If Dieting Doesn’t Work, Why Do We Keep Doing It?


We know dieting doesn’t work.

The diet industry is growing, not shrinking. If it actually worked, everyone would have lost all the weight and they’d be out of business.

Moreover, clients tell me all the time that they hate dieting, that they would give anything to be free of their battle with food.

So, if it doesn’t work and everyone hates doing it, why are so many people still on a diet?

My theory is that, even if the scale isn’t moving, they’re getting something else out of it.

Let me explain.

It Gives Them Purpose

Like Sisyphus of Greek mythology, forever pushing the boulder up the hill, dieting gives people purpose. It defines them, it gives their life shape and it gives them a goal. They’re trying to lose 10 pounds – that’s who they are, that’s what they do.

I read on a bumper sticker once that, “Nothing tastes as good as skinny feels,” but we wouldn’t know because, when you’re a dieter, you have no idea how skinny feels because you’re never skinny enough, right? It’s a goal you can never truly reach which means you will always have a mission on which to focus.

The Social Network

They’ve built friendships around losing weight. They meet at the gym, forward Facebook posts about the Top 3 Foods That Melt Fat and fall off the wagon by binging together and commiserating about it. “Diet starts Monday!” they exclaim as they hoist Pina Coladas into the air. They connect with these people because they share a culture – the culture of dieting.

It Makes Them Feel Like They’re In Control of Something

When you believe that you can’t control how your mother treats you, or that you’ve spent 12 years working at a job you hate, or that you can’t afford to take the kids to Disney World, dieting provides comfort because it makes you feel like you’re in control of something.

You can count calories and steps and grams of carbs. You can weigh chicken breasts and measure peanut butter and portion out your half cup of rice. And these days, you can track it all on a fancy app that you can check every hour on your phone. This all offers a comforting sense of control that we often feel that we’re lacking in other areas.

It’s How They Display Their Humility

Constantly dieting is how people tell the world that they know they’re not good enough. The jokes they make about their thighs, the announcements at the BBQ about how they absolutely cannot have any ice cream, the moans of, “I could never pull this off” as they flip through the clothes on the store rack, these are the tools they use to continually shout to the universe, “Look! I am fully aware of how unacceptable and disgusting my body is in this state and I’m diligently working to fix it.”

Deciding not to diet would be like walking around declaring that you’re amazing just the way you are.

And what kind of person would do that?

At the end of the day, people do what they want to do. They do what works for them. Even when it feels awful.

We diet, not just to lose weight, but because, in some way, for some reason it feels good. Or it at least feels comfortable.

But what if we stopped? What if we threw out the FitBit and the scale and forgot how many calories there are in half a cup of rice? What if we didn’t beat ourselves up every time we indulged in a piece of chocolate cake? What if instead we worked on learning to eat mindfully and listen to what our bodies really needed and eventually just trusted ourselves to make the healthy choices that would best nourish our bodies, minds and souls?

Well, we’d have to find a different purpose in life, a different way to define ourselves rather than “I’m trying to lose 15 pounds.” We’d have to reshape our friendships and maybe even make new friends with people who are confident and easy in their bodies. We’d have to let go of the comfort and the control we feel when we fill out our food journals, and we’d have to trust that the hard things in our lives will unfold as they will and that – most importantly – we are strong enough to handle that.

Because, when you stop dieting, you are announcing to the people around you, to your friends, to the universe and to yourself, “I’m just exactly as I should be today.”

And nothing tastes as good as that feels.


If you’re ready to throw in the towel on dieting and try a new approach, sign up for my free 7-Day End Emotional Eating Challenge.  You’ll get a simple thought exercise emailed to you each morning for the 7 days to help you change your body by fundamentally changing the way you think about and approach food.

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Sara Best


  1. Jane Steen on May 19, 2015 at 9:23 am

    I decided to stop dieting around 10 years ago. Yes, my weight has shifted upward during those years, but not as much as you’d think. I take plenty of exercise, and over the years my eating habits have become markedly healthier. I listen to my body instead of trying to force it into an ideal mold. I’ve never felt happier about myself.

    • Sara on May 19, 2015 at 10:16 am

      That’s fantastic Jane! Our bodies are miraculous and I love watching people learn to relax and trust themselves around food. xo

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