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5 Reasons Most Diets Fail (and How To Succeed)

5 Reasons Most Diets Fail (and How To Succeed)

The average person gains 11 pounds for every diet they go on. Even worse, when they lose weight, they lose muscle and fat. When they regain weight, they gain back all fat. And since muscle burns seven times as many calories as fat, their metabolism is slower than when they started the diet. The cruel fact is that they then need even less calories to maintain their weight.

Haven’t you known someone who was very overweight and said they don’t eat that much? They may not be lying. They have just damaged their metabolism by yo-yo dieting.

The key to losing weight and keeping it off are two simple things. First, automatically reduce your appetite not by white knuckling it and starving yourself but fixing the out-of-whack hormones and brain chemistry that drive hunger and overeating.

The second is to automatically increase your metabolism so you burn more calories all day long. Unfortunately, most diets do the opposite – increase hunger and slow metabolism.

Here are the five reasons most diets fail and how to succeed.

1. You use willpower instead of science to control your appetite

There is a science of hunger. Unfortunately, most diets (eating less) will trigger hunger. You can only hold your breath for so long. You can only starve yourself for so long. Powerful ancient mechanisms compensate and protect us from starvation (even if it is self induced). Our hunger dramatically increases, our cravings ramp up and our metabolism slows way down to conserve energy. Eating certain foods (low fat, higher carb or sugary foods) actually increases hunger and slows metabolism.

Success Principle: Appetite

  • Eat enough to satisfy your appetite (but only real whole fresh food).
  • Eat protein for breakfast and avoid eating 3 hours before bed.
  • Compose your meals to balance blood sugar and lower insulin. Combine protein, fat and low-glycemic, non-starchy carbs (vegetables, fruit, small amounts (less than half a cup of grains and beans) at each meal. Fat and protein and fiber slow insulin spikes.

2. You focus on calories (eating less and exercising more)

The mantra of calories in/calories out, of energy balance as the key to weight loss, is quickly entering the scientific dustbin. In my last blog on Automatic Weight Loss, I reviewed the science behind that fact that all calories are not created equally.

Some calories make you fat, some calories make you thin. What we now know is that any foods that spike insulin (sugar, flour and even excess grains, fruit and beans) trigger a shift in your metabolism. What does insulin do? It drives all the fuel in your blood from the food you just ate into your hungry fat cells (visceral or belly fat).

Then, your body thinks you are starving even though you just at a giant bagel or sucked down a Big Gulp. And remember, two things happen when your body thinks you are starving – you increase hunger and slow metabolism.

Have you ever eaten a big meal, then, an hour later, felt hungry again and needed to go raid the fridge or eat something sweet? That’s why.

Success Principles: Calories

  • Focus on very low-glycemic foods as the staples of your diet. Nuts, seeds, chicken, fish, grass fed meats, low-glycemic veggies (greens, salad fixings, etc.)
  • Use grains and beans sparingly (not more than a half cup once a day each).
  • Use sugar as a drug – in very small doses. And all sugar is the same. If you have to ask “is ______ OK?” It isn’t.
  • Don’t use artificial sweeteners – they trigger sweet receptors, hunger and slow metabolism leading to obesity and type 2 diabetes.

 3. You eat a low-fat diet

Most people still believe we should avoid egg yolks and that eating a low-fat diet will help them lose weight. The old idea that fat has 9 calories per gram and carbs 4 calories per gram led to the mistaken idea that if we cut out fat, we would lose weight.

Well, look what’s happened to America in the last 30 years, where low fat has been the rage and the method for weight loss. We are fatter than ever (70 percent of us are overweight), and now, 1 in 2 Americans has pre-diabetes or type 2 diabetes or what I like to call “diabesity.”

Harvard scientist Walter Willet reviewed all the science on low fat and weight loss and found that it is not eating fat that makes you fat but sugar. A recent study by David Jenkins found that a low-carb (26%), high-fat (43%) vegan diet was more effective for weight loss and reducing cardiovascular risk factors than a vegan low-fat diet. The high-fat group lost 4 more pounds and dropped their cholesterol 10 more points by eating high fat. They called it Eco-Atkins!

Other studies show that by eating more fat and less carbs you can increase your metabolism by 300 calories a day (eating the same total calories a day). That’s like getting the benefit of running for an hour a day without getting off the couch. You could call it “The Butt Diet.” Sit on your butt and lose 1 pound every 11 days.

Success Principles: Fat

  • Don’t fear fat. It actually makes you feel full, speeds up your metabolism and helps you lose weight.
  • Eat good fats at every meal.
  • Eat vegetable fats, such as avocado, nuts, seeds, coconut butter or oil
  • Eat clean animal fats (organic eggs with the yolk, chicken, grass-fed meats) and fish with omega 3 fats (sardines, herring, wild salmon, black cod).

 4. You have hidden reasons and need medical help

There are reasons beyond your diet or amount of exercise that affect your weight and metabolism. Your body is a system and many things affect metabolism. I have written about them in my books, The Blood Sugar Solution, or The Blood Sugar Solution 10-Day Detox Diet.

The biggest hidden causes of weight grain or resistance to weight loss are the things that cause inflammation. And inflammation from anything that triggers weight gain by worsening insulin resistance.

What causes inflammation?

Hidden food allergies or sensitivities. Gluten and dairy are the most common culprits. But don’t switch to gluten-free or dairy-free options. Gluten-free cakes and cookies are still cake and cookies. They are still very high in sugar and refined carbs and flours. Just try soy yogurt with the sweeteners. You wouldn’t eat it!

Gut Problems. The microbiome – the 100 trillion bacteria in your gut – play an enormous role in metabolism and health. If you have bad bugs (from eating refined, high-sugar, carb, low-fiber diet or taking antibiotics, acid blockers) they can either trigger inflammation or alter how your food is broken down and absorbed. Fecal transplants from a thin to an obese person will change their metabolism. What’s next? Poop transplants for weight loss. Maybe!

Toxins. Science has discovered that common environmental chemicals (pesticides, household cleaners, make up, pollution and heavy metals) can be “obesogens.” Chemicals that make you fat. In animal studies, giving rats a toxin caused weight gain even if they ate the same amount of calories and exercised the same.

Success Principles: Find Hidden Causes of Weight Gain

  • Try an elimination diet. Not eliminating calories but getting rid of inflammatory foods. Start with gluten and dairy. 100 percent for 3 weeks.
  • Fix your gut. Avoid gut-busting drugs (acid blockers, antibiotics and anti-inflammatories). Starve the bad bugs by eating a low-glycemic, low-fermentation (starch) diet. Take probiotics. See a Functional Medicine doctor to get help if you don’t success on your own.
  • Detox your body and your life. Reduce exposure to environmental and common chemicals. See the resources at the Environmental Working Group to reduce exposures in skin-care products, household products and the food you eat (meat and veggies). And the NRDC resource for eating fish without mercury. Eat two cups of cruciferous veggies a day (broccoli family). You may need help from a Functional Medicine doctor to do a medically supervised detoxification program.

 5. You don’t have a plan.

Health is not something that happens to you. It is something you have to plan, like a vacation or your retirement! Most of us fail because we don’t “design our health.” We don’t set up the conditions for automatic success.

In my book The 10-Day Detox Diet, one of the days is focused on the principle of “Design.” How do you design your life so that you don’t have to think about doing the right thing? You create conditions for making it easy – have all the right foods in the house, the right ingredients all ready for your morning protein shake, creating an emergency travel food pack, having your plan for exercise for the week in advance.

Also, we find that doing things together makes them easier. At Saddleback Church, we got 15,000 people to lose 250,000 pounds in a year by having them do it together. Every body needs a buddy! Joining a group of people doing this in person or an online community or group makes it fun and makes it work. We have created online challenges where people have had profound success in redesigning their life for good.

Find what works for you but don’t expect health to happen. You have to plan for it!

Success Principles: Create a Plan

  • Commit to designing your health. Do it weekly on Sundays!
  • Create an emergency life pack of food.
  • Join a community or get a buddy or a friend.
  • Join one of my online groups or challenges, such as The Blood Sugar Solution Challenge. This 12-week challenge starts on June 19 and provides you with all the resources and support (from my nutritionists, your peers and me) you need to set yourself on a path to good health for life.

The science of health and weight loss is not a mystery. But old ideas die hard. If you look out for these five ways that diets fail and focus on the principles of success then you will build habits and practices that work. Health and weight loss are not a struggle. It’s not rocket science, just science!

Wishing you health and happiness,
Mark Hyman, MD

Mark Hyman MD is the Medical Director at Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Functional Medicine, the Founder of The UltraWellness Center, and a ten-time #1 New York Times Bestselling author.

Comments (29)

  • I really appreciate this comprehensive article. I’ve already implemented the majority components of this program over the past year, and now I am looking to fine tune and identify the triggers that draw the old habits back. Thank you so much.

  • Have done your detox program through Lifetime Fitness and a 30 day elimination diet and did not lose a pound! Very frustrated- any suggestions?

  • This explains everything to me, about why I could never keep the weight off, no matter how hard I tried. The yo you dieting, and the uncontrollable sugar cravings like a ball and chain around my neck. I’ve just done the 10 day detox and have lost weight ( 9 lbs) and I can’t remember when I felt better. I just saw the film “Fed UP”, which is excellent. Now I will never look at food the same again. I’ve even stopped taking my allergy medicine and I realize gluten and dairy were also making me very ill. I recommend Dr. Hyman’s books to everyone! I’ve got my husband eating like this too and I’m working on the rest of my family!

    • Hi Shelly!

      Yes – we love coconut oil and coconut butter for many reasons but mainly because of its lauric acid content which has been shown to help promote better immune function. Optimizing immune function is important when we are trying to cool off inflammation in the body. The saturated fat from coconut oil has been shown to be cardioprotective and the type of fat, MCT (medium chain triglycerides) have been shown to boost metabolic function and improve insulin function, leading to weight loss. Please see Dr. Hyman’s nutrition coaching portal for a personalized plan to help you get the appropriate 1:1 support for using food as medicine.

  • Dr Hyman you are an inspiration. Your book “The Ultramind Solution” started me on a road to health and well being. Since then I have become a health coach and I have experimented in the kitchen endlessly. I love it! I have eliminated land animals, gluten and dairy for almost three years now. Your 12 books have great recipes but also a lot of animal protein. Not that I condemn it, I’m just happy without it. I do advocate eating less animals as it is just not sustainable and the cruelty is criminal! So my question what do you say to someone who’s mostly vegetarian?

  • Thank You! for this E-mail, I took the 10 day sugar detox cleanse for 10 days & I have taken off 12 lbs. in 10 days…. That was last Friday, but what I don’t understand that the weight is trying creep up on me & I’m not doing anything different I’m eating low G.I. Thanks Again!!!

  • I heard that grass-fed can on some farms really mean grass-finished. That means that they don’t feed the cows grass until close the time of slaughter because there aren’t standards in place for how long cows need to be fed grass. For most of their life they are still eating mostly corn. What do you think about that?

  • Will power first comes from knowing something has to change to make you feel better about yourself. Once determination kicks in, help is needed to break the cycle of bad habits. Dr. Hyman’s program maintains that when we eat the right foods and exercise, we can break the bodily urges for the wrong foods. It won’t be will power that’s needed to stick with it, but the changes in our body chemistry that will crave better choices and, no doubt, a good feeling about the results. I’m willing to try it and stop mindless eating.

  • I followed this eating plan a few years ago and felt great! However, now I follow a plant based diet. When my diet was “pure” I looked and felt great. Now I’m adding in too many substitutes and I’m putting on weight. Do you still have limit beans to 1/2 C/day as well as limit high protein grains such as quinoa when you follow a plant based diet?

  • What do you do when you have Crohn’s & your doctor says not to eat raw veg. and to eat white bread, etc? Also the doctor has you on Protonics.

  • He tells you this because when you cut out all the processed foods you do not need will power. Miraculously all the cravings leave. The processed foods and sugar drive those cravings. I have followed him and the weight comes off and everything in your body feels better.

  • Thank you for this Dr Hyman. Brilliant and its true…. When your body is satiated with nourishing whole foods, you find you don’t need willpower!

  • I am reading both books from Dr Hyman, i have type II diabetes, I know it is that the insulin receptors are not working the way the should work , I have sent email to you and I have not received any answer, I have been eating, No gluten, no processed carbs except some low glisemic fruits, what supplements can I take to improve my insulin receptors? I hope you can help me, please, help me, I would like to find a Functional Doctor here in Michigan, my zip code is 48188
    I would really appreciate your help
    Thank you

    • Thank you for your interest in Dr. Hyman’s work. It is fantastic that you are taking action to improve your health. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman who can help you with your condition, go to and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.
      Wishing You the Best of Health!
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  • We started with the 10-day detox and kept going. In seven weeks I’ve lost 21.5 pounds and my partner has lost almost 30. (Men lose so much quicker than we women!) We never thought we would want to stick with the program, but the results are too good to go back to old habits. After cooking every meal for four or five weeks, we started eating out, and although we make good choices, we do not ask for specific cooking oils or anything. The weight continues to come off. And we haven’t even added any exercise in yet, although we will soon for basic health. I never dreamed I could eat this way — no sugar, no bread, no pasta, no coffee, no yogurt, no oatmeal — and be happy, but I am. I, too, would like more ideas for adapting the diet to eliminate land animals. I had previously stopped eating fowl, but had to go back to it for the diet. I still don’t eat beef or pork. Thank you, Dr. Hyman!

  • Thank you for this helpful article, Dr. Hyman. The low-fat diet is, in my opinion, one of the worst nutrition scams on the market. The human body needs good fats for a strong metabolism and immune system. I do recommend that synthetic fats be avoided. However, organic butter, coconut oil, avocado, and walnut are all excellent sources of healthy fat that can be consumed safely as part of a balanced diet. I have found that magnesium deficiency can also contribute to obesity as it interferes with deep sleep and sleep is essential for hormone regulation. Insomnia can also contribute to weight gain. Keep up the great work on this site!

  • Hi dr Hyman
    a question:
    why did you cite jekins’s work,where vegetal protein is almost half(43%) in seitan(gluten protein),and after you suggest to elimante gluten to detox?

    by from italy

  • I do not even know the way I stopped up right here, but I assumed this publish was good.
    I don’t know who you might be but definitely you are going to a well-known blogger in the event you
    aren’t already. Cheers!

  • Pingback: 5 Reasons Most Diets Fail (and How To Succeed) –

  • I have colitis and my doctor said not to eat raw vegies or ruff foods that will harm my intestines. what do you suggest I eat to be healthy? my triglis are 205 and b.m.i is 40. I also have primary billary cirrhosis dianosed in 2006, im in stage 2 taking meds for liver, throyd, chol. cant stay at a healthy weight. thank you

    • Hi Christine,
      Thank you for your interest In Dr. Hyman’s work. Unfortunately he cannot provide you personalized medical advice in this forum. In order to provide you the proper care you need we hope you will seek the attention of a local qualified Functional Med practitioner soon. To locate a doctor near you who practices functional medicine like Dr. Hyman, go to and scroll down to where it says “locate a practitioner” and enter your location. Progress accordingly from there.
      Did you know you can work with Dr. Hyman’s nutritionists virtually? For personalized nutrition coaching where you can receive 1:1 support with Registered Dietitians, please see:
      Wishing you the best of health,
      Dr. Hyman Staff

  • I lost 43 pounds on a doctor supervised high protein diet. It included meal replacements and phentermine. As soon as I went off the diet I started gaining the weight back, even though I was eating healthy. I want to get back on track. I have been on diuretics since having my son 15 years ago, and I still experience fluid retention and “pitting”. I carry most of the excess weight around the middle and upper arms. Heart disease runs rampant in my family. Where should I start?

  • The truth of the matter is, most diet programs work and will provide results as long as you work. So next time you feel like you diet is not working, ask yourself if you are guilty of any of the reasons above. Also be sure to consult with your primary care physician before starting any diet or exercise routine so that they can guide you in the right direction for your goals. Remember that making significant changes to your health and body composition do not happen overnight. So make sure to remain persistent with no excuses and soon enough you will reach your goals.Source :