S1E6: The Ineffectiveness of Diets

**Content Warning: We do discuss some weight and calorie numbers during the episode.

This episode covers the topic of intentional weight loss through restrictive eating or lifestyle changes. We discuss why intentional weight change does not work long term and why it can cause more harm than good for people’s health. I am joined by a guest co-host, Sumner Brooks, RD of Eating Disorder Registered Dietitians & Professionals. Her insight and knowledge were invaluable.


In This Week's Episode:

  • What does “working” mean when discussing diet outcomes?

  • Physiological outcomes of intentional weight change

  • Evidence for diets is Biased

  • How restriction can lead to bingeing, disordered eating, and eating disorders

  • The detrimental effects of inevitable weight cycling


"If we, as health professionals, recommend to a patient to go and try to lose weight when we know that the most likely outcome is short term weight loss followed by weight gain, we are doing some harm there." 
-Sumner Brooks, RD


Questions to consider: (We did not get to these on the podcast itself, but they are still important)

  1. Since diets don’t work, what if we stopped recommending them to patients and started supporting them in their focus on healthy habits, which have been shown to help health regardless of size?

  2. What if we turned our focus from forcing weight change and spent our time and energy on making sure that everyone had enough, high quality food?

  3. Why are the behaviors that are diagnosed as eating disorders in thin people, prescribed to fat people?



1. http://archive.wphna.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/2005-Mad-Science-Museum-Ancel-Keys-Starvation.pdf

2. Fothergill, Erin, et al. Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition. Obesity Society Journal. 2016 August; 24(8):1612-1619


3. Lester B. Salans, Edward S. Horton, and Ethan A. H. Sims. Experimental obesity in man: cellular character of the adipose tissue. J Clin Invest. 1971 May; 50(5): 1005-1011.


4. Rudolph L. Leibel, M.D., Michael Rosenbaum, M.D., and Jules Hirsch, M.D. Changes in Energy Expenditure Resulting from Altered Body Weight. N Engl J Med 1995; 332:621-628


5. Aamodt, S. (2016) Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss. New York, NY: Penguin.

6. P.A. Tataranni and E. Ravussin, “Energy metabolism and obesity.” In Handbook of Obesity Treatment, ed. TA. Wadden and A.J. Stunkard (New York: Guildford Press, 2004), 42-72.

7. J-P Montani, AK Viecelli, A Pre´vot and AG Dulloo. Weight cycling during growth and beyond as a risk factor for later cardiovascular diseases: the ‘repeated overshoot’ theory. International Journal of Obesity (2006) 30, S58–S66


8. L. Bacon and L Aphramor. Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Nutrition Journal 2011 10:9.


9. Tomiyama AJ, Ahlstrom B, Mann T. Long-term effects of dieting: is weight loss related to health? Soc Pers Psychol Compass. 2013;7(12):861-877.

10. Polivy J, Herman C: Dieting and binging: A causal analysis. American Psychologist. 1985, 40: 193-204.


11. Baumeister RF, Heatherton TF: Self-regulation failure: An overview. Psychological Inquiry. 1996, 7: 1-15. 10.1207/s15327965pli0701_1.


Additional Material:

Mann, T. (2015) Secrets from the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again. HarperCollins.