5 Reasons Why Aggressive Dieting Doesn’t Work For Weight Loss

by Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD
Weight Loss

If diets worked, diet programs wouldn’t fuel a $67 billion industry. You don’t fail a diet, diet fails you. Our bodies are not designed to function on a diet which is one of the main reason that you feel so tired and irritable when you are cutting calories. Yes, you might have initial weight loss and feel like this time is different, but ask yourself how many diets have come before and what the end results were. Here are 5 reasons why you should ditch your diet:

1. Dieting is a form of starvation

Our bodies are designed to protect us against starvation. When we diet we tell our bodies that a famine is happening so it responds by decreasing your metabolism, holding on to fat, shutting down non-essential systems (reproduction, etc.) and releasing chemicals in the brain to make us think about food and eating. A study in the American journal of clinical nutritionshowed that when humans are deprived of food, there will be adaptive reduction on our basal metabolic rate (BMR), and depletion of our fat stores would reduce thermogenesis1. Our body burns less energy when we don’t eat which is why when you return to a sustainable, “normal” way of eating, you gain weight. And although you might have some fat loss, you will lose more muscle which will result in a decrease on your body’s strength and cardiovascular system’s aerobic output2. This is why you lack energy.

2. Dieting increases your chances of gaining more weight.

Diets are not sustainable and research shows that 95% pf people who go on a diet gain back the weight they lost and approximately 65% of those people will end up at a weight higher than when they started. A 2011 study on 2,000 sets of twins found that dieting, independent of genetics, is significantly associated with accelerated weight gain and increased risk of becoming overweight3.

3. Dieting increases binge behaviors.

In response to starvation, our brain will secrete a chemical, neuropeptide Y (NPY), to make you think about food. NPY increases your desire to eat, delays satiety and simulates food intake especially carbohydrates, your brain’s main fuel source. And because NPY delays satiety, our bodies crave lots of carbohydrates which results in bingeing. It’s not a lack of will-power or emotional eating thing, but a chemical survival mechanism that causes you to binge when you restrict calories and carbohydrates.

4. Dieting causes you to obsess over food and increases cravings.

In the 1940’s a research study was done that showed when calories were restricted, the subjects became irritable, fatigued, lack motivation and became obsessed with food4. Our bodies are actually trying to tell us that it needs food. Plus, our reward/pleasure area of our brain is activated more when a food is considered “off-limits” or “bad”5. We want what we have told ourselves we can’t have.

5. Dieting harms your body.

Dieting causes you to become dehydrated because a lack of lack of calories, carbohydrates or both causes your body to burn glycogen, a form of carbohydrate stored in the liver and muscles. Water is attached to every gram of glycogen so depleting it means depleting the water in your body. Plus, a 2014 diabetes study found that yo-yo dieting may even be a bigger contributor to insulin resistance that being overweight6. Other harmful side effects include increased risk for heart failure, long-term cognitive impairments and decreased immune response.

 If dieting doesn’t work, what does? Developing lifelong habits that allow you to enjoy all foods and move your body in way that you find fun is a start. It’s not about what you can’t have, but what you can. It’s about learning how to take the time to enjoy your food and really making sure that your plate is colorful, provides different textures and puts complimentary flavors in your mouth. It’s about listening to your body. And a registered dietitian (RD) is the best person to help you figure it all out. RDs have extensive education and training necessary to provide appropriate, evidence-based nutrition guidance.

Healthsoup gives you a convenient and easy opportunity to interact with an RD for a fraction of the cost. Healthsoup RDs will give you simple tips and recommendation to help you learn how to incorporate balance and variety in all food choices, improve your relationship with food and your body, identify your hunger and fullness cues and get off the dieting rollercoaster.


  1. Dulloo, A. G., & Jacquet, J. (1998). Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: a role for feedback signals from fat stores. Am J Clin Nutr,68(3), 599-606.
  2. Weiss, E. P., Racette, S. B., Villareal, D. T., Fontana, L., Steger-May, K., Schechtman, K. B., … & Washington University School of Medicine CALERIE Group. (2007). Lower extremity muscle size and strength and aerobic capacity decrease with caloric restriction but not with exercise-induced weight loss. Journal of Applied Physiology, 102(2), 634-640.
  3. K H Pietiläinen, S E Saarni, J Kaprio & A Rissanen (2011). Does dieting make you fat? A twin study. International Journal of Obesityvolume 36, pages 456– 
  4. Keys, A. (1944). Will You Starve That They Be Better Fed? Brochure dated May 27, 1944.
  5. Burger, Kyle S., and Eric Stice. “Relation of Dietary Restraint Scores to Activation of Reward-Related Brain Regions in Response to Food Intake, Anticipated Intake, and Food Pictures.” Neuroimage1 (2011): 233–239. PMC. Web. 29 July 2018.
  6. Delahanty, Linda M. et al. “Effects of Weight Loss, Weight Cycling, and Weight Loss Maintenance on Diabetes Incidence and Change in Cardiometabolic Traits in the Diabetes Prevention Program.” Diabetes Care10 (2014): 2738–2745. PMC. Web. 29 July 2018.

Article contributed by Joanne Perez, MS, RDN, LD. See more posts like these

Need Personalized Diet Advice?

Get 1-on-1 coaching with a US Registered Dietitian Nutritionist (RDN). Achieve health & fitness goals with reliable, science-based diet advice.