Diet Failure Statistics

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By Rebekah Pierce

Reviewed by Juliana Tamayo, MS, RDN - Last Updated

diet failure statistics

If you’ve ever tried a fad diet, you’re familiar with the excitement of starting off strong and seeing the results on the scale. But few people talk about the harsh truth – that the vast majority of diets fail in the long run. 

Whether it’s a juice cleanse, a low-fat diet, or cutting out carbs altogether, the statistics are daunting. 

In this blog post, we’re going to dive into the reasons why diets fail, what you can do to set yourself up for success, and why it’s important to have a healthy relationship with food.

What is the Number One Reason Diets Fail?

The number one reason why diets fail is that people approach them with an all-or-nothing mindset. This means that they have unrealistic expectations of themselves and their diet, leading them to set themselves up for failure. 

For instance, if you say to yourself, “I’m never going to eat junk food again,” it’s unrealistic, and you’re likely to give up when you inevitably break that promise to yourself. Instead, try to be realistic with what you eat. If you slip up once in a while, that’s perfectly okay—just don’t let it turn into a binge.

It’s all about balance, and if you can find a diet that fits your preferences and your lifestyle, you’re more likely to stick to it.

why diets fail

Another reason why diets fail is that people often don’t make sustainable changes to their lifestyle. They might go on a crash diet to lose weight quickly, but once they reach their goal weight, they revert to their old eating habits and gain the weight back. 

Instead, try to make small, sustainable changes to your diet and lifestyle that you can stick to in the long run. For example, if you usually eat fast food for lunch, try to pack a healthy salad instead. If you’re used to snacking on junk food, swap it out for some fruit or nuts. Making small changes like these can help you build a healthier lifestyle over time.

Diet Failure Statistics – Highlights

  • 95% of diets fail when people completely cut one thing out (like carbohydrates).
  • Within five years of dieting, more than 80% of all weight lost is usually regained.
  • If a person is on a diet and told not to eat a certain food, the likelihood of overeating that food increases by 133%. 
  • The average diet for women lasts just two weeks.
  • When you diet, you send mixed signals to your brain – calorie intake can fluctuate by about 20 to 30% when you’re on a diet. 

95% of diets fail when people completely cut one thing out (like carbohydrates).

Source: U.S. News & World Report

Whether it’s carbs, fat, or sugar, completely cutting out one food group is a recipe for disaster. Not only does it create a sense of deprivation, but it can also lead to binge eating and a slower metabolism. 

When you deprive your body of a particular food source, it goes into survival mode, slowing down your metabolism and causing you to lose muscle mass. That means it’s harder to burn calories and lose weight, and easier to pack on the pounds once you start eating normally again.

Within five years of dieting, more than 80%, all weight lost is usually regained.

Source: Harvard University 

It’s not just that diets fail – it’s that they fail spectacularly. Within five years of starting a diet, it’s common for people to regain more weight than they lost. Why

Because most diets are built around rules and restrictions, rather than sustainable lifestyle changes. Once you reach your goal weight and go back to your old habits, the weight creeps back on. But the good news is that you don’t have to be a statistic. By making small, sustainable changes to your lifestyle, you can achieve lasting results.

If a person does not have a medical condition triggering weight loss, they’re 50% more likely to regain the weight lost from dieting than those without a medical condition.

Source: NIH

Why do our dietary willpower and motivation fade so quickly? One possible answer is that we’re not doing it for the right reasons. 

Studies show that people who start dieting to get rid of a medical condition – like diabetes, high blood pressure, or cholesterol – are more likely to keep the weight off long-term. 

Why? Because they have a concrete goal that goes beyond aesthetics or social pressure, and they understand the bigger picture of their health.

After one year of ending a diet, 35% of people regain at least 5 lbs.

Source: NIH

At the end of the day, the reason diets fail is because they’re rooted in deprivation, guilt, and shame. When we view food as the enemy, we set ourselves up for failure. That’s why it’s so important to build a healthy relationship with food, based on nourishment, pleasure, and balance. 

When you learn to eat mindfully and enjoy the foods you love in moderation, you’re much more likely to achieve and maintain a healthy weight.

The average diet for women lasts just two weeks.

Source: Daily Mail

The average diet for women lasts just two weeks. Now, that might not sound too bad, but think about it – two weeks of extreme restriction and effort, only to throw in the towel and gain all the weight back. That’s a pretty bleak picture.

If a person is on a diet and told not to eat a certain food, the likelihood of overeating that food increases by 133%. 

Source: Medium

This might sound counterintuitive, but think about it – when we deny ourselves something we want, our natural instinct is to crave it even more. This doesn’t mean you should give up on cutting out certain foods altogether, but rather that you should aim for balance and moderation instead of strict rules. 

For example, instead of cutting out all carbs, try focusing on whole grains and complex carbs that provide sustained energy and nutrients.

foods to avoid diet failure

Eating just 100 extra calories a day can result in significant weight gain.

Source: Belfast Trust

Have you ever heard the phrase “calories in, calories out”? Well, it’s not entirely accurate. Research shows that eating just 100 extra calories a day – that’s a handful of chips or a small candy bar – can result in significant weight gain over time. 

This might seem unfair or discouraging, but it’s actually a good thing to know. It means that small changes can have a big impact, and you don’t have to starve yourself or exercise for hours every day to see results. 

Try cutting out 100 calories a day – maybe by swapping soda for water, having one less slice of bread, or choosing grilled chicken instead of fried – and see how it adds up over a week or month.

24% of people have tried to lose weight one or two times in their life, while 28% have tried three to ten times. 11% have tried more than 10 times. 

Source: Gallup

It’s easy to feel discouraged or even ashamed if you’ve tried and failed before (trust us, we’ve been there), but the important thing is to keep trying. Every attempt is a chance to learn, to adjust, to try something new. And who knows – maybe this time will be the one that sticks.

weight lost and gained

10% of people attempt to diet without using any formal dietary program or exercise routine. 

Source: NIH

While some may see this as a sign of self-discipline and motivation, the reality is that without a structured plan, it can be difficult to make sustainable changes. 

Eating less or cutting out certain food groups may lead to quick weight loss initially, but without a long-term strategy, old habits tend to creep back in. So, if you’re serious about losing weight, it’s important to find a program or professional to help guide you along the way.

43% of people who diet do so by counting calories. 

Source: Great Green Wall

Many people turn to calorie counting as their go-to diet strategy, with 43% of people who diet doing so by counting calories. While this can be an effective method, it’s important to keep in mind that not all calories are created equal. 

A nutritious, balanced diet with fewer calories is more effective than a high-calorie diet filled with processed foods. Additionally, calorie counting alone doesn’t address other factors that contribute to weight gain, such as stress, sleep, and exercise. 

So, while tracking your calories can be helpful, it’s only one piece of the weight loss puzzle.

When you diet, you send mixed signals to your brain – calorie intake can fluctuate by about 20 to 30% when you’re on a diet. 

Source: Great Green Wall

When you diet, you send mixed signals to your brain, which can lead to a fluctuation of calorie intake by about 20 to 30%. In other words, your body doesn’t always understand that you’re intentionally trying to lose weight. 

As a result, your brain sends signals to your body to conserve calories, which can make you feel hungrier and lead to overeating. This is why fad diets that severely restrict calorie intake often fail in the long run. Instead, it’s important to focus on making gradual, sustainable lifestyle changes for the best chance at success.

The odds of achieving a “normal” weight are in 1 in 124 for women with obesity class one (not morbid obesity).

Source: NIH

While this may seem discouraging, it’s important to remember that weight loss doesn’t have to mean reaching a specific number on the scale. Improving your overall health and well-being should always be the ultimate goal. 

And while weight loss may be one component of that, it’s not the only marker of success. Focus on developing healthy habits, such as regular exercise, nutritious eating, and stress management, and let the weight loss be a happy side effect.

Final Thoughts

The statistics behind diet failure are sobering. 

But understanding the reasons behind these statistics can help you overcome the obstacles that hold you back from your goals. Set realistic expectations, find your motivation, make healthy food choices, and surround yourself with supportive people. 

Remember, a healthy and sustainable lifestyle is a journey, not a quick fix. With patience and perseverance, you can achieve your health and wellness goals.

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Rebekah Pierce

Rebekah Pierce is a professional writer specializing in a variety of niches, including health and fitness. Her unique blend of experience managing and owning a regenerative farm, along with a background working in both secondary and higher education, gives her the versatility needed to write about a variety of topics. She has a B.A. in English and a M.S.Ed. in Special Education. She's an avid runner, having completed multiple marathons and half marathons, and believes in the profound power of overall health, wellness, and good nutrition when it comes to changing lives!