Diets Don’t Work

Are you on a diet?


According to a 2013 article in the ‘Independent’ that was the value of the diet industry in the UK alone. Two Billion Pounds. Two billion is just a number of course; let me put that into some kind of context. As a population we give approximately ten billion pounds to charity per year. CAF (2018) So for every five pounds we give to charity we give one to the diet industry.

Retails analysts Mintel carried out some research in 2016 with 2000 UK adults. Almost two thirds of those surveyed admitted to being on a diet ‘most of the time ‘ It’s hardly surprising when you consider the saturation of the industry upon us. It’s no longer just health food shops or fitness fanatics. Juice and soup diets, slimming world, low carb, high carb, no carb, Atkins, paleo, and so on and so on and so onnnnnnnnnnnn.

Hundreds of slightly differently marketed ideas that promise powerful changes. Glossy packaging and sexy brand models who have probably never tasted the product – you know the drill.

Each brand will promise to be something completely unique and to offer something that will revolutionize your dieting journey. Begs the question. Why so many of them? Why the need? 

What’s the one thing all of these diets have in common?

Calorie Deficit. If you’re not aware of a calorie deficit then let me explain.

The first law of thermodynamics in physics determines that that energy cannot be created or destroyed. Instead it only changes. A wealth of research supports the belief that this also applies to humans and human nutrition.

Weight Loss can at least in the short term be boiled down to a simple equation of calories in versus calories out. If you eat more calories than your body burns you will gain weight. If you eat less calories than you burn then you will lose weight. 

Thus, each fad diet or fancy packaged quick cleanse will all employ a calorie deficit. Some will limit fats to do this. Some will limit carbohydrates. Some will focus on a small range of foods while others will allow for a greater range. Each one different – yet each one essentially the same.

A disclaimer

  1. Diets do work

Darren you’ve literally destroyed your whole argument straight away. 

Stick with me 🙂

In some ways that statement is actually true. It all of course depends on your definition of ‘work’ For many people they go on a diet for a specific event. Perhaps a wedding or a holiday. So if they lose weight or get in shape for that event then the diet has worked for their context. Yet my argument as I will explain letter is that a short term fix is not actually a diet working.

Ok so you look a million dollars strolling round the pool in Ibiza. But is it really worth it when you blow up a like a balloon shortly after and end up further back than when you started.

Guess it comes down to your mentality. How wide is your perspective?

My Arguments against diets

I could give about 50 but for the sake of your sanity and mine let’s keep it to 3.

  1. They mess with your head
  2. Short term fix for a long term question
  3. You miss out on some of the best parts of life.

They Mess with your Head

I spent six years of my life trapped inside the prison of an all-consuming eating disorder. It completely controlled, ruined and almost ended my life. So I know a thing or two about having your head affected by food, nutrition and weight.

This post however is not aimed so much at someone who is suffering to the extent I did (though it may help) but to the average Joe or Joanne who wants to lose some weight and is on a diet.

The second you begin a diet, something shifts in your mind. Unintentionally a mindset of restriction kicks in. You want to cut calories. When you do you feel a positive sense of worth. If you ‘mess up’ or eat too much you feel guilt and a lower sense of worth. Your yardstick for measuring yourself becomes about how good or bad you are doing on this diet. Not who you are on a deeper level.

It’s as simple as;

 you lose weight – you feel good   

you gain weight – you feel crap

You are worth a heck of a lot more than whether or not you are succeeding at some short term diet.

Short term fix to a long term question

Most people want to live a long and happy life right?

Well ever since humans have been around we have had to eat to survive and I don’t see that changing anytime soon. Which means if you want to live to 80 you’re gonna have to keep eating until you are 80. A cleanse diet to shed a stone for Marbella next month is all well and good but it isn’t gonna matter much when you’re 75 and quite possibly not heading to Marbella to whip your shirt off and try to pull the hottest person at the party.

The problem with diets is almost all of them have an expiry date. An end point. But what happens when you lose the stone and a half? Or when you drop the waist size. Where is the follow up? Where is the sustainability?

I would encourage you to look at the foods you are consuming now. Consider your daily intake. Can you honestly say you could sustain that same approach to nutrition from now until the day you die? If not then you are seeking a short term fix.

After years of struggling I have finally found a ‘diet’ than I can sustain for the rest of my life. It’s called the anything goes ‘diet’ No food is off limits anymore. Alcohol, chocolate, crisps, broccoli, peanut butter, rice and meat all make up part of my weekly intake. Now do I eat as much chocolate as broccoli? No of course not. But if I fancy some chocolate I’ll go for it. If I’m heading out for dinner I’ll eat a little less earlier in the day. And so on and so on.

Because nothing is off limits, nothing is craved. There is no restriction and no denial. I have a vast knowledge of food (one upside from my eating disorder) and I know what to eat to support my level of activity.

It is possible. If I can do it, anyone can, trust me.

You miss out on some of the best parts of life

Food plays a significant role in many of life’s’ biggest occasions. Christmas, Easter, Graduations, Birthdays, Funerals, Parties, Social gatherings etc etc. Food is almost always a central part of these events.

Being on a diet often means you restrict yourself and miss out on being as present as you would like to be at these events. I mean many of us have probably been that person. You know the one who is out with friends and feels they have to order the salad even though everything inside them is screaming PIZZA, PIZZA, PIZZA!

A diet mentality means you probably can’t have the pizza. Yet a healthy approach to nutrition would be to tailor your eating for the rest of the day to allow yourself to fully indulge in that Pizza you know you want. Having a Pizza at a party is not going to ruin your life or damage your goals.

Yet if you deny yourself that Pizza, chances are a memory will be stored that will tease you until you end up binging on probably way more calories than if you had just eaten the pizza with your friends.

Life is for living. You will experience your fair share pain and heartache beyond your control in this life. Your nutrition is something that is in your control. Manipulate it to make it work for you. Allow yourself to experience pleasure and joy from food. Eat the bloody doughnut from time to time.

Make it work for you.


Your nutrition is your choice. You ultimately decide what goes in your mouth. 

Yet my encouragement would absolutely be to ditch diets. Ditch short term fixes and pursue a healthy lifelong approach to nutrition. One that is sustainable for you, beneficial to you, and controlled by you. Exercise and enjoy food. Whether it’s carrots or chocolates, curly kale or chicken kiev – anything goes.

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Darren Shields

Darren is a 25-year-old Irish man who is just starting to reclaim his life back again after mental illness. He is an avid writer and enjoys staying active. Whilst he currently works in a supermarket his dream is to build an organisation that equips, inspires and encourages people of all ages to achieve their true potential regardless of their mental health difficulties. If you like what you have read I’d love you to check out my blog It is a website dedicated to promoting good mental health and challenging stereotypes. We are always looking for contributors and people to work with.

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