Assumption 2:  If You Work Your Diet, Your Diet Will Work

Most people think diets work and that it is the dieters who “don’t work.” However, any review of unbiased research literature not done by the diet industry leads to the conclusion that, in fact, diets don’t work. Professor Steven of Brigham Young University says, "You would be hard-pressed to review the dietary literature and conclude that you can give people a set of dietary guidelines or restrictions that they will be able to follow in the long term and manage their weight successfully."[1] Dr. Glenn A. Gaesser, in his groundbreaking book Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health concluded that 90 percent of dieters regain all the weight they lose. Similarly, Professor Traci Mann of UCLA, after conducting a comprehensive analysis of thirty-one diet studies, concluded that most dieters would have been better off never dieting at all since the majority of them gained all their weight back and more.[2] In fact, study after study concludes that you are more likely to gain weight as a result of dieting than lose weight. In the ten prospective studies Mann et al located, only one showed weight loss over time, two found that dieting had no relationship to weight loss, and seven found that dieting led to weight gain. A large study of adolescents including almost 15,000 subjects concluded that weight-loss efforts were a clear risk factor for future weight gains.[3] The conclusion: The more you try to diet, the more likely you will gain weight! Sounds like a Zen koan to me! (See Post 1 to read more about Zen koans.)

Nonetheless, those who favor logic more than the crazy wisdom of the Zen koan argue that people still need to try to lose weight because of the health risks. However, here, too, the problem is more koan-like than people might realize. While being overweight, in and of itself, is associated with certain health risks, eating certain foods, not moving or exercising, and having prior health issues may be more significant factors in people’s health than being overweight itself. One of the largest studies, conducted at Harvard University, found that the rate of heart disease and type II diabetes increase significantly with big weight fluctuations such as those experienced by yo-yo dieters (one of the most common results of dieting).[4] In fact, many studies have concluded that repeatedly losing weight and then gaining weight again may be more dangerous to your health than being overweight!

Clearly, while many people are led to believe that if they work their diet program diligently they will lose weight and become healthier, much data suggests that this assumption does not survive careful scrutiny.

Stay tuned for future posts that suggest new paradigms for addressing the diet dilemma or visit The Diet Project.

[1] Amanda Spake, “Stop Dieting! Forget the scale, the calorie counting, and forbidden foods. They may be doing more harm than good,” U.S. News and World Report, posted January 8, 2006, accessed October 31, 2011,

[2] Traci Mann, A. Janet Tomiyama, Erika Westling, Ann-Marie Lew, Barbra Samuels, and Jason Chatman, “Medicare’s search for effective obesity treatments: Diets are not the answer,” American Psychologist, 62, no. 3 (2007): 220-233.

[3] Field, A.E., Austin, S.B., Taylor, C.B., Malspeis, S., Rosner, B., Rockett, H.R., et al.  Relation between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics, 112, 900–906 (2003).

[4] Glenn A. Gaesser, Big Fat Lies: The Truth About Your Weight and Your Health (Carlsbad, CA: Gürze Books, 2002 [1996]), 77.

You are reading

Is Psychology Making Us Sick?

When Relationships Fall Apart

Conscious and Unconscious Agreements in Relationship

Domestic Violence: Power and Rank Dynamics

Understanding Rank Dynamics in Domestic Violence

Shaming Methods in Popular Psychology

Counteracting the shaming process in popular psychology