The Center for Eating Disorders Blog

Why Diets Don’t Work

“Lose 20 pounds in less than two weeks!” “Join our program and never be hungry again!” These types of advertisements are all too familiar in today’s culture.  With society’s strong emphasis on being thin, it’s no wonder that lofty claims from diet programs, plans and pills have such strong appeal. But do they really work?  It depends on what you mean by “work”.  If you ask in terms of whether they work to make money and profits for the diet industry – well, then the answer is yes.  In fact, the diet industry generates over $40 billion dollars for itself each year but not because their products work, because they don’t.  Consider how many people you know who have dieted once and never dieted again?  Most likely, none.

There is resounding evidence that says diets don’t work.  Dieting is typically temporary – a means to an end – and therefore not a healthful long term approach to improving health, managing weight or sustaining a balanced relationship with food.  The restriction encouraged by diets can lead to extreme hunger, deprivation, overeating, loss of the body’s natural hunger and fullness cues, and weight gain.  In fact, the irony of diets is that the cycle of yo-yo dieting and chronic weight fluctuations can result in health problems and weight re-gain, potentially above one’s pre-diet weight.  For the diet industry this ensures that they keep making money, because customers go back time and time again.  Research shows:

  • 95-98% of dieters regain their lost weight within 1-5 years

  • Over half of them end up gaining back more than they lost

  • Moderate dieters are 5x more likely to develop eating disorders than those who don’t diet.  Severe dieters are 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder.

Beyond the physical effects, diets don’t address underlying issues, such as our relationship with food, and, in many ways, diets increase stress in an already stressful relationship with eating and food.  Diets also place value judgments on specific foods (or entire food groups!) and create various food rules which can quickly become obsessions or lead to eating disorders.  These rules and thoughts can also exacerbate concerns about body image and size acceptance.  Furthermore, when a diet doesn’t “work”, individuals tend to blame themselves and feel as though they failed – this can lead to depression and lower self-esteem.

Unfortunately, dieting is not only accepted in our culture, it has become a pervasive social norm – almost a rite of passage that we are expected to take part in.   In fact, a recent study in London, found that dieting behavior in mothers can negatively impact their daughter’s own body image and increases the daughter’s chances of developing an eating disorder.  Moving beyond a dieting mentality takes practice, and often professional guidance. Learning benefits of a diet free lifestyle can improve one’s relationship with food, enhance acceptance of body shape and weight, and provide healthier thought patterns. These types of changes are much more likely to be sustainable and long term, therefore providing a balanced and healthy lifestyle, instead of a temporary non-solution.

At The Center for Eating Disorders, we have a full staff of licensed dietitians who work with patients to restore balance and health to their meals.  Meeting with a dietitian can be a helpful and effective way to learn accurate information about food and begin to move away from the dieting mentality.  If you have questions about treatment for an eating disorder, including nutrition therapy with a registered dietitian, please call (410) 938-5252.

Written and contributed by Samantha Lewandowski, MS, RD, LDN
Nutritional Care Coordinator of Outpatient Services, CED

photo courtesy of:

Leave a Reply