Why Diets Fail - Bean

How many people do you know that start a new diet with vigour in January but have fallen off that particular wagon within a month or two? Despite bucketloads of enthusiasm, a determined mindset and willpower of steel, it just doesn’t work…. But why?

There are many factors to consider here and whilst they are all worthy of a mention, I wanted to focus on three particular aspects:

Let me paint a picture. Steve is 38 years old and works a 9-5 job (well, it should be 9-5 but his workload is increasing constantly and therefore he often has to stay late). He has a young family that he loves, but feels torn between his ever-increasing workload and getting quality time with his wife and kids. That said, he’s determined to shift this extra 10kg of spare tyre he’s acquired over the past few years (blamed on too many business lunches and eating on the go). It also seems he has a penchant for a biscuit or 3 with a cup of tea after his evening meal.

It’s January, that time when the miracles of weight loss seem destined to happen, it’s written in the stars. Steve is fired up, he’s ready to go. He’s downloaded a diet plan, it’s extreme but he figures that just means he’ll get where he wants to be quicker. It’s even more brutal than the two his friends are attempting but he’s never been more determined to succeed. The first few weeks pass and the weight is dropping off, 6 lbs in 2 weeks!  Steve is absolutely buzzing! The weight loss he’s achieving is for the time-being, giving him a bigger thrill than the hunger pangs gnarring in his tummy. He’s able to shut them out of his mind, reaffirming to himself that he’s a strong-minded man and he can do this, he is doing this and it feels good!

He feels so good about himself that when he’s finished his minute, calorie-restricted soup for dinner, he’s able to resist tucking into the biscuits that he knows are waiting for him in the cupboard. As nice as they would be, he doesn’t need them. He’s doing too well to let a little treat derail his progress.

It’s been a month now and Steve is finding it much more of a struggle. The weight loss has stalled, only dropping 1 lb last week. It’s getting harder and harder to resist the biscuits. The hunger pangs have increased in severity and food is all Steve can think about. He finds himself questioning the process, he’s feeling downhearted and wonders if it’s really worth feeling like this. He’s become more irritable and has been snapping at his wife and kids. His wife doesn’t like what this diet has done to him, who he’s becoming. To top it off those biscuits just keep calling….

5 weeks AD (After-Diet started) after a particularly gruelling day at work and with a deadline fast approaching, Steve crumbles. He has a biscuit, then another, before he knows what’s happened, he’s finished half a packet. He’s angry at himself but puts it down to stress and tells himself he’ll be back on track tomorrow. Only thing is, the next day at work is even worse and he stops off for a pint and a burger on his way home. The call of the biscuits is too strong now, he’s had a burger and beer so today’s out the window anyway right? A few biscuits won’t hurt, we’ll definitely crack this tomorrow. This process unravels and before 2 months have passed, Steve’s weight-loss successes are a distant memory and he’s reverted to his original habits. Only this time he’s put on 5 lbs on top of his original weight!

Does this sound like a familiar story? So, what happened? Was Steve not trying hard enough? Did he not want it enough? Maybe he just wasn’t mentally strong enough and that willpower he had wasn’t quite as powerful as he thought? The answer is…..  Unfortunately he was doomed from the start. Not because of any of the reasons I’ve mentioned, I’m sure he tried his very hardest, I’m sure he wanted it so very badly. I’m also sure he started the process with willpower as strong as steel. The issue is, this just isn’t enough. Not enough for Steve, or me or even for yourself. Willpower and determination alone is a fatally flawed plan. It will not work.

In my opinion, the single biggest reason why his weight-loss attempt failed, was he only changed one aspect of his life, his calories. To achieve long-term weight loss its important to create the type of environment that is conducive with achieving success long-term. By removing biscuits & other junk food from the cupboard, it removes the temptation and clears the subconscious to focus on more important things. More importantly, by creating an environment conducive to sustained weight-loss:

  • Regular exercise ideally at a level that challenges you and is progressive
    A daily calorie deficit
  • Removal of junk food and other treats from the household
    • Increased hydration (a source of water close to hand at all times)
    • A higher level of accountability (tell people of your plans and how you’re doing it)
    • Support from friends and loved ones

These components whilst powerful in isolation, in collaboration they can mean we are switching our chances of success from ‘a possibility’ to ‘inevitability’.