Why diets fail.

Are you tired of dieting?

Diets fail when we don’t know the difference between losing weight and maintaining weight. “Duh, how can anybody confuse the two?” I hear you say. To explain it best, I will tell you a story.

Jane Blogger is 35 years old and weighs 85kg. To maintain her bodyweight, she needs to consume around 2172kcal daily. Jane is doing a great job at maintaining her weight because she eats when she’s hungry and rarely overeats. She eats to live. But Jane would like to lose some weight so she’s decided to ‘go on a diet’. Because Jane is focused on losing weight in general (not bodyfat specifically), the macronutrient balance does not matter at this point; all she needs to do is eat less than her maintenance calories.

Government guidelines advise Jane that the recommended caloric deficit for weight loss is best kept between 300 and 700 calories through diet and exercise. Jane wants to lose 10kg and do it the quickest way possible; since she dislikes going to the gym, she chooses to reduce her normal food intake by 700 calories daily. This now leaves her with 1472kcal/day. She starts out her diet feeling positive and motivated and loses 1,5kg in two weeks. But. She’s now starting to feel lethargic and coming to realise how big of a restriction she has placed on herself food intake wise and how hard it is to actually stick to it. At this point she’s too scared to increase her food intake for fear or gaining back the weight lost. She’s starting to get cravings because she had heard “carbs are evil and make you gain weight just by looking at them” – so of course she stopped eating them. But what she didn’t know is that carbs are also brain food and should never be completely avoided – to keep a healthy hormone and energy balance in the body and to maintain good cognitive function.

Jane doesn’t recognise herself anymore. One moment she’s tired, then angry, then emotional – she’s having a tough time focusing her thoughts and all she seems to be able to think about is food. So when Jane gets a text from a friend inviting her to go to dinner to a new all-you-can-eat restaurant, she feels she’s hit the jackpot as she can’t control her cravings anymore. She replies to her friend “Sure, let’s go – I’ll never be able to keep up this diet anyway.” She goes out with her friend and is reminded of how much she loves different flavours, carbs and, well – food! – and that’s her diet finished. Over the following week(s) she indulges on all the foods that she deprived herself of during the first two weeks of dieting and puts on 2.5kg as she can’t stop eating. She’s no longer lethargic or angry but she’s feeling bloated and uncomfortable and terribly guilty. Suddenly she’s living to eat. The next time she speaks of her diet to someone, she’s going to say things like: “I’ve just accepted that this is my body/I guess I was never meant to weigh less/my metabolism is really slow/I just can’t lose weight and keep it off.”

That is the story of Jane. Now a question for you – where did Jane go wrong?

Whatever reason you’re currently thinking of, you’re probably right – Jane made a lot of mistakes when starting her weight loss journey. But the biggest stumbling block here was her misconception that once she started her diet, she’d always have to consume 1472kcal to maintain her new weight.

This is a common misconception and quite likely the most dangerous one when it comes to sticking to our diets. By not understanding the difference between weight loss and maintaining weight, we set ourselves up for failure.

Firstly, Jane would have been better off knowing that after she lost the 10kg, her new maintenance caloric intake for 75kg bodyweight would have been 2055kcal – and that’s only 117kcal less from what she was consuming before! This means she could have returned to eating fairly similar meals to what she was used to. Perhaps knowing that in advance would have given her confidence to also lose weight at a slower rate. Reckless weight loss leaves us dissatisfied with the foods eaten as we have to sacrifice a lot of flavour, and the less we know about healthy weight loss the more likely we are to eliminate food groups because we heard “someone did that and they got amazing results”. But you can rest assured that sooner or later that person, too, would have gained some or all of that weight back on. They just don’t talk about it. Fact is that we need to consume a balance of nutrients and messing with that balance will always leave one’s body craving certain foods until it can no longer be ignored. And once we lose control, we will end up consuming more of these foods than we would in normal circumstances.


  1. By setting a goal to eat 700kcal less daily, Jane could have potentially lost 10kg in 13 weeks. Knowing that could have helped her plan her weight loss better.
  2. If Jane had gone into a 500kcal deficit through diet and burned the extra 200kcal off through exercise, she could have lost the same amount of weight in the same amount of time but she would have had a healthier relationship with food.
  3. If Jane had lost weight at a slower pace by only going into a 500kcal deficit, she would have had 1672kcal to consume daily. It would have taken her up to 20 weeks to lose the weight, but she would have had enough time to get used to her new way of eating. To perhaps learn to eat fewer processed foods or to choose healthier substitutes for certain foods without compromising on flavour or, more importantly, on the volume of food. Because if you take a whole food group out of your diet, trust me when I say that your brain and stomach are going to notice the difference. 🙂
  4. Healthy weight loss takes longer than on those reality shows we see on TV. The reason that man lost a stone in a week? He was put on a 400kcal diet. The reason that woman lost 3 stone in two months? She was consuming 5000kcal+ before and is now on 1500kcal. I know you want to lose weight and you can – and you will! – just allow your body to do it in a non-destructive manner. 🙂

That’s why with my clients, I add things to their diet before I take anything away. And it’s never really about taking things away, it’s about adjusting the quantities. My clients lose an average of 0,5kg-1kg a week and if you ask them, they will tell you that it’s felt effortless, they still have a social life, they’re not having to do hours of cardio and, yes, they still eat carbs. 🙂 Every calculation is different as the variables differ – age, sex, current weight and activity levels all change the energy calculation, YOUR energy calculation. That’s why you can’t just let someone write up a 1200kcal diet plan for you because there are no magical unicorn people who could survive on such low calories and have the energy to leave their bed, let alone tackle a whole day of work, gym and social life.

Have a question for me? Leave a comment! 🙂

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