Why are Diets so Popular if they don't Work?

I gave a talk about Intuitive Eating and Health At Every Size recently and I must say that this was my favorite question. “Why do people diet, if dieting doesn’t work?”


Ahhh. I said “I could go on and on about this!” Hence this blog post. 


First things first--society believes that thinness equates to good health. Old people, young people, educated, uneducated, rich, and poor people think this. I mean as a young, thin woman I can tell you that most of my doctor visits start with me getting on the scale, followed by very few questions. None related to what I eat or how I move my body. And yet your weight is largely based upon your genetic make-up. 


Weight bias is real, and on the rise. People in larger bodies can feel an increased pressure to be on a diet. A study of 498 overweight and obese women were asked “Has your weight been a barrier to getting appropriate health care?” And 52% answered yes. “These women cited the following reasons for delaying treatment for care: providers expressed negative attitudes, discourteous treatment, weighing procedures that caused embarrassment, uninvited weight loss advice, and examining tables/gowns/equipment too small to be functional.” People can feel a pressure to lose weight, just in order to feel comfortable seeking medical care. (See the link to this study)


I believe many people think that if they are able to shrink their bodies with dieting they will become healthier. This couldn’t be further from the truth. (See my blog “My thoughts on diets…” for more information)


Not only do people think they will become healthier, they usually think their life will improve. Once I am X weight I will go hike that mountain, I will start dating, I will put on a bathing suit. People literally will put their life on hold to diet, and think that a thin body will be a happy body. When in reality it usually is a hangry, powerless, food-obsessed body. 

The majority of people who lose weight on a diet need to continue to significantly reduce their calorie intake in order to stay at this desired weight. The usual thought is, “I will lose the weight, and then I will stay at that weight.” But if this goal weight is lower than your biologic set point weight, your body will do all it can to bring you to the weight it feels more comfortable with. 

Diets are also popular because people feel it is a test of willpower. Dieters LOVE to talk about their diet. They love to get praise for their food choices, how they look, and their willpower. 


Diets are often done among couples or friends, offering some camaraderie. If you are going to be hangry, it can be comforting to be hangry along with someone else! People are always looking for a common ground, so it is no wonder friends like to diet together, thinking, “ If I do this diet with my friend or loved one our relationship will be stronger.”  


Diets tell you what to do. Most humans are inundated with decisions each and every day. It can be overwhelming! Some people like the comfort in a diet telling them when to eat, how much to eat, and what to eat. 


Diets are also a fantastic distraction! Diets are often started when someone is going through some tough emotional shit. Break up? Loss of a loved one? Lost your job? Usually when you are upset and have high levels of stress, you have a harder time recognizing your hunger and fullness signals. People can turn to a diet to help distract them from what is going on. 


Diets are easy to fall into if you have a perfectionist personality. If you thrive off of control, it is easy to fall into the trap of controlling what you eat and your body weight. Dieting for this type of personality can be extra dangerous because they are more likely to fall into a full blown eating disorder. 


Diets are now being endorsed by many celebrities. People are impressionable, and when they see someone that they look up to dieting, they will dive in with them. This is especially true for young people who watch their favorite musicians and actors on social media. They want to emulate their idols, so they will try their “diet challenges,” “skinny teas”, or buy their books. (Reality check: they have ZERO medical background and are trying to make money off of you.)


Diet culture is freaking EVERYWHERE. You can feel like you are doing something wrong by not dieting! From “sin-free” “guilt-free” wording on food, to everyday diet talk on TV, at work, on the bus, and all the diet posts on social media, dieting has invaded our lives. This is inevitable, and the diet is always changing, to keep people interested. Right now there is this surge in “wellness.” This is the new guise for a diet, and people like to keep up with the trends! Everybody wants to be well, so it is an easy trend to get on board with! But let me tell you, if this “wellness” whatever is promoting things like: success is defined by shrinking your body, guilt/shame for not following food or exercise rules, if there is no relying on internal cues (it tells you what to do/when to do it), and watch out for the “lifestyle change, not a diet.” Even if weight loss isn’t the main objective, these are promoting dieting behaviors. Period. 


I’d love to hear your ideas of why you think diets are so popular, even though they are shown to do more harm than good on people’s mind, body and souls. This short blog certainly didn’t cover all of the reasons that diets seem to be an integral part of modern day life!


 Great article on the effects of weight stigmatization in the medical field: