Mainstream Diets: They Aren't Designed to Work

diet lifestyle nutrition

Diets: if you haven’t been on one, your friend, family member, or someone you know on social media has. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey found that between 2015-2018, 17.1% of US adults aged 20 and over were on a special diet on any given day. Many of us have moved from diet to diet like changing our nail color. But have we stopped to ask ourselves, do I enjoy this? Is this improving my health? If the answer to these questions is no, you are not alone. In fact, there is solid evidence to reveal why diets are not all they’re cracked up to be. 


What is Dieting?

The term “diet” can be used to refer to the foods and nutrients that someone consumes on a daily basis; however, the term “diet” is now more commonly referring to a change in eating behavior. A diet usually refers to an alteration or restriction of food and beverage consumption with the goal of weight loss (Markey & Gillen, 2016). Diets are often advertised to us as a quick and easy way to lose weight. However, for those of us who have dieted, we know this is far from reality. There are several reasons that diets are designed to fail. 


The Shortcomings of Dieting 

People who diet frequently are likely to experience weight cycling. Weight cycling or, “yo-do dieting” is the process of losing and gaining weight cyclically. When starting a diet, people often make drastic changes that result in fast weight loss. Are bodies, however, are not designed to undergo drastic changes and the weight usually comes back after a period of time.


The Set Point Theory

The set point theory states that all individuals have a genetically predetermined weight range or set point and the body works to maintain the weight within this range. People’s set point is influenced by several factors including genetics, hormones, and metabolism; all things that are largely out of our control! An individual’s set point weight is only one factor that may cause our bodies to resist weight change. Our metabolism can adapt to caloric restriction brought about by dieting (Maclean & Wing, 2000). This is another biological adaptation that can make it harder to continue to lose weight past a certain point or maintain weight loss over time. This is often why we see people’s weight loss efforts plateau.

One comprehensive systematic review and meta-analysis conducted an analysis of 121 trials involving nearly 22,000 overweight or obese adults who adhered to one of 14 well-known diets for an average duration of six months. The following diets were categorized into one of three groups: low-carbohydrate, low-fat, and moderate-macronutrient; The Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, DASH, and the Mediterranean diet. The researchers compared the effects of these diets on weight loss and cardiovascular measures, including cholesterol and blood pressure, in comparison to other diets or participants' usual dietary habits.

At the six-month mark, individuals experienced notable improvements in weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol measures (Ge et al., 2020). Both low-carbohydrate and low-fat diets resulted in an average weight loss of approximately 10 pounds after six months. However, most of the lost weight was regained within a year! 


Diet Sustainability

Apart from biological forces, dieting is incredibly unsustainable. Diets promise weight loss but only at the cost of giving up all the foods you love and consuming less food (sometimes, considerably less!). In order to successfully diet, you have to give up autonomy over your own feelings, wants, and needs and abide by a strict set of rules and foods. This is often why people revert back to their normal eating patterns after achieving short-term weight loss: will power does not last forever. 

On top of this, diets can bring about negative psychological effects, including increased stress and anxiety around food, body image issues, and a preoccupation with weight and appearance (Bacon & Aphramor, 2011; Tribole & Resche, 2012). Diets often prioritize weight loss over well-being (Bacon, 2010). 


Environmental, Social & Cultural Factors

Finally, dieting is not fit to match our environment. Cultural and social aspects of eating, which play a significant role in people's food choices, are not accommodated for in most main stream diets! Despite what the billion-dollar industry wants you to think, there is no one-size-fits-all diet or way of eating that works for everyone’s completely unique cultural, genetic, and environmental situation. 


Take Homes

We are all deserving of a happy and healthy life and this doesn’t have to mean losing weight to do so. Health is what you eat, what you do, your environment, and so much more. Taking the steps to become a better version of yourself can look like many things. If you want to begin or continue your health journey, remember to follow your own path!

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