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Why Diets Don’t Work in the Long Term: And How to Manage Sustainable Weight Control

Why Diets Don’t Work in the Long Term: And How to Manage Sustainable Weight Control
  • PublishedAugust 31, 2023

Dieting sucks. And let’s also be honest – no diet works in the long term.

In a world obsessed with dieting and achieving the elusive “perfect body,” many of us are starting to ask the question, “Do diets work?”

Well. While many individuals initially lose weight on popular diets, they often quickly regain that weight, sometimes even exceeding their starting point.

The bottom line is that dieting is too shortsighted and lacks a solid foundation for long-term success.

So, what’s the alternative?

We’re going to dig into the world of weight loss, why diets don’t work, and what you can do instead to lose weight and keep it off for life. Yes, really. No miracles here, just common sense.

Why do diets not work?

While many people do lose weight on diets, the truth is the weight does stay off in the long term. In fact most people who spend their life struggling with their weight will try all the diets, from Atkins to raw food, or Weightwatchers to paleo.

But the problem is that high profile traditional weight-loss diets have numerous pitfalls:

  1. They focus on drastic caloric restriction. This may trigger the body’s survival mechanisms, leading to slowed metabolism and, frustratingly for many, future weight gain.
  2. Diets tend to cause loss of muscle mass rather than fat. This impairs calorie-burning capacity in the long run.
  3. Weight-loss diets are usually too restrictive to adhere to over the long term. This means they’re not designed as a lifestyle change, just a short term, fix. And this increases the likelihood of regaining weight once the diet is abandoned.

So, instead of resorting to unsustainable diets, let’s dive into the practical and scientifically-backed strategies for weight control and weight loss maintenance.

It can be a struggle to get away from processed food when adjusting your diet

1. Cutting Out Processed Foods

Why this works: Processed foods are laden with added sugars, unhealthy fats, and refined carbohydrates, which lead to excess calorie consumption and contribute to weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases.

A diet high in processed foods may also contribute to increased inflammation and disrupt gut health, factors that can also negatively impact weight regulation. (source)

Choosing whole and minimally processed foods, on the other hand, ensures that our bodies receive essential nutrients without the accompanying unhealthy additives.

How to implement this: Start by reading food labels, identifying hidden sugars and unhealthy fat sources. Gradually replace processed snacks and meals with whole food options.

For example, swap crisps and biscuits for fruits, nuts, or yogurt, and exchange frozen pizza for homemade pizza using fresh ingredients. Honestly, it’s not that difficult and it tastes SO MUCH BETTER.

2. Cooking From Scratch

Why this works: Cooking from scratch encourages healthier eating habits, as you control the ingredients and cooking methods. Multiple studies have demonstrated that individuals who cook more meals at home consume fewer calories, less sugar, and unhealthy fats compared to those who rely on takeout or pre-packaged meals. (source)

Plus, home cooking helps you build a healthier relationship with food, exploring new flavours and ingredients in a more mindful manner.

How to implement this: Set a goal to cook a specific number of meals at home each week and gradually increase that number. Start by following simple recipes, using whole, unprocessed ingredients, and experimenting with various cooking methods like roasting, steaming, and stir-frying.

Embrace meal-prepping and invest in quality kitchen tools to make the cooking experience easier and more enjoyable.

Home cooking can help to reduce poor quality diet and improve weight management

3. Getting Regular Exercise

Why this works: Regular exercise is crucial for weight control and overall health. According to scientific evidence, physical activity can increase metabolism and improve body composition, leading to lower body fat percentages. Exercise also aids mental well-being and is shown to improve mood, reduce stress levels, and increase the likelihood of adherence to a healthier lifestyle.

How to implement this: Aim for a balanced combination of cardiovascular exercises (e.g., walking, jogging, swimming), resistance training (e.g., weightlifting, push-ups, squats), and flexibility and balance practices (e.g., yoga, Pilates).

Find activities that you genuinely enjoy, which will help motivate you to incorporate them into your routine for the long haul.

4. Intermittent Fasting

Why this works: Intermittent fasting (IF) is an alternative eating pattern that revolves around cycling between periods of eating and fasting. In addition to weight loss, IF shows promise for improving insulin resistance, inflammation, and lipid profiles. Various IF methods, such as the 16/8 method and the 5:2 diet, help reduce overall calorie intake without overly restrictive food choices, supporting both weight loss and weight maintenance.

How to implement this: Consult with a healthcare professional or Registered Dietitian to determine if intermittent fasting is suitable for you. Once you receive guidance, choose a fasting method that fits your lifestyle and preferences.

Remember to maintain a nutritious diet during your eating windows to ensure you meet your nutritional needs.

You can also used apps and supplements to help you get started with intermitted fasting. Try DoFasting if you want to take back control of your eating habits.

5. Mastering Mindful Eating

Why this works: Mindful eating emphasizes attention and awareness during meals, helping individuals tune into their hunger and fullness cues. Several studies suggest that practicing mindful eating can contribute to decreased emotional eating, reduced binge eating episodes, and overall weight loss8. By fostering a healthier relationship with food, mindful eating can support long-term weight control and enhance mental well-being.

How to implement this: Begin by eating meals without distractions, such as television or smartphones. Focus on the flavor, texture, and aroma of your food while chewing slowly. Pay close attention to your body’s hunger and fullness signals, stopping when comfortably satisfied. Consider joining a mindful eating workshop or using a guided meditation app to support your practice.

6. Drinking Water with Your Meals

Why this works: Adequate water intake before and during meals promotes satiety, preventing overeating. A study by the American Chemical Society found that individuals who drank 16 ounces (under 1 pint) of water 30 minutes before meals consumed fewer calories and lost more weight compared to participants who did not adopt this practice.

How to implement this: Set reminders or use a water-tracking app to monitor your water intake. Aim to drink a glass of water about 20-30 minutes before each meal. Opt for water or calorie-free beverages over sweetened drinks to reduce excess calorie intake.

drinking water helps you feel full and eat less food

7. Drink More Water Throughout the Day

Why this works: Staying hydrated throughout the day is essential for overall health, as water plays a vital role in metabolism and digestion. Additionally, maintaining proper hydration can help you differentiate between hunger and thirst, preventing unnecessary snacking and thus aiding weight control.

How to implement this: Keep a water bottle handy, track your water intake using apps or a daily log, and consume water-rich foods such as fruits and vegetables. Aim to drink around 2-3 liters of water daily, adjusting for individual needs and activity levels.

8. Other Healthy Habits for Sustaining Weight Loss

Why this works: Sustainable weight management involves addressing emotional, psychological, and physiological needs. Consistent sleep, stress management techniques, and a strong support network can collectively help individuals adhere to their weight control efforts. Sleep has been shown to influence appetite-regulating hormones, in turn affecting weight regulation. Well-managed stress levels may reduce the likelihood of emotional eating, and a supportive network can encourage adherence to healthier habits.

How to implement this: Prioritize sleep by setting consistent bed and wake-up times, creating a relaxing bedtime routine, and ensuring a sleep-friendly environment. Develop stress management techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, and journaling. Build a circle of friends, family, or even online communities that can provide emotional support and share similar weight control goals.


Discard the question, “Do diets work?” and focus on adopting sustainable strategies for weight loss and weight control. Through a combination of healthier food choices, regular exercise, mindful eating, hydration, and self-care, you can achieve lasting weight control and improve your overall well-being.

The journey towards a healthier lifestyle is a marathon, not a sprint – remember that every small change contributes to the path of sustainable transformation.

Written By
DH Writers

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