Want To Lose Weight? 10 Reasons You Should Not Go On a Diet

Overeating is a harder addiction to break than addiction to heroin. [1]

That's right, heroin. Dr. David Ludwig and his associates came across this finding when testing the reward centers in the brain of those suffering with obesity and those suffering with heroin addiction. When certain foods - especially those high in fat and sugar - were presented, the reward centers in the brain of those with obesity lit up identically to those addicted to heroin. Meaning that their bodies crave food as much as a heroin addict craves their next fix.

This is a shocking finding indeed. Made worse by the fact that kicking a heroin addiction is extremely painful, but it is brief. Losing weight, on the other hand, takes months and years of persistent effort to take it off and keep it off. 

Clearly this is an uphill battle for anyone trying to lose weight. Whether you're trying to lose 20lbs or 120lbs, it's going to be a big challenge. A big challenge that most of us try to take on by adhering to a diet. If this sounds like you, STOP!

Here are 10 scientifically-based reasons you should not go on a diet if you truly want to lose weight and keep it off.

1.    You focus on external cues rather than internal

When we are infants, we actually have the most control over our stomachs. When we’re hungry, we get hunger pangs that tell us we need to eat. When we’re full, we stop eating. Simple. Unfortunately, by the time we make it to pre-school, we get told things like “eat your dinner or you’re not getting dessert!” which leads us to eat more food than we need in order to earn our dessert (great lesson, huh?). 

Then slowly but surely, we’re told that lunch is at noon, snack at 3, dinner at 7, etc. Eventually we learn to look to the external cues, and not trust our own bodies. This is especially true for dieters. Dieting means being hungry a lot of the time, and doing one’s best to ignore the feeling. So dieters train themselves to go against their natural, healthy, feelings of eating when they’re hungry. [2]

2. Thought suppression increases the likelihood of giving in

When we try to suppress thoughts, it actually makes it more likely we will think about them. If I tell you "don't think about a white bear," you will have a tough time thinking about anything but a white bear. This process is known as ironic rebound and it is a dieter’s worst nightmare. 

Whenever dieters think about or see a tempting food, they will immediately try to suppress the thought of it. They will try to turn their attention to other things, but the thought will continue to linger in the back of their minds. This, of course, greatly increases the likelihood that they will give into this temptation that they’re trying to suppress. [3]

3.    The “What-the-hell” effect makes it likely we will indulge

By sticking to a plan, dieters are creating a “bright line” which distinguishes what they can and cannot eat. This could be staying below a certain amount of calories, avoiding a certain food group or eating only what our Paleolithic ancestors ate.

This can be a valuable strategy, until the dieter is inevitably put in a situation they do not have control over. This could be when the dieter is traveling and is forced to eat out, or when he is invited to a cocktail party where unhealthy foods are everywhere. 

In such situations, if the dieter breaks his plan for the day, he sees that day as completely ruined. His diet has now been broken and virtue cannot continue until tomorrow. And in the meantime, as long as the diet is broken, what the hell, he may as well enjoy himself! Let the binge begin. This phenomenon is known as the “what-the-hell effect” and can ruin a whole month’s worth of progress in a single binge. [4]

4.    It’s an unrealistic overhaul

How many people do you know that started a diet by making small changes like cutting one food out, or replacing one unhealthy meal with a healthy one? My guess is not many.

The typical dieter’s plan is a complete overhaul of their current food choices. Not only are they going to cut out all bad food, but they’re going to replace it all with healthy food – and eat less of it! 

Our willpower is limited. With every temptation we resist, every piece of bland food we force down and every hour we spend hungry, we exert more willpower. This not only leaves us with less willpower to keep up the diet, but also to do other healthy activities like go to the gym or meditate. [5]

5.    What happens when the diet ends?

By dieting, we are following a plan outside of ourselves. As with every plan, it has a start and a finish. So even if we follow our diets perfectly, what do we do when the diet plan ends?

Only about 12 to 14 percent of people will keep their weight off after the end of a diet. And those are the people who were successful! So even if we succeed with the diet, we will still likely fail to achieve the ultimate result of long-term health. [6]

6. The dieter’s catch 22

While on a diet doing things like resisting temptations, eating food you don’t like, and ignoring hunger all require willpower. And what does the body need to replace all of this willpower you’re using? Glucose - which comes from food. 

So as you’re staring down that chocolate bar that you really want, your body is using up glucose to give you the willpower to resist it. As it burns through this glucose, it will make you crave food in order to replenish it. Leading you to crave that chocolate bar even more!

So this leads to a catch 22. You need willpower in order to resist food, but you need food in order to get willpower. So the longer you think about whether or not to give in, the more likely you are to indulge as your body depletes its willpower and craves food even more. [7]

7.    You are more open to internal debates

When a non-dieter, regardless of waistline, is presented with tempting foods like Doritos, Coke and M&Ms, they choose to indulge or they choose to abstain without depleting their willpower either way.

Dieters, on the other hand, go into a full on panic mode. They see these temptations and begin their epic internal battle between good and evil. They start thinking of reasons why they can indulge “just this once” then counter those arguments with thoughts of their long-term aspirations of health. Now, regardless of whether or not they give in, they have depleted their willpower simply by being in this internal debate. [7]

8.    Progress leads to moral licensing

Because a diet is result-oriented rather than system-oriented, we are much more likely to give ourselves credit for being “good” when we make progress. When we start seeing results, we feel great. Unfortunately, this is the time that we are actually the most likely to give in to temptation!  

One of the biggest problems we face is self-justification. When we see something we want right now, we will begin to justify any possible reason to have it. This is especially strong in the case of dieting.

When we have made progress on our diet, we immediately turn to that progress as justification to indulge. After all, we’ve been so good! We deserve a treat, right? This phenomenon is known as “moral licensing” and we can use it to justify giving in to almost any temptation, leading us off the path to achieving better health. [8

9.    It drains your willpower for other goals

Unlike exercise, which will actually give you more willpower, dieting is nothing but a willpower drain. You are not only using willpower to resist tempting food, but you are most likely not getting the caloric intake that you need to maintain a consistent amount of glucose in your bloodstream

This means that you are not only using up your willpower fuel, but you’re also not replenishing it effectively. This will leave you with less willpower to focus on other, perhaps more important, goals. [7]

10. They simply don’t work

The highest percentage of people who diet are those with obesity. If dieting were an effective strategy, these people would not be in a constant struggle with their weight that they continue to fail. 

No matter whether it is the 90-day diet, banana diet, cleanse diet, or any one of a hundred other diets out there, they will have a higher failure rate. For all of the reasons listed above, if you go on a diet, you are likely not going to be able to reach the long-term, sustainable health that you are seeking.


There is a simple method that has been proven to be the number one way people lose weight and achieve long-term health - keeping a food journal. [9]

It sounds too easy, but researchers found that those with obesity who simply wrote down what they ate on a daily basis slowly but surely started changing their eating habits. They noticed the times that they were most vulnerable to cravings, and made sure they had something healthy on hand. They realized that they were eating much larger portions than they thought, allowing them to mindfully cut down. And they started loading their fridge with healthier food so they wouldn't be tempted. All without denying themselves a thing.

To get started, I recommend downloading the free MyFitnessPal App. It’s a simple food diary app that has a huge database of foods and nutrition information. Or if you prefer pen and paper, that will work just fine. The important thing is that you don't deny yourself anything, and that you write down everything.

This process won't change you overnight, but it has been proven to be the best method of achieving long-term sustainable weight-loss. You may not lose weight in the next 30 days, but you will set yourself up for a healthier and next 30 years.


Dieting doesn’t work. At some point, every person will put him or herself on a diet and almost none of them will succeed for the long-term. Turning to dieting as a means to lose weight has been used by people for over half a century and things have only gotten worse.

Yet we continue to try a new strategy, thinking that this will be the “silver bullet” that finally solves the problem, without seeing that the system itself is flawed. If you really want to lose weight and be healthy, do yourself a favor and do not go on a diet

Instead, simply keep a food journal. Don’t deny yourself food, just write down whatever you eat so you know what you’re putting into your body. Simply increasing your self-awareness in this way will help you make better food choices. Self-awareness is always the first step toward self-improvement.


  1. Lennerz, B. S., D. C. Alsop, L. M. Holsen, E. Stern, R. Rojas, C. B. Ebbeling, J. M. Goldstein, and D. S. Ludwig. "Effects of Dietary Glycemic Index on Brain Regions Related to Reward and Craving in Men." American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 98.3 (2013): 641-47
  2. Mann, Traci, A. Janet Tomiyama, Erika Westling, Ann-Marie Lew, Barbra Samuels, and Jason Chatman. "Medicare's Search for Effective Obesity Treatments: Diets Are Not the Answer." American Psychologist 62.3 (2007): 220-33.
  3. Wegner, Daniel M., David J. Schneider, Samuel R. Carter, and Teri L. White. "Paradoxical Effects of Thought Suppression." Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 53.1 (1987): 5-13.
  4. Herman, C. P., and D. Mack. "Restrained and Unrestrained Eating." Journal of Personality 43 (1975): 647-60.
  5. Baumeister, Roy F., Ellen Bratslavsky, Mark Muraven, and Dianne M. Tice. "Ego Depletion: Is the Active Self a Limited Resource?" Journal of Personality and Social Psychology 74.5 (1998): 1252-265
  6. Ayyad, C., and T. Andersen. "Long-term Efficacy of Dietary Treatment of Obesity: A Systematic Review of Studies Published between 1931 and 1999." Obesity Reviews 1.2 (2000): 113-19.
  7. Vohs, K. D., and T. F. Heatherton. "Self-Regulatory Failure: A Resource-Depletion Approach." Psychological Science 11.3 (2000): 249-54
  8. Fishbach, Ayelet, and Ravi Dhar. "Goals as Excuses or Guides: The Liberating Effect of Perceived Goal Progress on Choice." Journal of Consumer Research 32.3 (2005): 370-77.
  9. Hollis, Jack F., Christina M. Gullion, Victor J. Stevens, Phillip J. Brantley, Lawrence J. Appel, Jamy D. Ard, Catherine M. Champagne, Arlene Dalcin, Thomas P. Erlinger, Kristine Funk, Daniel Laferriere, Pao-Hwa Lin, Catherine M. Loria, Carmen Samuel-Hodge, William M. Vollmer, and Laura P. Svetkey. "Weight Loss During the Intensive Intervention Phase of the Weight-Loss Maintenance Trial." American Journal of Preventive Medicine 35.2 (2008): 118-26