, resume our normal habits and weight often returns.

Real changes work.  Short-term “diet” fixes do not.  Diets don’t work because often people who diet restrict themselves so much, they start imagining people on the street as ice cream cones or salivating in their sleep as they dream about fried chicken.  Diets can help you get to a point where you start looking good naked, but then what happens?  You get tired of starving yourself and you go back to the same old bad eating habits that you started with.  Next thing you know, you’re popping the buttons on your jeans again!  If you want to stay in your sexy clothes, you have to make a lifestyle switch.  You have to be willing to deal with the necessary conditions that come along with it, meaning, you can’t sit on the coach and “hope” the weight stays off this time.  Hope is not a strategy and sitting will just contribute to a bigger backside!  You need real, simple solutions to weight loss and easy to do methods to keep it off.  For long term success, track what you eat!  Those who consistently track what they eat lose more weight and are more successful at keeping the weight off.  After a week or so, you’ll be amazed at how much you learn about the food you put in your mouth.   In fact, when you do this, it will help you decide what foods you will want to cut back on.  Remember, small changes tend to be the most effective because they withstand the test of time. And listen – long term success will require you to stay consistent with your eating plan and you’ll have to keep yourself moving.  Daily exercise – as simple as a few exercises a day will make a difference.  I recommend walking 10,000 steps per day to help maintain a healthy, active lifestyle.  Why not drag the kids out with you to keep them healthy?  Make it a family affair!


Most diets out there don't work long term because they are not made to be used for long term lifestyle changes.  If you really look at these diets they are designed to help you lose weight fast by cutting calories and portion sizes.  Most diets will not help you with your lifestyle.  One you just want to look at your lifestyle and make changes to your own diet to fit those needs.  Most of the time it is just cutting portions down in your diet and reducing some intakes of fat and carbohydrates.  Along with a healthy fitness program you will see the results you are looking for.
Traditional "fad diets" are in my opinion, usually not designed to teach us how to live healthy lives long term.  We don't always learn how to eat properly, we don't learn how to best exercise our body.  We may achieve quick, fast results and in most cases we stop whatever "diet" and end up gaining the weight back falling into the common cycle over and over.  I believe by making a decision and taking action to replace our unhealthy habits with healthy ones gradually and consistently helps us to learn what works for us individually with regard to controlling our weight and also just being and feeling healthy on the inside and on the outside long term.  
The primary reason why so called "diets" don't solve long term weight loss issues is that they usually are built around some type of crutch.  This crutch is some pattern of behavior that produces the weight loss.  In example of this would be all protein, or cabbage soup or some other variation that requires repetitive behavior and food choices.  Real life just doesn't happen here.  To lose weight and keep it off you have to find out how many calories you need and eat less than that until your weight gets to a desired place.  When you get there eat equal to your caloric needs with real life good choices to maintain.

Diets typically do not work for long-term weight loss for many reasons:
- Diets are hard to adhere to because deprive the body of necessary nutritional requirements. You end up feeling irritable, lethargic and run-down.
- Many diets tout unrealistic weight loss potential. This causes people to become unmotivated and depressed when the results don't come as quickly as 'advertised'.
- The body has a state at which it likes to be at. This state is referred to as the bodies set-point. When you lose weight drastically (which is unhealthy) it causes the body to go into crisis mode because you are deviating from the set-point. The body will do everything it can to return to where it originally was.
- Most diets expect people to completely change all of their eating habits at once. This is very difficult to do, thus few people can remain committed to the changes long enough to see results.
- If a diet does work, most people immediately throw it out the window when they reach their target weight. The result is gaining all that weight back. As the saying goes, losing weight is the "easy", keeping it off is the hard part.

Unfortunately, too many people have adopted the "immediate gratification, least amount of work" mind-set. Instead of trying some crash diet, focus on a sound nutrition plan that gives the body the energy requirements it needs while implementing changes one at a time.

A nutrition plan that will promote long-term weight loss should focus on format, consistency and portion control. It takes at least a month to change habits so take your time and focus on one changing one thing at a time. Remember, a healthy weight loss goal is 1-2lbs/week. This is a realistic weight loss goal that can be met week after week with proper nutrition and exercise.

Diets can work for long-term weight loss, but that is only when you are referring to a healthy eating plan you can adopt as a permanent lifestyle change. “Fad diets” never work in the long-term because they are impossible to maintain for an extended period of time. You may lose weight right away, but it is also likely you will gain it back quickly and begin a cycle of yo-yo dieting afterwards. Your best option is to make simple changes you can follow everyday. Add fresh fruits or vegetables to every meal. Replace refined carbohydrates with whole grains and eat lean protein sources. Making gradual changes will enable you to lose weight at a steady rate and help you create healthier habits you can maintain for life.

Diets typically don't work because they force us to eliminate foods we love, they restrict us to consuming too few calories to be realistic and do not include lifestyle changes.  If you want to lose weight, you need to get moving, incorporate portion control, and for many, it works best to eat several mini-meals during the day instead of 3 large meals. 
Michael T. Murray, ND
Naturopathic Medicine

Most people can occasionally muster up the courage to lose some weight through dieting. However, because diets don&apost reduce our appetite or help us change and improve our eating habits, we eventually gravitate back to our old habits again. The kind of food we eat, when we eat, and how fast and how much we eat are all choices and behaviors that need to be aligned with our weight-loss goals if we want to achieve long-term success.

Hunger Free Forever: The New Science of Appetite Control

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Hunger Free Forever: The New Science of Appetite Control

From two leading authorities on appetite control, obesity, natural medicine, and food comes a breakthrough in getting healthy and staying slim without starving.Millions have spent years searching for...
Dennis J. Glatt, MD
A diet implies a short term eating habit change. The key to long term weight loss success is committing to a lifelong healthy lifestyle including nutrient dense food choices and physical activity on a daily basis.
Rose Reisman
Nutrition & Dietetics
Say "diets don't work" at least 10 times and, I hope, it will become your mantra. I'm speaking about the latest fad diets that promise you amazing weight loss in no time. Ninety-five percent of all dieters gain back their weight just a few months after having lost it. The reason is that there's no magic formula, pill or secret plan for losing weight. Fad diets offer a simple equation for the entire world, but dietary needs are individual and the "one diet for all" mentality just can't succeed. The moment you go back to your old eating habits, out goes the diet and on come the pounds!

What's so alluring about most fad diets is the promise of rapid weight loss. But these fast results won't lead people to permanent weight loss. Most people are intelligent enough to know that no fad diet has worked over the long term for them. However, many of us let our intelligence go out the window when it comes to our weight. We all want quick results. You've seen all the bestselling diet books and most likely you own a few. Many of them have some merit, and some have good information, but they all tend to keep you following a restrictive formula that can never be maintained for the long term. The reason those books are on the bestseller list is that if you follow their formula you'll lose weight quickly, especially during the first two weeks. Few of these diet plans allow for slow, steady and intelligent weight loss. These books offer you the fantasy of the perfect body in the shortest time possible -- the answer to all your weight problems. Right!
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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.