Why Diets Don’t Work

Let me start by sharing two thoughts

  1. Many people do need to lose fat. But not everyone need to go on a diet.
  2. We can lose fat without dieting.

Diets don’t work if we don’t address the underlying issue that caused the unhealthy relationship with food and exercise. This is the root issues that cause us to undereat or overeat, to overexercise and underexercise.

Putting genetic predisposition and congenital conditions aside, It is impossible to be unhealthy if we get our shit together around having healthy relationship with food and exercise.

That sounds simple and obvious but, as you know it, not easy.

First we often use food to numb, mask, cope, entertain, and reward aside from fueling ourselves. Sure food plays different functions in life. Eating is social, it is rewarding, it is celebratory. Nothing is wrong with any of these functions as long as it’s not done excessively and consistently. Food and exercise are one of many tools we can use to impact things in our physical, emotional, and mental realms. How to know if we’re not misusing the tools? Now that’s difficult.

Second reason it is challenging is because the fashion, diet, and fitness industry are at the end of the day: a business. Businesses are designed to make profit by solving problems. The best businesses understood the ways we are wired, tap into that to solve real problems and design responsible ethical solutions.

How are we wired?

We are wired for shortcuts. It’s hard for us to wrap our heads around and navigate that spectrum of short term reward vs long term results. And we are wired to enhance our lives. All we do in life are basically just running around finding ways to improve our lives, in however ways we define it.

So of course tactics and hacks sell. We want it all, we want it now, and we want it easy. Get lean fast! Gain weight fast! Boost your health, performance, and longevity.

Solutions that treat symptoms are more appealing than ones that address the root cause. it is inded easier to thrive and profit by exploiting these security holes in human operating systems.

We are all complicit in the way we have it now.

Assume everyone have good intentions for you but you need to reclaim and own the best intentions for you.

So, solution is simple and obvious but not easy.

I tend to think if we all learned to get in tune with our bodies, develop & maintain healthy relationship with food, and stay functionally active, we will arrive at each of our own ideal weight and body composition.

I watched this talk the other day. She shared the same idea.

(Transcripts are taken from the site, Highlights and commentaries added.)

Your brain also has its own sense of what you should weigh, no matter what you consciously believe. This is called your set point, but that’s a misleading term, because it’s actually a range of about 10 or 15 pounds. You can use lifestyle choices to move your weight up and down within that range, but it’s much, much harder to stay outside of it.


The hypothalamus, the part of the brain that regulates body weight, there are more than a dozen chemical signals in the brain that tell your body to gain weight, more than another dozen that tell your body to lose it, and the system works like a thermostat, responding to signals from the body by adjusting hunger, activity and metabolism, to keep your weight stable as conditions change.


That’s what a thermostat does, right? It keeps the temperature in your house the same as the weather changes outside. Now you can try to change the temperature in your house by opening a window in the winter, but that’s not going to change the setting on the thermostat, which will respond by kicking on the furnace to warm the place back up. Your brain works exactly the same way, responding to weight loss by using powerful tools to push your body back to what it considers normal.


If you lose a lot of weight, your brain reacts as if you were starving, and whether you started out fat or thin, your brain’s response is exactly the same. We would love to think that your brain could tell whether you need to lose weight or not, but it can’t. If you do lose a lot of weight, you become hungry, and your muscles burn less energy.


Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University has found that people who have lost 10 percent of their body weight burn 250 to 400 calories less because their metabolism is suppressed. That’s a lot of food. This means that a successful dieter must eat this much less forever than someone of the same weight who has always been thin.

Two things

  • Losing weight and keeping it off” is such a common phrase I hear. Perhaps notice if you’re struggling to keep it off, you’re probably going too extreme (in terms of range or pace of the weight loss) ?
  • I did lose 10% of my weight from 45 to 40 kg ish but I did put on significant amount of muscle mass. And the more muscles you have, the more your body need to burn to feed it. So my metabolism should not have dropped right? At worst it should have stayed the same. Does the hypothalamus know about the body composition? Is she only talking about people who lost weight without any increase in muscle mass?

Psychologists classify eaters into two groups, those who rely on their hunger and those who try to control their eating through willpower, like most dieters. Let’s call them intuitive eaters and controlled eaters. The interesting thing is that intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight, and they spend less time thinking about food. Controlled eaters are more vulnerable to overeating in response to advertising, super-sizing, and the all-you-can-eat buffet. And a small indulgence, like eating one scoop of ice cream, is more likely to lead to a food binge in controlled eaters. Children are especially vulnerable to this cycle of dieting and then binging. Several long-term studies have shown that girls who diet in their early teenage years are three times more likely to become overweight five years later, even if they started at a normal weight, and all of these studies found that the same factors that predicted weight gain also predicted the development of eating disorders.

I definitely turned from being an intuitive eater into a controlled eater. Been there, done that. not anymore thanks. Back then I could imagine myself eating a chocolate bar and thinking “ehh that’s alright, I know what it taste like, not really feeling it right now” but now I “have to have it“.

Now let’s look at what happens in overweight people. The ones that had no healthy habits had a higher risk of death. Adding just one healthy habit pulls overweight people back into the normal range. For obese people with no healthy habits, the risk is very high, seven times higher than the healthiest groups in the study. But a healthy lifestyle helps obese people too. In fact, if you look only at the group with all four healthy habits, you can see that weight makes very little difference. You can take control of your health by taking control of your lifestyle, even If you can’t lose weight and keep it off.

Most people don’t need to lose weight. We are trying to be thinner than we need to be. This relates to: “Why Do We Hate Fat?

If I’ve convinced you that dieting might be a problem, the next question is, what do you do about it? And my answer, in a word, is mindfulness. I’m not saying you need to learn to meditate or take up yoga. I’m talking about mindful eating: learning to understand your body’s signals so that you eat when you’re hungry and stop when you’re full, because a lot of weight gain boils down to eating when you’re not hungry.

I’d rather call this conscious eating because I was definitely full on “mind mode” when eating as a controlled eater. I was completely present when eating. I am in the moment, indulging, revelling, and fully restricting. That tension was a complete mental / mind game.

How do you do it? Give yourself permission to eat as much as you want, and then work on figuring out what makes your body feel good.

What we resist, persist. The more you restrict, the more you binge. The more off limit something is, the more appealing it is.

It took about a year for me to learn this, but it’s really been worth it. I am so much more relaxed around food than I have ever been in my life. I often don’t think about it. I forget we have chocolate in the house. It’s like aliens have taken over my brain. It’s just completely different.

I relate.

I should say that this approach to eating probably won’t make you lose weight unless you often eat when you’re not hungry, but doctors don’t know of any approach that makes significant weight loss in a lot of people, and that is why a lot of people are now focusing on preventing weight gain instead of promoting weight loss.

Isn’t that the same? Fuels the controlling mindset. Scarcity.

Speaking of mind games

Losing weight is simple. The trick is to know how to get full.

Consume high density satieting food and avoid calorie-dense foods. Cut down on dressings and simple carbs. One tbsp of olive oil is 120 cals. One piece of steak is 123 cals.

What’s tricky is self sabotage. You want all the “bad” things.

Your brain trying to convince you that you deserve it, it’s okay, why be so hard on yourself, you look fine.

The voice won. You felt guilty. You are stressed. You have emotional pain. Restrict more. Vicious cycle.

Perhaps your body is genuinely trying to snap back to homeostasis. Perhaps you’re just rebelling against the rules you set for yourself.

It’s a signal that we can interpret any way we want (like how I misinterpreted the “gym high”)

Perhaps the most difficult thing is exactly that: to be able to discern between what your body needs. and what your body wants.

Or to be precise, what your mind wants.

If you are battling any addiction, you know exactly what I’m talking about.

We are interesting beings. The more we try to control things, The more out of control we will try to become. We self sabotage, cope, numb, rationalise, seek comfort.

Don’t live mindfully. Live (sub?)consciously.

Mindful eating is BS. Eating should be a conscious activity, not a mindful one. Perhaps it’s all just semantics game but I’d like to explore this frame.

Mind > Consciousness > Subconsciousness

Consciousness implies a larger part of you. Your mind is just a small part of your consciousness. And your consciousness is a small part of your whole being, subconsciousness included.

Our bodies are not static machines that can be controlled by variables. steady input and output. We cannot fully control the subconscious with the conscious. We perceive and control only a very small portion of our whole being.

Be present when you’re eating. know why you’re eating. Don’t use your mind to decide what/when/how much to eat.

Your mind will sabotage you but your Being doesn’t care. You can go sit with it and know it will take care of you if you just let it.

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