Why Diets Don’t Work and What You Can Do Instead

There’s a reason why the diet industry is worth so much money. People place a lot of importance on the way they look, and whilst people also lose weight for health reasons, aesthetics have always led to easy sales. Diet is a term used to describe what a person eats but it has become synonymous with weight loss. In this blog I use the term diet to mean a weight loss diet not someone’s chosen way of eating.

Diets Restrict

Diets either restrict food in general or specific food groups, the focus is always on reduction and restriction. When we restrict what we eat, our body goes into starvation mode. Physically, when our body detects it’s not getting enough energy it breaks down our muscle and lean tissue for energy. The body preserves fat stores and stores the food you do eat as fat because it doesn’t know when it’s going to get more energy. This slows down your body’s metabolism and is often why people find it hard to keep weight off. Neurologically, our appetites go bananas when we restrict. Under-eating increases the levels of hormone Neuropeptide Y which makes you crave high carbohydrate foods. This craving can lead to binging which combined with the physical impact of staving is just havoc for the body and does not help with fat loss!

Diets also assume a one size fits all approach to weight loss when this simply is not the case. There are so many factors involved; some of the core considerations related to weight loss are:

Different Genetics

More than 340 different genes are implicated in how we store and burn fat. That gives a lot of room for a lot of variation between people. Our genes impact how much fat we store, where we store it, if we crave high sugar foods, our metabolism and so so much more. The vast amount of difference between individuals means a generic diet is never going to cater to your own unique needs.

Metabolic Variances

Our metabolism involves all the chemical processes which keep us living and moving and breathing. It’s how we convert food into fuel: the rate at which this happens and how efficiently. Genes play a role, so does the amount of exercise we do, the types of foods we eat, our stress levels, the amount of sleep we’ve had and many more factors. We each have different metabolisms with different needs. Which is why some people (especially teenagers) seem to be able to endlessly eat without putting on weight and some only look at a bagel and put on a stone. We’re all different.

Gut Microbiomes

We all have unique gut microbiomes (even twins). Our gut microbiome impacts the way we digest food, how it gets transported around our body and how it gets used. Your gut microbiome may be well suited to digesting and using carbohydrates so being on a low carbohydrate diet may not work for you at all. Your microbiome may be really good at absorbing fats and so you need to reduce your fat intake a little to reduce the amount of fat stored. Without taking into consideration your individual gut microbiome a diet is not going to work for your specific needs.


Basically, it comes down to how unique we are as individuals. We all have different bodies and different needs so different quantities of different nutrients are needed. Personalised information as to what is the best nutrition for your body is the only way to ensure what you eat is best for your body. There are some general guidelines which can help if you want to reduce your weight without restrictive dieting.

Fill Up on Veggies

Make sure vegetables take up a lot of space on your plate and eat them all. If you have anything left on your plate at the end of a meal, make sure it’s not vegetables!

Add Foods Don’t Remove Them

Introduce new foods to your diet – try beans, lentils, a vegetable you don’t usually eat. Experiment with ‘healthier’ foods you don’t usually consume but don’t make other foods off limits. The more we stop ourselves from eating something, the more we want to eat it. Just bring your focus to other foods.

Smaller Portions

Try eating a smaller portion of food you usually eat. Notice if you need extra food or if you’re just eating it because it’s already on the plate.

Slow Down

When we chew our food more thoroughly, we get fuller quicker and our body can access more of the nutrients. So slow down your eating, chew properly and notice when you feel full.

Plan for Snacks

Snacks can be a downfall for some. When you get those cravings for something small between meals and you reach for whatever’s easiest. Make sure you have snacks prepped and to hand – nuts, hummus and cucumber, some blueberries. You don’t have to make some complicated recipes, just have snacks ready and make them the easiest choice so you don’t reach for that bag of crisps every time!


I;m leading a Nutrition Workshop on 17th October 2020, around World Food Day, delving into our relationship with food. You can join online from wherever you are. Click here for more info and to book.

For personalised advice on nutrition and weight loss please contact a registered nutritionist. To check a nutritionist is qualified search on the Association for Nutrition’s register.

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