Weight Loss Secrets – Why Diets Don’t Work

Gavin WrenFood Education, Food Opinion Pieces, The World of Food

weight loss secrets why diets don't work

“I‘m going on a diet”

Really? (yawn) Again?

We’ve all been there. And we’ve all heard it before.

Diets Don’t Work.

Eating too much food is a big global issue. The amount of diet-related illness in the world due to over consumption is increasing massively and the UK is charging ahead with this.

Percentage of UK population
that is overweight or obese

Sixty three point four percent. That’s a lot.

Almost no-one decides to become overweight or obese. I doubt that many people in the world start each day by planning to extend their burgeoning waistline, or become giddy with excitement about a shopping trip to buy trousers with an extra 2 inches on the waistline.

Despite this upward trend in body size, dieting and wellness is a national obsession. Millions of people bow at the alter of the latest weight loss cult sweeping Instagram, before being drawn back to the fattest freakshake, burger and mac’n’cheese that’s also sweeping Instagram. It’s a revolving door where people binge, then retreat into health, binge, then retreat. If nothing else, it’s compulsive, addictive behaviour, because it has all the hallmarks of lacking control of impulses, or the ability to delay gratification.

Weight Loss Losers.

It’s a joke how often people go on diets which don’t work, you’d think they’d learn. It normally begins around the 3rd of January or in the middle of June, determined either to shed the lingering traces of festive abundance, or to trim down a muffin top, ready to display a svelte profile on social media against a backdrop of the beaches of Magaluf this summer. These bright, newly turned leaves of calorific concern support the creation of healthy packed lunches briefly, before the motivation pales into the background and the queue at Five Guys becomes oh so appealing. The source of engagement with renewed nutritional nourishment is fleeting, the diet fades away, the weight that was once lost, becomes no longer lost.


It’s a known fact that most diets do not work. Maintaining weight loss after adhering to a strict diet is rare, normally the weight reappears over a period of time. There have been many studies proving that people who embark on a diet normally fail to keep the weight off, over an extended period of time.

There is a good reason for this. It’s because you don’t know how to eat.

You Don’t Know How to Eat.

Eating is a complex proposition, it’s not just putting cake in your cake hole. It’s about choosing, cooking, chewing, swallowing, chopping, talking, socialising, environment, watching, reading, buying, sharing, listening, feeling and lots more besides. The factors which effect your diet reach far and wide through every waking hour of your life.

But don’t feel bad, because humans aren’t very well equipped to naturally understand how much food to eat. An experiment was conducted where people were invited to eat a bowl of soup. Unbeknown to them, the bowl had a small pump attached underneath the table, which very gently filled the bowl with more soup as it was being eaten. By the end, the diner had eaten double the amount of soup that was originally in the bowl.

Afterwards, they were asked for any comments about the soup. Nobody realised what had occurred, the closest was a comment that “it was quite filling”.

This is a mind game, because you would never expect to be presented with a self-filling bowl, it’s an experience which is outside of your understanding of life. Yet this also demonstrates that our assumptions about portion sizes are gained from what we see, rather than what we feel. Everyone saw a bowl of soup and made an assumption about the amount of food they ate. Nobody was able to objectively realise they had eaten double the amount of soup that they saw at the start. Their assumption about portion size was exactly that, an assumption, yet their body and mind was unable to register that the portion consumed was twice the size.

Another fact is that it takes 20 minutes to experience satiation, the feeling when you’ve had enough food, when you’re full. Therefore, if you eat really quickly, you will become full, yet you will also be able to eat for an additional 20 minutes before you consciously recognise this fact. That gives you a large, twenty minute window of opportunity during which you can over-eat before you realise.

It’s facts like this which show we’re not very well prepared to naturally understand how much food to eat, based on simple instincts. That’s why it’s important to also have knowledge of eating, recipes, food and nutrition, so that you can learn to eat appropriate amounts of food, rather than assuming or guessing.

You Are Influenced by Others.

Put a box of chocolates on the table where you eat your meals and you will eat a lot of chocolates. Put the box in the cupboard with your tea and coffee and you’ll eat less. Put the box hidden in a draw that you never use, and you’ll eat even less. If someone brings cakes into the office, there’s a good chance you’ll eat more cake than if they didn’t. It is a simple fact that environmental cues, such as the availability of food, make a difference to how we eat. Therefore, your home environment, the food you keep in your cupboard and the food that is brought into your home will probably need to change, if you want to affect permanent weight loss.

Let’s break this down. Eating can be considered in three separate stages.

  • Connector.

    Selection of Food

    The food you eat, how you choose it, buy it, prepare it and cook it. Or who you choose to do all that for you.

  • Connector.

    Social Environment

    The social setting, the scene. Alone or with others, home or out, familiar or foreign place. Advertsing, media, books, celebrity chefs, what other people are doing.

  • Connector.

    Bodily Incorporation

    How you get it into your mouth and extract the nutrients, fat, carbohydrates, protein etc from the food.

Some diets only focus on the selection of food, giving you a prescriptive shopping list and meal plan that aid your selection of food, yet these plans are often impractical and not suited to long term adoption. Also, they teach you very little about selecting food, because they are dictated schedules of what to eat, they are not educational about rounded, healthy nutrition.

You’re Not Even Thinking.

There’s a theory that many of our choices around eating exist at the boundaries of conscious thought. Our behaviours are only bordering deliberate or rational thought, they are not fully conscious decisions. When we make these partially-conscious decisions, the environment can have an overwhelming influence on our behaviour, without even realising. Also, our past, learned behaviours from our previous life experiences around eating can dictate what we do.

This means that a lot of behaviour around eating is based on two things. Firstly, what you did last week, month or year and secondly, what people around you are doing, what adverts are saying, what social media is highlighting, what TV shows you are watching and what books you are reading. If your target is to lose weight, but you have been gaining weight for 5, 10, 15 or 20 years, then you need to reprogram your subconscious thought processes if you really want to lose, and keep lost, some weight. Just changing the actual food you put in your gob has little chance of successful weight loss.

The Secret of Weight Loss.

Here it is, here’s the key to successfully losing weight and keeping it lost. It involves making two changes to your life, rather than mindlessly following another fad diet.

  • Connector.

    Eating Habits

    Change what you eat and how it is selected. This should ideally be through educating yourself about how to select and portion food healthily, rather than by following a prescriptive diet plan, which is likely to be untenable as your life progresses.

  • Connector.


    Change your material and environmental circumstances. You need to change the things around you, such what food is kept and made at home, how you interact with people around you, what experiences and inputs you are exposed to. This is why weight loss clubs can be good, because they create a social environment which begets weight loss. The ideal situation is for your own experience of life to become an environment which is conducive to losing weight, because if it doesn’t change, you have not removed the ‘triggers’ of weight gain.


Eating is an integration of many factors in life, not just the calorific value of the food on your plate. The cult of nutritionalism often focusses solely on the quantity of calories, or whether you get those calories from protein, carbohydrate or fat, whilst roundly ignoring all of the other social, environmental and practical problems that have an effect on how we eat.

The secret to losing weight and then keeping it off, is to be considerate of all of the factors which have an effect on what people eat. Be wary of any diet which is simply telling you what food to buy and how to prepare it, because it is not giving you the tools, strategies and knowledge required to create and maintain effective, permanent weight loss.

Further Reading

If you would like to read more about the theory of eating, I can recommend 'The Practice of Eating' by Professor Alan Warde, which was the inspiration for this post.

Note - this book is not a weight loss guide, it's about sociological theory.

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