Real Talk: If the diet had worked, we wouldn’t be having this conversation

I remember the fervor with which I justified my disordered eating habits. “I like to eat healthy,” was my go-to answer. I was an athletic 18-year old with zero health issues, so, my health wasn’t something I needed to worry about at the time. I had no idea that diets don’t work. And if I was ever honest with myself, I would have admitted it had nothing to do with health and everything to do with the appearance of health. The thin ideal. The assumption that because a body is smaller, it’s healthier than the one next to it.

I studied nutrition to make sure I could sustain this so-called health, and “help” others achieve it. I was interested in weight loss–specifically that which I had “achieved” with my new “healthy” diet—and presumably concerned with our country’s so-called epidemic of obesity. (Of course, I hardly understood the implications of said epidemic, what it stemmed from, or how to “fix” it.) Diets were the OBVIOUS answer. Everyone must diet, like I thought I successfully had. Everyone must get healthier, like I assumed I had.

But at some point I stopped stepping on scales, because I recognized how detrimental that small piece of technology could be to my mood, my day. At some point I realized I needed to stop counting calories, to make more mental space for much more important things. At some point I knew how crucial it would be for me to “fail” at my diet—to gain weight–and re-gain my health (specifically reproductive health). At various points I wished nutrition wasn’t my job, because I needed a clean break.

But those restrictive tendencies and ideas popped up time and again throughout this timeline of various epiphanies and realizations. It “worked” at one point, right? Certainly restriction and calorie counting could “work” again, when I felt like I had swung too far to the other side of this dieting pendulum. So for a few hours, or maybe days, I’d slip back. I’d remember how to restrict and try to employ those very familiar, yet distant, tactics. And I wouldn’t last. My brain and my body knew better. I wasn’t about to let restriction in the back door. I wasn’t about to slip into obsessive tendencies. NOT AGAIN, my logical brain said, with cravings and seemingly insatiable hunger.

— — — — —

At some point, I realized so very clearly that diets don’t work.

In many first-time client sessions, a diet that “worked” will surface during our conversation.

“Well, I tried low-carb once and that worked for me.”  

“I lost a lot of weight on Weight Watchers–it worked for me.”

“I used to calorie count every day; it just worked for me.”

“I want to get back to following a meal plan—I know it works for me.”

“A friend of mine is doing the {insert fad diet} and it seems to be working.”

So I say, “Define what you mean when you say it worked.” Why are we talking today? What, eventually, did NOT work about this diet? What motivated you to reach out to me?

Dietitians interested in taking this anti- or non-diet approach to nutrition, start by clicking here.

There are so few things in this world that we give this kind of trust to. If anything we try only works once, but not when we repeat it, we move on. We acknowledge the first time might have been a fluke, or just doesn’t add up—we’re ready to try something else. If the results of any other effort are as short-lived as the elation of a diet, we usually deduce that it DOESN’T work, and move on. We trust our intuition that it’s time to try something else.

But diets? The assumption is often that they “work”,  yet we have failed.

diets dont work quote

If any of the above-mentioned diets had worked, then we wouldn’t be having this conversation. If any one diet really works for you, or someone else, or the entire population, then health media (and some practitioners) would be out of a job. Researchers could wipe their hands clean of this “epidemic” of larger bodies. Instead, the diet search is constantly on and attention is constantly piqued, looking for THE fix.  

The answer to my question of “What worked, exactly?” is usually, “Well, I lost weight.” Or it might be “I felt better,” or “I had more energy” or “I ran faster” or “I liked not having to think about what I was eating.” And then we dive in.

Did you need to lose weight? Did it stay “off”? Do you feel horrible before? Was it entirely related to food? What else gives you more energy? What kind of training were you doing? When did thinking about what to eat become a chore? Why?

Eventually: How I can help make food less of a burden, your weight just a number, and your “diet”—or way of eating—more natural and suitable to YOU? What do you like to eat? What kind of food experiences bring you joy, comfort, or ease? Because within the answers to those questions lies a way of intuitively eating that WILL WORK for you.

You don’t have to trust that diets don’t work right away.

Many consumers are stuck in years, if not decades, of thinking within a diet mentality. Many people have indeed lost weight, or improved their health risks, or felt more energized because of some dietary changes–but really, it was a lifestyle and perspective change. So, it takes some work and time to 1) step out of diet culture and see it for what it really is and then 2) recognize which collection of changes “worked” and why, and what that means for you.

It takes some patience, and compassion, to be honest with yourself when you define how a diet “worked” and how it led you to where you are now—wondering how to get “back on it”, or back to a place that was maybe never authentically (or sustainably) yours, anyway. Is this a train you want to hop on and off for the rest of your years? Is it going anywhere, or just in circles around you?

Diets don’t work.

That’s my belief, supported by research. It’s at the root of my work, supported by what I’ve seen clients, and experienced myself, go through. If you want to question or challenge this notion that diets don’t work, PLEASE do so. Explore it. Dig into it. Ask questions. Reach out to me. Work with a dietitian that won’t put you on a diet, and see how that freedom feels.

Think of a future in which you are not counting calories, stressing over every meal, planning every morsel of food you ingest—one in which you’re able to look at a restaurant menu without scanning for key “healthy” words, and can travel with ease, knowing you’ll get to enjoy new food experiences. A space you hold that is yours, one that honors the signals your body is designed to give you—of hunger, fullness, satisfaction, and needs. That is a reality. And it works.

Not entirely convinced that diets don’t work?

Explore this further by tuning into an upcoming 11-episode RD Real Talk podcast series on Intuitive Eating. It kicks off with an introduction by Evelyn Tribole MS RD, co-author of the book Intuitive Eating.  It’s launching on January 2, 2018—to combat any tendency to try out a “New year, new diet!” approach, and try eating intuitively, instead.


  1. January 12, 2018

    Love this post. Diets don’t, and never will work…. and I wish more people would realize that!

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