What the Diet Gurus Won’t Tell You

Every January,  a lot of you make that most famous of New Years Resolutions.

I am going to lose weight.

And, most of you are going to fail…miserably….Here’s why.

There are 3 Main Types of Weight Loss Plans

  1. Eat Less Food
  2. Eat Less of Specific Types of Food (most commonly Carbs or Fat)
  3. Get More Exercise

And of course, most of the so-called “diet-experts”  mix and match these three main plans to come up with their proprietary “miracle” weight loss program.

So, how come, year after year, millions of people:

  • Start a new diet
  • Quit that diet
  • Try another diet
  • Quit that diet
  • etc, etc, etc…

Q:  Don’t they have any will power?

A:  Of course, they have will power. Just as much as anybody else. Just as much as that skinny guy or gal that can’t quit smoking or gambling or watching too much reality tv.

Problem is, will power isn’t enough for most dieters. Not when you consider the following list of factors that make dieting a can’t-win proposition for most people.

@healthhabit’s List of Diet Killers

When dieters eat less food:

  • Their metabolism slows down
  • Specific brain chemicals increase appetite
  • Their “obesity” hormones join with those brain chemicals and appetite becomes an insatiable hunger
  • Neural pathways created by years of poor eating habits are abandoned (that’s good).
  • New (diet-friendly) neural pathways are created (once again – good)
  • Unfortunately, the old pathways are designed like super-highways while the new ones are more like bike trails. One bad meal and the old pathways come back online and the diet is broken.
  • Psychologically, the elimination of their standard diet results in feelings of loss & punishment.
  • Emotionally, dieters feel like they are being punished.
  • Socially, friends & family members often (unconsciously) try to sabotage the diet.

When dieters restrict food groups:

  • Metabolism may or may not slow down – metabolism is mainly affected by caloric intake and, to some extent, the amount of protein consumed.
  • The brain chemicals and hormones cry out for the restricted food.
  • Neural pathways are affected in the same way as above.
  • Psychologically, we see similar feelings of deprivation.
  • Same emotional response
  • Same social response amongst family members.
  • Amongst casual acquaintances, the social response can be even worse. In social situations (parties, restaurants) dieters who avoid carbs or fats can be perceived by others as being “difficult”
  • Low-fat dieters can suffer in a myriad number of ways. Impaired hormone production, damaged hair, skin & nails, alleriges, systemic inflammation, etc…
  • Low-carb dieters often suffer at first from the lack of readily available sugar as a fuel source. Over time, this problem resolves itself.
  • Unfortunately, the lack of fiber in the low-carb diet often doesn’t resolve itself. And we all know what a lack of fiber can do to a person’s bathroom habits.

When exercise is the sole weight loss method:

  • Exercise does all sorts of great things for your body – (improves mood, body image, strength, flexibility, general health, etc), but as the saying goes, you can’t out-train a bad diet. It is way too easy to eat 500 calories of delicious chocolate cake than it is to burn off 500 calories of body-fat.
  • And, to make things worse, studies have shown that exercise increases hunger.

And the problems get even worse for repeat dieters.

After numerous failed attempts at weight loss, these poor souls have created super-thick neural pathways dedicated exclusively to dietary failure.

They just don’t believe they can succeed.

Seems pretty grim, doesn’t it? What are we going to do?

Here’s what I do for my clients.

  1. Choose a diet/meal plan that keeps their metabolism humming along.
  2. Choose a diet/meal plan that meshes well with their personality & their lifestyle
  3. Create an exercise plan that boosts metabolism and makes them fitter, stronger & lighter.
  4. Prepare them mentally and emotionally for the challenge that they face. Let them know that their hormones and neural pathways and brain chemicals want them to stay fat. But that with diet and various psychological tools, they can overcome their physiology.
  5. Help them re-frame how they see their diet. Instead of eating for convenience, they’re eating for nutrition. Instead of missing out on ice cream, they’re upping their sex appeal. Instead of being normal, they’re becoming better – healthier, fitter, stronger, sexier.
  6. Make them understand that this is a challenge that they can win. Others have faced the same challenge and have succeeded. I lend them my confidence. Every day I see people succeed & fail at weight loss. I have built some massive neural pathways when it comes to my belief in successful weight loss. I just need them to believe that I believe. Weird, but true.

So, come this January, what are you going to do?

Buy the latest best-selling diet book?


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  1. Good common sense post. I find that breaking the convenience foods habit is the hardest for most people. That’s why I share my super fast brain-dead-simple recipes.

    People don’t really seem to understand how all those chemicals are really messing up their body and keeping them fat and sick.

    I particularly like this idea- “Instead of missing out on ice cream, they’re upping their sex appeal” Made me laugh!

  2. January 1st, 2009, I began a diet I read about in a women’s magazine – a two-page spread on what carby foods to restrict for weight loss. I bought a couple of low-carb recipe books to get me started as well, and within a month I had dropped a significant amount of weight: 4kg of my 15kg goal. Even though I knew some of it was water-weight, it was enough to motivate me to continue, but I wanted to know more about why this worked. Using the Internet, I clocked up many hours reading health and science blogs, becoming utterly immersed in nutrition and dietetics information, and I continue my reading and learning today. I found Mark Sisson’s Primal Blueprint, Gary Taubes’ Good Calories, Bad Calories, discovered the fallacy of The Lipid Hypothesis and the misinformed beliefs surrounding cholesterol, and many more experts proving that the ‘conventional wisdom’ has it wrong in many ways when it comes to dietary guidelines and fitness standards.

    Over 11 months later, I haven’t eaten any sugar or grains, I’ve dropped almost all the fat I planned to drop, my health is sound, my passion for learning and teaching is ignited once more, and I have inspired many friends and colleagues to change to more healthful eating patterns. I overcame all of the Diet Killers through willpower and healthy eating. I’m now helping my parents find ways of eating that will help cure their particular health issues.

    I know that many people who just want a quick fat-loss fix are destined to fail, especially if they are following conventional wisdom rather than seeking true health. But I wanted to share my story here so that people who don’t have a doctor helping them through the process can see that it can be done individually, if you are determined enough.

  3. I disagree with one of your major points, DR. You imply most dieters have adequate willpower for success.

    They don’t.

    They lack discipline, too.

    A selling point of most popular (and unsuccessful) diets is that “being fat isn’t your fault.” People love to hear that. “It’s a toxic food environment, it’s your hormones, you inherited a slow metabolism, etc.”

    Just think about your successful fitness clients, leaving weight out of the equation. Do they achieve success without willpower and discpline?

    When I’m working with someone on weight loss, I do everything I can to enhance their willpower and discipline. That’s the goal of your aforementioned six steps, too.


  4. I loved the part about its almost 2010! Every year, it is the same thing with people, new year, new weight goal…and it never happnes!

    But I have to agree with Dr. Parker on the fact that generally people who diet do NOT have the proper discipline or willpower, it’s ashame really.

  5. Steve,

    I think our wires got crossed (I am going to have to go back & re-read the post)

    My point is that for most dieters, willpower is NOT enough. There are too many factors working against a dieter for them to rely on willpower.

    By understanding those pro-obesity factors, they can devise an effective counter-attack that doesn’t rely solely on a diet book and their willpower.

    Mental techniques, emotional techniques, dietary techniques, physical techniques, hormonal techniques, societal techniques, etc..

  6. Everyone here so far seems to be ethical. What we’re all pussy-footing around is the fact that people are lazy. They want something that requires nno effort and gives instant results. That’s why all the garbage sells so well. It’s frustrating for us because we know none of it will work and will only keep them fat and sick.

    How do you make cutting up a vegetable sound sexy? How can you get them to see that they’ve wasted years, yet in one year they could reach their goal with a little effort?

    You can call it will power, or discipline. I call it lazy. I swear I have people who tell me they bought the fruits and vegetables, and then they rot if the fridge!

    That’s why I think the idea of getting people to focus on the end result is a good idea. You want a good erection? Eat this. You want a sexy body? Eat that. You want to look 35 when you’re 60?

    This is a great discussion. I think we all want to help people. We just have to figure out how to get through to them.

  7. Willpower and discipline is needed, but this is not the only thing. I once ate 1500 calories for over a year while doing hardcore exercise (80min on a recumbant bike 5 times a week, weight lifting 3x per week, etc..), I lost 50lbs in the process, but I also killed my metabolism, my muscle mass dwindled to nothing, and I was still fat (skinny fat). I’d say I had the willpower and discipline, but that was not enough to reach my goal. There are so many things that have to come together for weight loss, but the number one thing I think is good information.

  8. Carole,

    The amateur psychologist in me sees laziness as an effect rather than a cause. People are lazy for different reasons.

    But they all come down to fear…fear of failure, fear of success, fear of embarrassment…

    And sadly, the big lofty goal of living a long & healthy life is quite often too abstract or too grand a concept to be effective in overcoming that laziness inertia. But, your suggested goals of a sexy bod or a dependable erection are exactly the type of goal to overcome fear-driven goal.

    Direct and too the point. Eat this way and be more sexually attractive. Move your body this way for this amount of time and be able to do something with that sexy bod.

    Very primal…just like fear.

  9. Great story GGP!

    Over a short 11 months, not only did you drastically improve your health, fitness & appearance, you learned a lot about your own capabilities, your own body, and a ton about the type of nutrition that you body thrives on. And because of that knowledge (experiential & intellectual) you are able to effectively pass on that knowledge.

    Love hearing this sort of life story…love it!!!

  10. I just wanted to thank you for this post and I appreciate everyone’s debate about laziness vs. willpower.
    I have to agree with DR that laziness is not the root of the problem but an apparent symptom of a much larger complex psychological/emotional/social syndrome (if I may call it that) that is unique to each individual based on their environment and genetic disposition.
    Granted, some people do choose to stay stagnant and lazy and not take in knowledge, they seem to give up on bettering themselves, but I think DR is talking about the people who are motivated to make a change and they keep trying and struggling and for all appearances sake they are failing… I think he’s on the right track, that the key to helping them succeed is to get them to think deeply enough about taking ownership of their bodies.
    If they take in knowledge and are enlightened about how their bodies work and counseled that it’s not their fault they were raised a certain way and it’s not their fault they have been ignorant/confused to the facts about how their bodies work (hence the title of this post) and it’s not their fault that their genetic disposition and BMR is not ideal (perhaps even their body’s systems are more challenging to manage than most! How disheartening this can be without education and without someone to believe in them!)……This knowledge can motivate at the deepest level to create lasting behavioral changes for optimal health. Realizing that it’s not their fault but that they have the power to make their bodies the sexiest, fittest, healthiest they can be is comforting! It’s not that they’ve been lazy…the have been victimized by circumstance, and to a degree each and every one of us is in some area of our lives.
    But knowledge is powerful and the power becomes activated when we believe in it.
    I love that statement: ‘I lend them my confidence’ We all just need to help people take ownership, to realize they are to a degree a victim of their circumstances and empower them to make a change. HealthHabits is a force for good! So thanks again DR for another stellar post!

  11. An interesting and (for the first time) honest discussion!

    Food consumption can be an addiction for some, which manifests itself into Obesity. The Diet AND Fitness “Industries” pray on this addiction….no better than a drug dealer to a heroin addict. The BIG difference between a food addiction and other types (drugs, alcohol etc) is that you can’t go cold turkey, you must continue to eat. The chances of weight loss success decrease when an addict is continually exposed to temptation. The key question is “why”; uncovering the root cause of the addiction and dealing with it.

    I know first hand of what I speak. I was (am) one of those addicts. As a life-time obese person, it wasn’t until my early 40’s, that I confronted the emotional and psychological issues that I was using food to mask. Only after dealing with my “issues” did I use my better than average knowledge of nutrition and fitness (I have found that most fat people possess the knowledge to deal with their problem) could I move forward. So what was my journey?

    A. Loose weight (droped 1/2 my body weight to get into the “healthy” BMI range)…200lbs + off for 4 years and counting
    B. Get fit (began walking, then running…finally a marathon; now, for the first time in my life, pumping iron 5x per week at the gym).

    I probably didn’t do it text book perfectly. After loosing all my weight (diet and running) I looked awful and realized that I was not going to be able to sustain what I had achieved without building muscle mass. So now it’s all about muscle building.

    My Revelation?

    After droping my weight my life didn’t transform into utopia. The sun rose and fell as it normally did; my struggles and challenges continued. I (like many) had spent a life time convincing myself that my life would be perfect if I could loose the weight. I realized that the only thing that got better was my health; not a bad achievement, but hardly utopia.

    My tips for success?
    1. Come Out Of The Closet!…The obesity closet that is…Acknowledge the addication to yourself and others and get (qualified) help from true professionals (for me, it was Weight Watchers; for others who knows?), find support and inspiration (through actions not words) from someone close to you.
    2. Get Over It!…The journey is going to be a life-long challenge for an obese person, something that will be top-of-mind every day, forever.
    3. Put Yourself First…This isn’t going to be convenient, your life must change in order to be successful. You need to position your efforts ahead of other people and things in your life; this is something we are not comfortable with. If others around you have difficulty with your new priority, it is THEIR PROBLEM to deal with it. Never use family or work as an excuse!
    4. A Battle for Life…It’s not fair, but your weight control and fitness mission will be something that will require discipline and focus for life. You (and me) are not one of those naturally skinny or fit type people; we never will be. Success will require applied and consistent efforts for life. (I am still learning this one myself).

    I hope this helpful to the debate; again congratulation on starting a thoughtfull discussion for a subject that is desperate for clear and honest information.

  12. Helpful???

    That was awesome Milo

    Every overweight person needs to read this…seriously

  13. I’m not & have never in my life been fat, though my 2010 New Year resolution was to look better, fitter, sexier, which I knew wouldn’t be hard to achieve. I’m 1m64 and weighed 52kg back then. I had just gotten myself out of a terrible relationship- he was a severe alcoholic, sexual deviant, bipolar, drug-addict.. So after I split up I was determined to regain control over my life – I decided to cut unhealthy calories in addition to running 7km a day. I was also into modeling, & after 2 months I dropped down to 47kgs, I kept convincing myself I looked great. I did! Though, my “aura” had totally dulled, I would get so exhausted, passive, sometimes felt as though I was dying. Being a musician/composer/singer, my creativity had suddenly come to a halt and vanished, I developped hypoglycemia, became some kind of inspired-anorexic, I’m not sure how the f*** that happened but anyways. Just to advise “dieters” that too much willpower and determination can be extremely self-destructive. & if anyone reading this is so desperate to drop down dress sizes that they are contemplating CR, drunkorexia or anorexia – let me just advise you a bit before, take extra health-supplements and vitamines if you have decided to restrict your food-intake. The draw-backs just aren’t worthwile.

  14. People are looking for a magic solution where they (most of them) don’t have to do the work.
    Being healthy is a lifestyle. Not just something you do for 6-8 weeks to drop a few pounds to go on vacation.

    So many stories of people going on this diet, and that diet, and losing a whole bunch of weight and after the 8 weeks was up they went right back to their old selves.
    And gained twice the amount back, gee, no surprise there!

    And of course the stories where McDonalds tastes better than healthy food.

    If they want it they will for sure make a total lifestyle change. If not they can’t want it that bad.

    It’s all about what you want and how badly you want it. 😉

  15. Losing weight is something most people want to do. By eating healthy and working out properly it will definetly benefit in helping loseing weight. It takes more than just running 5 miles a day or jogging for 30 minutes a week. It takes hard work, time, and balanced healthy meals. You wont lose weight in a few weeks, it will take a few months or more…so be patient!

  16. After years of anorexia and bulimia I attempted recover and weight flew upwards. My BMI was nearing 26 (overweight) despite exercise 6 days a week (15 hours across those days and most of it cardio with a HRM to ensure I was working myself hard enough: HR had to be 120 and above for me to even press “start” to my time counter). Being I had a long standing relationship with anorexia I still didn’t ‘do’ chocolate, carbs, cheese…etc and basicly ate fresh fruit, vegetables and dairy (though no cheese/cream!) and lean protein.

    I lost lots of that weight last year, I had to change everything, cut out some food -mainly fruit as I was eating so much of it and my weight dropped. I cut out about 30% of the exercise and within a few months had lost a stone!

    I’d agree that there are no special effects, no secrets or hidden ways out when it comes to weight loss, the basic calories in vs. calories out holds true but its important to also realise exercise has very little affect in cancelling out calories. Its important to exercise to help your body shuffle along and do what its supposed to do but what it can do would seem to be finate and at worst, can make weight loss harder if your doing so much your hunger blows your mind and your exercise leaves you too weak to battle with it. Even the wisest food choices can and will backfire if you eat too much of them. Its quantity and portion control which will have the greatest effects on anyones weight loss rather then eliminating certan foods, the same goes with exercise: too much and you risk making things harder for yourself.

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