Why diets fail: Part 1 – Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes

“Nothing Changes if Nothing Changes”

As quotes go it’s ridiculously simple, and blatantly obvious, but it is worth exploring a little.

Recently, a friend of mine advised me to go onto a mums/parenting website in order to advertise. Whilst on the site I got drawn into the dieting and fitness forums and it was both fascinating and shocking.  I found the level of guilt and self-deprecation in there almost unbearable. Every other post contained phrases such as

  • I’m rubbish at dieting
  • I was good all day and then I was really bad at night
  • I’ll start again next week, I know I’m going to fail horribly this weekend
  • I only meant to have one, but ate the whole packet
  • I can’t resist a….
  • I’m going to try this in January (this was yesterday)

I then looked at the various different threads on Atkins, Dukan, Weightwatchers, Slimming World, Cambridge, Low Carb, No-Carb, Low Fat, No Fat, Juicing, Combining, Calorie Counting, Paleo, Primal and the list goes on.  Each thread was filled with “This really works”, “It’s so hard”, “It’s really easy”, and my favourite – “This really works, I’ve done it three times”!

The further I read, the more I noticed the same names coming back, and advising everyone to try a different miracle cure, fad diet, South American berry extract. The one thing that struck me was ALL the diets were working, if by working you mean losing weight in the first few weeks. But a huge proportion of people seemed desperately unhappy, found it a struggle, and spent most of the day obsessing about what food they were eating, or more truthfully, the foods they were denying themselves.

The single biggest reason people don’t keep the weight off that they are trying to lose, is that they only treat the symptoms of the problem, not the problem itself.  We tend to ask the wrong questions of ourselves. The question we tend to ask is “How can I get rid of this extra weight as soon as possible?”.

What if the question is “What is my relationship with food, and why do I let it control both my emotions and my well being?”

Heavy stuff right? It’s important though. If you are constantly craving sugar, or fat, or chocolate, or bread, or cheese or whatever it is, unless you deal with that reason, and attempt to change that need or behaviour then your diet will end up failing. Either in a reduction in weightloss, or by leaving you miserable and depressed.

Willpower requires activity in the brain, which requires energy. It is therefore tiring. If your mindset is on sticking to some unrealistic, or unnatural ,eating plan it’s going to tire you out mentally as it requires thought each and every time to NOT deviate from the plan. So eventually you’ll get tired, run out of energy and deviate – and most likely beat yourself up about it later.

So what’s the answer?

Hard work. Potentially, hard emotional work. Why is it that you spend day after day eating things that you know deep down are not helping you feel any better, look any better, or live any longer?

Be honest, write down the excuses you give for not eating a healthy balanced diet, an performing a little regular exercise. Look at the following lists.

The first one lists the measures we are going to take to combat our unhappiness with our weight / body / fitness.

The second one contains things / excuses  which are taking us away from our goal.


  • I’ll go on a diet and restrict what I eat
  • I’ll get some friends to go on the same diet


  • Eat when I am bored
  • Eat when I am depressed
  • Eat when I am lonely
  • Eat when I am stressed
  • Eat when I watch TV
  • We always have Takeaway’s on Friday
  • There’s no healthy food at work
  • My partner doesn’t like the foods I should be eating
  • I don’t have time to prepare healthy meals
  • Healthy food is too expensive
  • I don’t like vegetables
  • I don’t know how to cook healthier foods
  • The kids won’t eat it
  • We’re going to friends house and they eat unhealthy food
  • You’ve got to live a little
  • It was a birthday / leaving drinks / Christmas / Friday
  • It was on offer
  • It was in the house / partner wanted it / friend baked it

As you can see, it’s a failure waiting to happen. The only answer we have, is to eat less and follow some crazy rules about only eating Celery on Wednesdays before 3pm, and only eating Carbs upstairs, or other nonsense.

Look again at the first column. Is restricting your food on the “Lose a Stone a Month” diet going to stop you being bored, stop you being depressed, prevent loneliness, calm you down, replace the TV, remove Fridays?

Is only having 2 eggs for breakfast change your partner’s or kids’ thoughts? Is it going to change the fact it’s someone’s birthday, or move Christmas to next month?

Will having a 6 Vegetable and Tofu smoothie magically remove the Dairy Milk from the fridge?

Take some time to write down all the reasons why you don’t think you are in control of your own health, diet, fitness and in another post, let’s look at some of those.

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