Why Diets Don’t Work, and What You Should Do Instead

| Sarah Johnson, MS, RD

Americans sure do love a new diet, spending over 30 billion dollars on diet trends each year. Yet while the number of Americans who claim to be on a diet is rising each year, obesity numbers are also rising, so what gives? It’s simple…and complicated… Diets. Don’t. Work. Research shows us that while many will start a new diet, very few will see any lasting benefits. While it starts out well, with many seeing improved blood pressure, body weight, and cholesterol by the 6th-month mark, within one year time, regardless of the type of diet, almost all success is erased.

While this can feel daunting, making us want to throw our hands up and say, “forget it, why even try?” there is hope. That hope, however, does not come under the umbrella of a diet trend but rather daily small, manageable lifestyle changes. The issue, however, is that this strategy sounds less attractive to people and does not have a giant industry making it look attractive. Success should be what is truly attractive, though, and that success comes not from short-term diets but long-term lifestyle changes.

One tip that experts have is that you will be more successful if health is your goal more than your outward image or appearance. So how do we shift our focus from diet to lifestyle changes? Diets tend to focus only on what you do and do not eat. Lifestyle changes should focus on the following three things: 1.) Daily movement 2.) Adequate Sleep, and 3.) Fueling your body well. Here are some ways you can get started today.

Daily Movement: Movement is key to your success, but it is so much more than simply burning calories. When we move, our bodies release endorphins, and our blood gets pumping. This relieves stress and makes us more likely to stick with our other goals. Also, when we move, our hunger cues are better regulated- making us less likely to reach for a snack when we are not truly hungry. Set realistic goals. Movement does not need to be a 3-mile run. We can see results with even stretching, short walks, taking the stairs, and parking farther away at the store. Remember- these goals are for the long run, and small goals build up over time.

Adequate Sleep: If you struggle with maintaining weight, getting sufficient sleep may be a game changer. When we do not get enough sleep, our bodies seek energy elsewhere- usually carbohydrate-rich foods. One research study showed that those getting less than 6.5 hours of sleep per night ate almost 300 calories more per day compared to those getting 8.5 hours of sleep. Without proper sleep, sticking to nutrition goals is an uphill battle. Aim for at least 8 hours of sleep per night. Your body will thank you – in many ways.

Fuel your body well: Goals tend to be more successful when we focus on what we CAN eat rather than what we CAN’T eat- another reason why diets tend to fail. When we put good in, we get good out. So, focus on putting good food into your body, and naturally, it leaves less hunger and room for the not-so-great things. Set a goal to have protein at each meal. This will help keep your blood sugars stable, decreasing your cravings for sugar. Buy fruits and vegetables you like and keep them washed and in the fridge, making them easy to grab. When it comes to making new habits- convenience is key. And when you grocery shop, remember- If you do not buy that treat- then you only have to say no once at the grocery store. If you buy it and bring it home, you now need to keep saying no over and over until it’s gone. Set yourself up for success. Make a plan for healthy, easy snacks before you go to the store.

As you can see, healthy life is a balanced life, and good health comes from more than just what we do or does not eat. Take one step towards these things today. As Maya Angelou once said: “I did then what I knew how to do, now that I know better, I do better.”

If you are struggling with creating ways to make positive changes to your eating habits, click here to learn about the mobile dietary services and nutrition counseling at Live Your Life Minnesota and contact us for a free consultation

Sarah Johnson MS, RD is a Registered Dietitian with a strong passion for helping people discover the healing power of food.

Today’s world offers more nutrition information at our fingertips than ever before. However, when it comes to nutrition, there is no one size fits all solution leading many to feel exhausted by years of “trial & error.” Sarah’s mission is to help people weed through the noise and to educate and empower them on simple ways food can help them regain their energy for life. She believes your body was designed to work well; you simply need the tools to get it back on track.

Sarah graduated from the College of St. Benedict with a B.A. in Dietetics and went on to receive an M.S. in Human Nutritional Science from the University of Wisconsin Stout where she focused on using nutrition to help those living with multiple sclerosis and other inflammatory diseases.

Sarah lives in Mahtomedi with her husband and 3 children and loves the access to nature Minnesota living provides all year round.


“Getting More Sleep Reduces Caloric Intake, a Game Changer for Weight Loss Programs.”

Www.uchicagomedicine.org, http://www.uchicagomedicine.org/forefront/research-and-discoveries articles/getting-more-sleep-reduces-caloric intake#:~:text=Overall%2C%20individuals%20who%20increased%20their

MD, Robert H. Shmerling. “When Dieting Doesn’t Work.” Harvard Health, 25 May 2020,


“More Americans on Diets Now than a Decade Ago, CDC Finds.” NBC News,


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