‘Diets Don’t Work’ a Dangerous Myth

It’s that time of year again. The few extra holiday pounds are staring you in the mirror every day, reminding you about the second (or was it third?) helping of Thanksgiving pie you knew you should have turned down. The new year brought new resolutions: exercising more, skipping the late-night snacks, and probably a diet.

But which diet? And should you even bother?

Bookstore shelves are spilling over with books on dieting; magazine covers promise sure-fire diet tips inside. Even Taco Bell recently revealed their fast-food diet, much to the delight of late-night comics. It was of course a response to Subway’s Jared, who had lost a bunch of weight eating Subway sandwiches a few years ago.

While most people are understandably skeptical of fast food diets, many people state flat-out that diets don’t work. Some are self-proclaimed experts, but all have an agenda. After all, there’s a vested interest in convincing people that diets invariably fail. The claim that “diets don’t work” is often touted by people trying to sell you a book or seminar with the secrets on their special pills or technique to help you lose weight. (Or, in the case of fat-acceptance activists, the claim is used to justify giving up and instead accepting your obesity.)

The fact is that people can lose weight on just about any sensible diet. Often the mere fact that a person begins paying attention to what they are eating is enough to reduce calorie consumption, since a lot of snacking behavior is subconscious—people are not aware of how much they eat, and how often.

Dieting is simply making healthy choices about the types and amounts of foods a person consumes. Dieting is not the same as a fad diet, nor is it the same as a starvation diet. Of course dieting works; doctors and researchers have known for decades that the best way to lose weight and keep it off is through diet and exercise. Saying that, as a general truth, diets don’t work is kind of like saying the sky isn’t blue.

It is true that (depending on the study), many or most people who go on a diet will not remain on that diet for the long term. Some do it because they don’t see results fast enough, but most do it because they give up. They lack the willpower and self-discipline to stick to the diet, and go back to their old eating habits. The diet did not fail; the dieter chose to quit the diet. This is an important distinction that’s overlooked by all the anti-dieting “experts.” Blaming the diet because the dieter chose not to stick to it is like blaming the dusty treadmill in the garage for not helping its owner lose weight.

The claim that diets don’t work is not only factually wrong, it is dangerous. With two-thirds of American adults overweight, people should be encouraged to trim down for their health, not discouraged from doing the only thing that has been medically shown to work. If you are trying to get fitter this year, don’t give up on the diet, and it won’t give up on you.