Why Diets Fail

98% of diets fail within six months, and yet we continue to diet. Why? It's not about weight, it's about life, and a new breed of coaches are emerging to help.

We live in a world where bigger is better and time is money.  But it seems there is never enough time in the day, week, month, or YEAR to get through everything we have to do.  We are go-go-go constantly.  Relentless stress is the status quo.  We operate on overdrive all day, every day, with little to no time for a break (or trivial things like, say, breathing).  By the time we get home, we’re too tired to peel ourselves off the couch, so we eat out or take out instead of cooking. When the weekend comes, we overindulge on anything sweet, salty, or poured from a tap, because we darn well deserve it!  And then—way too quickly—Monday comes, and we hit repeat.  Sound familiar?

And more than ever before, we sit in front of the computer at work, get in the car to go home, and then we sit in front of the TV when we get there.  We start putting on pounds we never wanted, and so we start looking for solutions.  But with all the conflicting messages out there about food and dieting, we don’t know where to start. 

Before we know it, we find ourselves prescribing to the next fad, grabbing non-fat items or pre-made meals, and drinking diet sodas or sugar-laden “health” drinks (they’re better for us, right?).  We want the quick fix so we can squeeze into that bridesmaids dress or that bathing suit—next week!  So not knowing any better, we end up starving ourselves.  We want to be beautiful and fit, but we’re too busy and too tired and too overwhelmed to put in the work. With our maddening to-do lists—that never seem to end—where is the time for relaxing, preparing food, or working-out?  Besides, in this day and age, there’s a magic diet pill for things like this, right?  Wrong.

In an increasingly confusing nutritional landscape, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and desperate—hoping someone or something will provide the miracle cure.  Unfortunately, as Dr. Mark Mincolla recently shared at Be Healthy Boston Conference, 98% of diets have been proven to fail within the first 6 months.  So amidst all of the food-related frustration and uncertainty, one thing is for sure:  diets don’t work.

The Diet Landscape.

Do a quick Internet search, or take a stroll down any health section at any bookstore, and you will quickly notice the vast array of approaches there are to dieting. Watch ten minutes of television, read one article on an online news source, or drive down a city street, and you are not far from another advertisement for another weight loss solution—whether a pill, a gym, a machine, a gadget, or a program.  There are big-name diets with celebrity spokespeople, providing point systems, packaged meals delivered right to your doorstep, and a whole lot of clout.  Each “expert” claims they have the answer, that theirs is the solution.  But how can this be? 

And then there are the low-fat and low-carb crazes, where we vilify one of the three macronutrients in our body.  Let’s break this down:  macro = big = important.  Our basic cellular structure and metabolic functioning depends on both macro- and micro- nutrients.  We need all of these nutrients, not just one over the other.  And by turning one particular nutrient into the villain—or over-inflating others into superheroes—we end up in a food culture that relies on artificially manufactured “food-like substances” (1), which are far more hazardous to our health than the stuff found in nature. 

Many of the mainstream diets claim, “All things in moderation.”  But sometimes moderation is a death wish to change, especially when used as an excuse to continue eating the junk food that made us unhealthy to begin with.  It keeps us in the same patterns, in the same ruts.  It prevents the possibility of truly, wholly transforming our bodies—which provides a gateway to transforming our entire lives. 

Unsustainable Living:  Dieting.

Often, we hear that “a calorie is a calorie is a calorie,” which provides the rationale for obsessive calorie counting, point systems, and the like.  Essentially, this means that there is no distinction between the metabolism of different macronutrients (carbohydrates, fats, proteins) or recognition of precious micronutrients, and it is ultimately the quantity of the calories, not quality, that matters in weight loss.  With this commonly accepted rule, many people make eating a game, falling into bad patterns—well, if I eat this candy bar or this bag of chips, I’ll just skip my next meal to stay within my daily limits.  Or some will “be good” during the week and save all their points for partying on the weekend—essentially loading up on empty calories with no nutritional value, but still staying within their point limits. 

Please forgive the hyperbole, but a fatty, fast food cheeseburger, made from conventionally slaughtered meat, on a white bun, topped with genetically modified tomatoes, slathered with sugar-laden condiments is NOT the same as a homemade, whole-food, plant-based meal made from organic ingredients.   300 calories from a piece of conventional red meat is NOT the same as 300 calories of fiber-rich, micro- and phyto-nutrient-rich veggies, legumes, or whole grains.  Sure, both are providing the body energy, but what is the QUALITY of that energy, what is the COST of that energy, and what is the nutritional SURPLUS of that energy, if any?  Few diet plans address these questions.  Nor do they address issues of chemical additives, pesticides, hormones, antibiotics, genetically modified organisms, or environmental sustainability, all of which are vital in discussing our health within the current food system. 

 While calorie or point counting provides a good structure for people to begin understanding how much and of what to ingest, there is far more to learn than that.  And there is a way of living—healthfully, I might add—that is FREE from constant counting and restrictions.  Like Mark Bittman says, “The principles are simple:  deny nothing; enjoy everything, but eat plants first and most.  There’s no gimmick, no dogma, no guilt, and no food police” (2). 

Pre-packaged plans are also problematic: they don’t promote lasting change in their clients’ lives.  If people become dependant on the shakes or the frozen meals, the company will make plenty of money, but will the customers be able to maintain the diet on their own?  More to the point, is that truly the goal of these programs, or is it more about the profit?  When looking to lose weight or to develop healthy habits, it is vitally important for people to gain independence.  They need to know how to make healthy choices on their own when shopping, cooking, eating out, and so much more.  Independence should be the ultimate goal, which many current diets fail to support.

In addition, when we talk of the popular diet plans, we must remember that one size absolutely does not fit all.  Proponents of different diets are often singularly focused, thinking their way is the ONLY way. How is it possible, then, that one person may thrive on a particular diet, while another flounders?  And how can there be so many scientific studies in nutrition claiming drastically different things?  Our inner landscape—the biology and chemistry—is unique and is constantly changing.  While there are basic nutritional guidelines, each of us has our own needs that vary due to age, sex, season, activity, and more. 

Thus, we can’t so brazenly claim, “This is the best diet,” even when science seems to support it.  As Marc David explains, “There is no single perfect diet but many.  Different dietary systems are effective for different people under different circumstances.”  And “any scientist or layperson may experience success with a diet that supports a particular body phase and falsely conclude that the diet works on all bodies all the time” (3).

To Diet or Not to Diet.

That is the question. 

Given our nation’s bill of health, it seems the concept of dieting and its current role in our society is not only limited—it’s broken.  We need to look at the whole picture, not just how much weight our bodies carry and how fast we lose it.  Not just how many calories are in that slab of chocolate cake and then how many will be surrendered afterwards. 

Instead, let us contemplate nourishment in all forms.  Let us explore a way of eating that supports and infuses a joyful way of living—free from advertisers, nutritional doomsdayers, and empty calories.  Let us fill our bodies, minds, and souls with juicy, ripe, delicious food:  fuel that serves us, that heals us, and makes us feel whole.

A Different Approach

At Diosa, we won’t sell you a gimmick or a one-size-fits-all approach.  Our board certified health coaches work with individuals and groups, helping each to reconnect with his or her body and self-awareness, as well as awareness around food choices and food systems.  We focus on education—providing information and support—as the tool for lasting change.  We stay with clients the whole way, not as a crutch, but as a guide to help them successfully incorporate healthy changes into their lives.  And perhaps most importantly, we work with clients to identify the root causes of their imbalance around food and lifestyle.  This is different for everyone and is the key to breaking unhealthy cycles. 

We also realize that true health and happiness does not solely rely on nourishment from food—we receive nourishment from our relationships, career, spiritual practices, physical activity, and so much more.  Together, we explore ALL aspects of feeding our bodies and our lives. 

Health coaching provides a whole-person, self-education that builds an invaluable foundation for the rest of your life.  By committing to this work, you will learn how to maintain and actively incorporate positive change in everything you do.  So, inevitably, when life happens, you will be equipped with the tools, the information, and the empowerment to re-balance yourself—to block out the noise and find your center.  

This time, you won’t be overwhelmed; you won’t be fooled into buying the next gimmicky diet or the next quick fix.  This time, you will know—intuitively—that vibrant health is more than the number on a scale.  And this time, you will know that you have everything you need inside you to live a happy, healthy, and harmonious life. 

And the truth is, you always did.


1. Mincolla, Mark.  “Food as Medicine.” Lecture.  Be Healthy Boston. Boston, MA.  January 8, 2012. 

2. Pollan, Micheal.  In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto.  New York: Penguin, 2008.

3. Bittman, Mark.  Food Matters.  New York: Simon & Schuster, 2009.

4. David, Marc.  Nourishing Wisdom.  New York: Bell Tower, 1991.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jim Rizoli July 13, 2012 at 08:43 PM
Not to rain on your parade as they accuse me of doing all the time it comes down to this Some use the term piss in your coffee........yuk! Too much junk food, too much sugar and sweets, not enough of moving around. Now lets look at the food.....hard to get good food today even from organic..... Water is polluted, and ground has hardly any good minerals in it. So to get off to a good start WE are way behind of the starting block. Then we have the pollution in the water that is full of chemicals and pharmaceuticals. I don't care how good you eat your ingesting everyone elses pills for every aliment under the sun. If you don't have problems now you soon will. To be honest it's amazing we're still alive. But we are living longer and the reason why is all the preservatives in our body from all the food we eat, so that is a good thing. Of course the quality of our lives isn't the greatest, as our bones and joints are disintegrating as we talk. So other than that, life is good and it's good to be alive....even if it just barely. Now for thinking positively....good if you put blinders on and don't watch and listen to the media. And if you only care about yourself and the heck with the rest of the world who are even in worse shape. Jim@ccfiile.com
Kim Poness July 13, 2012 at 09:47 PM
@Jim - I have to agree. Even if we grow our own food, the water we use to hydrate our soil is polluted, so no matter what we do, we're not starting from a good place. That said, you know I've been complaining about my weight for some time now (which I suppose makes me a fairly textbook middle aged woman!). I went to the doctor recently, and she told me what I already know - eat more fruits and veggies, eat less fat and carbs, and get more exercise. Simple. The willpower seems to be the tough part!
Jim Rizoli July 13, 2012 at 10:47 PM
Kim....wait to you hit 60....LOL It seems like the older one gets the harder it is to stay on track because it takes longer for you body to work it all off. We have so much to deal with here. I like to go to Macdonalds on rt 30 and get online every now and then. You can't believe how many people make that type of eating a way of life, especially for the kids. I only get a coffee and every once in a while eat something substantial there. So I've seen first hand how the public eats. I know I mentioned this to you before but out of everything we eat potato chips are the worst, and will put on the most weight on people, mix those with carbonated soft drinks as they de-calcify your bones, and we have huge health issues. I'm not a health nut fanatic but I try to stay away from the sugars and sweets, but it's not easy.....to really do it right I wouldn't be eating out at all, and that's not too much fun. Eating out is part of socializing, and if we didn't have that we would pretty much be homebodies. So there are things we can do but like you said it's the willpower that makes it all work. Jim@ccfiile.com
Diosa Dance Yoga Health July 14, 2012 at 12:28 AM
I don’t mind rain—rain begets rainbows and gardens. And if you pissed in my coffee I would have cause to resist caffeine, so, thank you for taking the time to read the blog and comment. What keeps us from doing what’s right is our own selves. Willpower? I say it’s precisely this feeling of helplessness that I hear in both your comments. Food and exercise are only two thirds of the equation. There is another that most doctors can’t talk about. What is it? Hint: it’s not a nutritional health coach, but it is what a nutritional health coach will help you find, and it’s different for everyone. We live longer because advances in technology now protect us from the kinds of catastrophic events that killed us in the past. Preservatives are killing us slowly, starting with the brain. Now we are dying slowly, from the type of chronic disease caused by convenience and for which the technology that created it can provide solutions, at a very high cost. We are not alone. Everyone is in the same boat. Why not deal with it together? The later years of our life can be full of vitality—health of mind, body, and spirit up until the very end. If the focus is on quality of life, the health naturally follows. The key is to rediscover the life force and shift our energy towards that which will charge us from within. It begins, less with willpower, more with a desire to feel good for a change.
Diosa Dance Yoga Health July 14, 2012 at 12:33 AM
PS. Jim, I want to add that you made a very important point when you talk about the social aspect. Eating is very much a part of socializing, and this is where coming together on this point benefits us all.
Jim Rizoli July 14, 2012 at 01:20 AM
When I'm out socializing and stuffing my face with all those bad things, I at least can say ( If I die of a heart attack or somethings as bad ).....it sure was fun socializing with you folks. Of course I would be the last to know what happened. Jim@ccfiile.com


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