Debate: Why Do Diets Fail?


It is a question that most women putting themselves through one of many diet plans on the market wouldn’t want to hear. However, this daringly-conclusive and thought-provoking question was the topic point of an exclusive morning debate taking place in the elegant Library Room at London’s Rosewood hotel last week.

The discussion brought together a panel of various professionals whose expertise cover different aspects of this complex issue. Presented with an independently commissioned special XLS-MEDICAL ‘Why Diets Fail’ research report and sipping a suspiciously green but incredibly tasty juice cocktail, I was intrigued to find out the answer to the debate’s headlining question.

panelJody Relf, a weight management and sports dietitian at XLS-MEDICAL, opened the conversation with confronting the actual word ‘diet’ being the problem, “when weight loss is what matters”. She continued: “Diets are transitory; weight loss is a long term lifestyle choice that should involve healthier eating and exercise, as well as someone to help you through the bad days and encourage you on the good ones.”

In the other words, majority of people view diet as a short-term solution or a quick fix if you opt for an extreme approach. And there isn’t shortage of mad new diet trends popping up at every corner. ‘Kale and chewing gum diet’ anyone?

Celebrity-backed diets are often followed by the crowd of slimming hopefuls but despite 72% of people questioned admitting trying some kind of diet this year, and a third of Brits having tried two or more diets in the past 12 months, half of the respondents still felt their diet had failed within the first month.

When it comes to dieting, less than a quarter of dieters successfully achieve their weight loss goals or even see a programme through to completion, quoting boredom with food, lack of motivation, difficulty managing diet alongside the work commitments and stress keeping the plan going as sabotaging factors.

Our obesogenic environment is of course setting us traps wherever we look: ‘2 for 1’, ‘Eat as much as you want’, ‘Supersize Me’, and who is guilty of grabbing an unplanned chocolate bar from a strategically positioned and colourful display, framing the path towards the cashier, because you are bored queuing and it was winking at you.

Another panel expert hates the word ‘diet’ too (the French apparently have a better one). Food writer and the ‘achievable and affordable’ recipe developer at Fuss Free Flavours, Helen Best-Shaw, points out the healthy benefits of mindful and social eating alongside savouring the food. If we’re checking emails whilst eating we’re less likely to notice when we feel full.

Apart from her ‘veg over fruit’ and ‘fake-away over take-away’ mantra, she offers a helpful tip when we slip into post-gym reward temptation. Instead of foolish reasoning that you deserve pizza post workout, reward yourself with a luxuriously scented shower gel as your after-gym routine, omitting the calorific one.

Jane Wake, a top fitness coach, weighs in with crucial and valid points regarding the physical side of dieting. We are doomed to fail in achieving weight loss if we don’t understand and observe the changes our body goes through during various stages of dieting. Hormones play a huge part in a diet story. Extreme weight loss, due to a strict diet plan induces hormonal changes that decrease our chance of continuing to lose weight and encourages us to regain it. In other words, the body launches a backlash against dieting.

You might find your levels of an appetite-stimulating hormone, ghrelin, still 20% higher a year later than when your started your gruesome low-calorie diet plan. Our metabolism changes as we diet and the calorie counting plans don’t work so well if you have larger amount of weight to lose, as the level of calorie burn doesn’t stay consistent over that time.

Marisa Peer, a leading celebrity therapist and confidence coach starts by emphasising the importance of a healthy psychology. Diets are too focused on food and not enough on emotions. We reach for food and wine instead of dealing with what we’re feeling. Many diet plans can often be socially isolating and don’t come with much-needed psychological support.

Having a healthy mindset allowing you to enjoy occasional treat without recrimination can be particularly useful. A practice known as “flexible restraint” – where a person occasionally allows themselves higher, fat, calorie or sugar foods in modest portions and without guilt – will win through better for the waistline in the long run.

Those who struggle with tendencies of binge eating or overuse food as an emotional crutch, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) specialist could offer a helping hand to someone trying to lose weight.

So what does actually bring positive and sustainable results regarding weight loss? What will guarantee you keep your desired weight even after your wedding day or whatever your motivational reason was that you wanted to lose the weight for in the first place? What have I learnt from the panel experts highlighting all equally important aspects of a weight loss quest?

  1. Don’t ‘diet’. You are bound to not sticking to it for very long due to boredom or isolation. Diets are often extreme, strict and nutritionally unbalanced. They dictate what you shouldn’t eat and are perceived as a temporary obstacle instead of a long-lasting change achieved by a flexible, guilt-free approach, constantly reinforcing healthy patterns, however small.
  1. Pick the right time for a change in healthy eating lifestyle, and write down your reasons and motivations for wanting to lose weight before you start on any plan.
  1. Choose a method or approach to weight loss that fits to your individual working patterns, time or lack of it, and ease of adoption into the everyday. Less barriers are more likely to lead to success.
  1. Have a plan for high-risk situations to help prevent slip ups. The plan must be specific and detailed, for example: I am at high risk of stopping my healthy eating when I’m busy, so my plan to handle this is to make weekly menu plans, write shopping lists, cook in bulk and freeze individual portions.
  1. Create a support group, learn about your emotional triggers and work on developing a healthy mindset or consider a regular help of a Cognitive Behavioral Therapist as an option to tackle the sabotaging patterns.
  2. Slowly build on the amount of activity you do so that it becomes part of your daily routine. People who do this (e.g. park a bit further away from your destination, taking the stairs) are far more successful with long-term weight control and maintenance.
  1. Get a cooking recipe book that suits your needs and excites your tasting buds but doesn’t compromise your weight loss efforts. Find joy in eating mindfully, chew slower and savour the food, don’t distract yourself with a mobile phone.
  1. Set realistic goals – losing just 5-10% of your weight has massive health benefits. A weight loss of up to 2 pounds (lb) a week is a safe and realistic target as well as motivating one.

In short, a culmination of many small positive behaviours that positively affect energy balance adds up to a healthy weight being achieved and most importantly: maintained.

  • Consumer research was commissioned by XLS-MEDICAL, naturally-derived, slimming aid specialist, and carried out by OnePoll. Visit for more information.
Zuzana Ritchie

Zuzana Ritchie

Embracing the multiple career personality disorder she developed after moving to London in her twenties, Zuzana Ritchie can be spotted around the city in the capacity of a make-up artist on Monday, a voice-over artist on Tuesday and a beauty writer on Wednesday.

For the rest of the week she will take up various other roles like an amateur sunset sky photographer, a red wine enthusiast, a dog’s best friend, a bookworm, a martial arts fan, a humour addict and not a very good guitar strummer.

Leaving her previous job at a publishing house to freelance instead has resulted in more free time to become a professional beauty products hunter by day and a female superheroes stories gatherer by night.

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