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Why do we keep failing at diets?

We know the drill. New year, new me! Holiday, friend’s wedding, looming work presentation. By X date I will reach my goal weight. And we really believe it. We muster up all our willpower, we research the ‘best’ diets, we clear out our ‘junk’ cupboards, we put a plan in place. Maybe we even create a chart using lines and highlighters to show we’re going to lose 5 lbs a week.

And we begin. We begin in earnest. We feel great! We lose weight! Maybe the people around us notice. Clothes start to feel looser. And then suddenly, bam! Out of nowhere, we find ourselves devouring an entire tub of Ben & Jerry’s in the middle of the night. Hiding in the kitchen like an imposter in our own homes, chocolate and guilt smeared across our faces.

We unravel. Sometimes quickly and sometimes slowly, but the weight creeps back on. We feel miserable. We tell ourselves we’re not strong enough, we wring our hands and wonder that we did wrong. We promise to get back on the ‘wagon’.

So why do we keep failing at diets?

Quite often we’re told that if we can just find the ‘right’ diet, if we can muster up enough willpower, if we can eat less calories and do more exercise we’ll succeed. But what if this is utter codswallop? [1]

We’re forgetting something primal and powerful…

Our biology!

When we drastically restrict our calories, we trigger very ancient biological adaptions that protect us from starvation. This in turn can slow our metabolisms and make us much hungrier. Willpower is no match for the chain reaction of hormones that make sure we don’t starve to death.

So, what can we do?

Ditch the diets!

The problem is that diets usually promise us to “lose weight fast”. They turn our lives upside down for two weeks or so. They’re short-term and can encourage us to be all-or-nothing. Typically diets also make us hungry. Ravenously hungry in some cases. And we can’t fight our biology! So instead of continuously feeling guilty when we invariably fail at diets, how about we quit dieting?

“More and more dieters are realising that the fad diet promises of shedding huge amounts of weight in just a few weeks are either hollow, or that the diets are impossible to follow. The reality is that the majority of these diets are so impractical and indeed so little fun that we often give up within just a few days.” Kate Arthur, Dietician

Focus on quality above quantity

Deciding what we eat is much easier than trying to control how much we eat. Let’s stop beating ourselves with a big stick for lack of willpower, and start empowering ourselves by eating more real, whole, fresh food that’s high in fiber, good fats, and protein. Low-fat isn’t always the best choice. Eating foods rich in healthy fats such as avocado, oily fish, nuts, and seeds can stave off hunger and maintain our blood sugar levels. Have a read of Healthy Eating Habits for more ideas. [2]

Start small

Big, drastic goals are tempting to set (I’ll sign up to the gym, eat strict paleo, drink 4 litres of water a day and run a marathon!) but they’re almost impossibly unsustainable. Small changes have a much greater impact over time. So, let’s start small. What little things can we begin to change? For example, we might be used to eating dessert after dinner. How about having fruit and yoghurt a few times a week instead? Or having dessert 1 less day a week? That way we can make gradual changes we’re more likely to stick to.

“Great things are done by a series of small things brought together.” Vincent Van Gogh


We’re practically programmed from birth to use food emotionally. We celebrate over meals, use food to show our affection, bring others food in times of crisis (thanks Mum!), and use food as a means of comfort. A terrible day at work or a long-awaited promotion may both trigger cravings.

When the cravings hit try some distraction techniques. Some of the ways Beingwell members get through cravings is by:

  • Going for a walk (without taking any money so we can’t be tempted to nip to the shop).

  • Putting on a tearjerker film and having a good cry.

  • Having a decadent bubble bath with candles and our favourite tunes.

  • Putting on some upbeat music and having a ridiculous dance around the house.

  • Chewing gum! It changes the taste in our mouths, gives our jaws something to do, and who wants to eat cake when you’ve got a minty fresh mouth?

  • Journalling – if we’re feeling some emotions try writing out what we’re thinking and feeling.

  • Calling our bestie or a friend and having a good chinwag.

Cravings usually pass after around 20-minutes. What if we give in to the craving? Don’t worry. Let’s not give ourselves a hard time, change takes time, and we’re doing our best.


And remember:

“One of the biggest problems is that people believe that if they make one bad decision, that their entire day is ruined. That is very far from being true. Just because you eat something for lunch that is not great for you, doesn’t mean that you have a free pass on binging for dinner. Re-group and remind yourself that this is a journey and that you are going to make unhealthy decisions every once in a while. That is life.” Nicole Justus, medical professional at The Diabetes Council


  1. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition (2016). The Obesity Society.

  2. Willett WC, Leibel RL. Dietary fat is not a major determinant of body fat (2002). Am J Med.




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