Does Dieting Harm You?

In the last article we learned that diets rarely work for weight control, and if they do, not for long. As bad as that news is, surely there is no harm in trying right?

Unfortunately there is. Imagine getting all set to lose some pounds and you end up gaining instead1–3. Or even worse, your diet causes you to because less healthy mentally around food. You might not think it was the diet, (you might just think something is wrong with you) but studies link dieting to disordered eating, fixation on food, emotional eating, increased food cravings, increased risk of depression, and heightened incidence of binge eating 4–9.

Woman secretly eating cookies-758434

Many of our clients say they never had issues with food until they went on their first diet. As children and teens they ate naturally, freely and without guilt. But that first time they clipped out a magazine article on “How to Lose 5 pounds this Month!” it all started. The worrying, the planning, the nibbling in secret and bingeing when upset. The bargaining, justifying and guilty feelings started bubbling up around food, when eating previously had just been an enjoyable and social thing to do.

It was once thought that the aforementioned negative consequences were caused by the calorie restriction of being on a diet, however, more recent investigations indicate that people who are dieting don’t actually eat less than someone who isn’t dieting 10,11. The negative ramifications of dieting seem to be attributable to the mental and psychological processes at work when a free-living person decides to diet. In other words, deciding you’re on a diet (not what you eat) is what starts the domino effect of problems.

Dieting can be defined as “intentionally restricting food intake for the purpose of weight control”. It doesn’t actually mean someone is eating less. You can restrict your intake (and expend a lot of effort) by limiting food groups, sequestering eating to only certain hours of the day, going gluten free, cutting out dessert, demonizing carbs or sugars or fats, or cruelly bashing yourself for having dessert, all of which are no guarantee that your overall calorie intake will be reduced.

When someone says they are dieting, what are they actually doing? Evidence indicates that they are thinking about food a great deal more, worrying more, and feeling more guilt about their food than before 12,13. It’s not clear whether worrying about the impact of one’s food choices causes someone to begin a diet, or if deciding to go on a diet increases a person’s tendency to worry about their food. What is clear is that dieting itself doesn’t seem to lead to any improvement, since long term dieters feel just as guilty and worried as new dieters, if not more.

Concern over one’s food intake is certainly rampant. The internet, news media and entertainment outlets all contribute to an ongoing phobia that we’re collectively somehow eating incorrectly. Go on the internet and article headlines taunt you to click and find out the 8 Foods That Are Poisoning You or Things You Should Never Eat For Reducing Belly Fat. The message is always to stop eating this or that, lest we be fat and disgusting forever. It can feel like unless we are hyper-vigilant and neurotic about our lunch, we won’t live to see supper. We are being sold food worry all day long.

According to de Ridder et al., “the modern food environment is not only ‘obesogenic’ to the extent that it contributes to the overweight epidemic but also to the extent that it produces worries about food that people feel unable to deal with in another manner than calling themselves dieters.” 14 No alternative is usually presented other than avoidance of certain food, or a specified diet.

Guilt doesn’t actually appear to help provide motivation to eat better, either. Associating food with guilt actually contributes to feeling powerless and out of control, and is linked to less success in losing weight 15 and increased prevalence of negative mood states 13,16.

Once a person is toting around their own personal dark cloud of food guilt and worry, coupled with the stress from calorie counting or points tracking, their brain enters a state of heightened susceptibility to food reward – so the very items a person is trying to restrict (high sugar, high fat foods) become ultra-rewarding 17. This may explain why initially breaking one’s diet often leads to continued indulgent eating for a period of time 18,19 further reducing the odds of successful weight loss.

This seems almost cruel.

Given this sobering reality, it may seem that dieting is universally futile and weight control is an impossible pursuit. However there is hope, we know that failure or regain is not always the case since there are rare individuals who change their lives and bodies successfully, and maintain that loss. These outliers, the successful people who lose weight and keep it off, can be studied as examples of the factors that do produce success.

If weight loss professionals and consumers can both set aside what we think works and what we think we need to lose weight, we can take an unbiased look at what behavioral change research shows us. Doing so may make the difference we need in succeeding against the odds. It might mean changing what we’re used to doing. I think it’s worth it.

In part III we’ll explore what successful folks actually do. How do they think? How do they behave? What specifically sets them apart? You won’t want to miss it.

  1. French SA, Jeffery RW. Consequences of dieting to lose weight: effects on physical and mental health. Health Psychol. 1994;13(3):195-212.
  2. Lowe MR, Annunziato R a, Markowitz JT, et al. Multiple types of dieting prospectively predict weight gain during the freshman year of college. Appetite. 2006;47(1):83-90. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2006.03.160.
  3. Savage JS, Hoffman L, Birch LL. Dieting, restraint, and disinhibition predict women’s weight change over 6 y. Am J Clin Nutr. 2009;90(1):33-40. doi:10.3945/ajcn.2008.26558.
  4. Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Guo J, Story M, Haines J, Eisenberg M. Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: how do dieters fare 5 years later? J Am Diet Assoc. 2006;106(4):559-568. doi:10.1016/j.jada.2006.01.003.
  5. Stice E, Burger K, Yokum S. Caloric deprivation increases responsivity of attention and reward brain regions to intake, anticipated intake, and images of palatable foods. Neuroimage. 2013;67:322-330. doi:10.1016/j.neuroimage.2012.11.028.
  6. Nguyen C, Polivy J. Eating behavior, restraint status, and BMI of individuals high and low in perceived self-regulatory success. Appetite. 2014;75:49-53. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.12.016.
  7. Massey A, Hill AJ. Dieting and food craving. A descriptive, quasi-prospective study. Appetite. 2012;58(3):781-785. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2012.01.020.
  8. Andrés A, Saldaña C. Body dissatisfaction and dietary restraint influence binge eating behavior. Nutr Res. 2014;34(11):944-950. doi:10.1016/j.nutres.2014.09.003.
  9. Cairns KE, Yap MBH, Pilkington PD, Jorm AF. Risk and protective factors for depression that adolescents can modify: a systematic review and meta-analysis of longitudinal studies. J Affect Disord. 2014;169:61-75. doi:10.1016/j.jad.2014.08.006.
  10. French SA, Jeffery RW, Wing RR. Food intake and physical activity: a comparison of three measures of dieting. Addict Behav. 19(4):401-409. Accessed November 23, 2014.
  11. Goldstein SP, Katterman SN, Lowe MR. Relationship of dieting and restrained eating to self-reported caloric intake in female college freshmen. Eat Behav. 2013;14(2):237-240. doi:10.1016/j.eatbeh.2012.12.002.
  12. De Witt Huberts JC, Evers C, de Ridder DTD. Double trouble: restrained eaters do not eat less and feel worse. Psychol Health. 2013;28(6):686-700. doi:10.1080/08870446.2012.751106.
  13. Macht M, Mueller J. Interactive effects of emotional and restrained eating on responses to chocolate and affect. J Nerv Ment Dis. 2007;195(12):1024-1026. doi:10.1097/NMD.0b013e31815c0878.
  14. De Ridder D, Adriaanse M, Evers C, Verhoeven A. Who diets? Most people and especially when they worry about food. Appetite. 2014;80:103-108. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2014.05.011.
  15. Kuijer RG, Boyce J a. Chocolate cake. Guilt or celebration? Associations with healthy eating attitudes, perceived behavioural control, intentions and weight-loss. Appetite. 2014;74:48-54. doi:10.1016/j.appet.2013.11.013.
  16. Hart KE, Chiovari P. Inhibition of eating behavior: negative cognitive effects of dieting. J Clin Psychol. 1998;54(4):427-430. doi:10.1002/(SICI)1097-4679(199806)54:4<427::AID-JCLP4>3.0.CO;2-K [pii].
  17. Wagner DD, Boswell RG, Kelley WM, Heatherton TF. Inducing negative affect increases the reward value of appetizing foods in dieters. J Cogn Neurosci. 2012;24(7):1625-1633. doi:10.1162/jocn_a_00238.
  18. Avena NM, Murray S, Gold MS. Comparing the effects of food restriction and overeating on brain reward systems. Exp Gerontol. 2013;48(10):1062-1067. doi:10.1016/j.exger.2013.03.006.
  19. Demos KE, Kelley WM, Heatherton TF. Dietary restraint violations influence reward responses in nucleus accumbens and amygdala. J Cogn Neurosci. 2011;23(8):1952-1963. doi:10.1162/jocn.2010.21568.

Want all the latest advice, coaching news, and recipes from AskGeorgie PLUS a free book of tasty recipes? Enter your email address below and hit Sign Me Up!


Print Friendly


How Successful Will Your Next Diet Be?

Look into my crystal ball with me. Let’s see how successful diets really are. At first glance, it seems like dieting may be a good thing.


Temporarily, just about anything will work to shed a few pounds, including weighing yourself twice a day 1, sticking to a 1300-calorie a day diet 2, adopting a vegan diet 3, logging everything you eat 4, popping supplements 5, following the Atkins, South Beach, Weight Watchers or Zone diet 6,7, avoiding fat 8, avoiding carbohydrates 8. You can lose weight by switching to having most of your carbs at dinner 9, fasting every other day 10, using meal replacement shakes 11, or even trying acupuncture 12.

Literally any diet which creates a calorie deficit will result in weight loss. And even without a caloric deficit, laxatives, glycogen depletion, or dehydration can cause the scale to drop, at least in the short term. But that is not the whole story.

Ask yourself, how many times have you tried to lose weight? Guess what the average for Americans is? Got a number? Good. It’s actually 15.2 attempts in a lifetime13. That number includes people that don’t diet though. How many people do you think diet? In 2010 54% of all American adults were trying to lose weight at the time of the study, not necessarily dieting 14. Market research shows that the average dieter makes 4 or 5 attempts per year15.

That’s a whole lot of dieting.


What does that even mean? It means that nearly every single time we go on a diet, it fails. If it worked we’d do it once and be done with it. Notice that I said the diet fails; not that we fail. There is a reason for that which I hope will become obvious by the end of this series, but rest assured, it isn’t your fault. It is dieting itself that is flawed.

But what about those people that succeed? Surely some do, since we keep seeing annoying before and after pictures, right?

Short Term Success, Long Term Disappointment

If we are to believe the daily deluge of ads, you’d think that all you needed was the latest diet and then just like their spokesmodel, you can live happily (and lean) ever after. No one talks about how their diet clients are doing after the diet.

In 2002 a study looked at obese women who had successfully lost more than 10% of their bodyweight with commercial diet programs16. One year after they lost weight, 40% regained all the weight they lost. Similar numbers were reported in 2007 after cross-sectional analysis of American adults who had lost at least 10% of their weight; 33.5% had regained a significant amount within a year 17. Imagine happily buying a smaller size of jeans, only to find that the very next year you can’t wear them anymore. A population-based study published in 2010 found that only a third of overweight people who were able to lose weight were able to maintain at least 75% of their lost weight over a 5 year period 18. Longer follow up periods typically show that with each passing year, more people have regained weight, up to 94% when studied for 15 years 19. A meta-analysis of dietary counseling shows that on average, people who stick with a weight loss program lose 6% of their bodyweight in 12 months, regain about half of it in 3 years, and regain the rest of it by 5.5 years 20.

If you’re not into stats and studies, what all that shows us is the reality of dieting: the majority of people who diet don’t lose any weight. Of those that can shed pounds, after 15 years, only 6 out of a hundred people haven’t gained back all the weight they lost.

So what is the answer, how can we lose weight successfully and keep it off? We’ll get to that, and rest assured it can be done (we do it all the time with people). Part II will look at some surprising effects of dieting. Stay tuned.


  1. Oshima Y, Matsuoka Y, Sakane N. Effect of weight-loss program using self-weighing twice a day and feedback in overweight and obese subject: a randomized controlled trial. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2013;7(5):e361-e366. doi:10.1016/j.orcp.2012.01.003.
  2. Cleanthous X, Noakes M, Keogh JB, Mohr P, Clifton PM. Weight loss maintenance in women 3 years after following a 12-week structured weight loss program. Obes Res Clin Pract. 2007;1(3):I – II. doi:10.1016/j.orcp.2007.07.002.
  3. Turner-McGrievy GM, Davidson CR, Wingard EE, Wilcox S, Frongillo EA. Comparative effectiveness of plant-based diets for weight loss: A randomized controlled trial of five different diets. Nutrition. 2014. doi:10.1016/j.nut.2014.09.002.
  4. Wharton CM, Johnston CS, Cunningham BK, Sterner D. Dietary Self-Monitoring, But Not Dietary Quality, Improves With Use of Smartphone App Technology in an 8-Week Weight Loss Trial. J Nutr Educ Behav. 2014;46(5):440-444. doi:10.1016/j.jneb.2014.04.291.
  5. Woodgate DE, Conquer JA. Effects of a stimulant-free dietary supplement on body weight and fat loss in obese adults: a six-week exploratory study. Curr Ther Res Clin Exp. 2003;64(4):248-262. doi:10.1016/S0011-393X(03)00058-4.
  6. Atallah R, Filion KB, Wakil SM, et al. Long-Term Effects of 4 Popular Diets on Weight Loss and Cardiovascular Risk Factors: A Systematic Review of Randomized Controlled Trials. Circ Cardiovasc Qual Outcomes. 2014;7(6):815-827. doi:10.1161/CIRCOUTCOMES.113.000723.
  7. Johnston BC, Kanters S, Bandayrel K, et al. Comparison of Weight Loss Among Named Diet Programs in Overweight and Obese Adults. JAMA. 2014;312(9):923. doi:10.1001/jama.2014.10397.
  8. Bazzano LA, Hu T, Reynolds K, et al. Effects of Low-Carbohydrate and Low-Fat Diets. Ann Intern Med. 2014;161(5):309. doi:10.7326/M14-0180.
  9. Sofer S, Eliraz A, Kaplan S, et al. Greater weight loss and hormonal changes after 6 months diet with carbohydrates eaten mostly at dinner. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(10):2006-2014. doi:10.1038/oby.2011.48.
  10. Varady KA. Intermittent versus daily calorie restriction: which diet regimen is more effective for weight loss? Obes Rev. 2011;12(7):e593-e601. doi:10.1111/j.1467-789X.2011.00873.x.
  11. Heymsfield SB, van Mierlo CAJ, van der Knaap HCM, Heo M, Frier HI. Weight management using a meal replacement strategy: meta and pooling analysis from six studies. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord. 2003;27(5):537-549. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0802258.
  12. Wang Q, Li W-H, Zhou Q-H, Tang X-D, Zhang X-X, Shu S. Weight reduction effects of acupuncture for obese women with or without perimenopausal syndrome: a pilot observational study. Am J Chin Med. 2012;40(6):1157-1166. doi:10.1142/S0192415X12500851.
  13. Pillitteri JL, Shiffman S, Rohay JM, Harkins AM, Burton SL, Wadden TA. Use of dietary supplements for weight loss in the United States: results of a national survey. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2008;16(4):790-796. doi:10.1038/oby.2007.136.
  14. Calorie Control Council. Trends and Statistics. Accessed December 14, 2014.
  15. Marketdata Enterprises Inc. The U.S. Weight Loss & Diet Control Market (11th Edition).; 2011.
  16. Byrne SM, Cooper Z, Fairburn CG. Psychological predictors of weight regain in obesity. Behav Res Ther. 2004;42(11):1341-1356. doi:10.1016/j.brat.2003.09.004.
  17. Weiss EC, Galuska DA, Kettel Khan L, Gillespie C, Serdula MK. Weight regain in U.S. adults who experienced substantial weight loss, 1999-2002. Am J Prev Med. 2007;33(1):34-40. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2007.02.040.
  18. Phelan S, Wing RR, Loria CM, Kim Y, Lewis CE. Prevalence and predictors of weight-loss maintenance in a biracial cohort: results from the coronary artery risk development in young adults study. Am J Prev Med. 2010;39(6):546-554. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2010.08.008.
  19. Sarlio-Lähteenkorva S, Rissanen A, Kaprio J. A descriptive study of weight loss maintenance: 6 and 15 year follow-up of initially overweight adults. Int J Obes. 2000;24(1):116-125. doi:10.1038/sj.ijo.0801094.
  20. Dansinger MLTAJBMCEM. Meta-analysis: The Effect of Dietary Counseling for Weight Loss.



Print Friendly


Is your coaching only for fit people?

Hi, Is your coaching service also for people who are far from peak fitness?  I was once very active and fit but it has been six years and I am quite heavy with some bad habits.  Is your coaching service more for people closer to the ideal racing weight than me? Also do you support all sorts of sports besides running? – Elle

Thanks for dropping a line, Elle!

Rest assured, virtually all of our clients are “normal” people, not competitive athletes. We are in all shapes and sizes, and most of the people who work with us are just looking to get healthier and lose 10-40 pounds, some want to lose more than 40 pounds and only about 5% are within 5 or 10 lbs of their ideal weight. It sounds like you would fit right in.
     Our coaching program focuses most on nutrition, but of course activity is helpful in being healthy and happy. It decreases stress, keeps us fit and strong, can be social, and can help us manage the ups and downs of life without turning to food. So we encourage activity, but whatever you enjoy is going to be the best for you! Some of the people who work with us belong to a gym and exercise there a few times a week, some enjoy yoga and walking on their own, some only do body weight workouts, some have home equipment, we’ve got runners, cyclists, skiers and swimmers… we all fit together!
     If you read a bit on or you’ll get a feel for the “one habit at a time philosophy”. and see that we don’t TELL people “you must do this exercise! You must eat this food and never that food!”. It’s about habits and working together with our clients to improve those bad habits you mentioned and replace them with ones that work better for you.
     You’ll see we have one on one and group coaching. One on one is more personalized and you talk on the phone with your coach, and the process is more tailored to you. Each habit will be customized to exactly what you need, and you have as long as you need to work on it.  Doing the group program you have more social support and will be part of a close knit small group to help cheer you on. To get the most from the group program, it’s best if you are online frequently and willing to check in and communicate with your small group every day or nearly every day. The habits for the group program are already determined to be the high-value, most commonly needed ones, and everyone practices each habit for two weeks before moving to the next.
     Boy I sure wrote a lot! Must have been the coffee. :)  Let me know if you have any questions at all, that’s what I’m here for.
Print Friendly


January Coaching Bonus

Three day special offer!

Want to set yourself up for a great 2015? How about some early holiday savings, too?


Sign up now for our group coaching program (starts January 5) and enjoy a month of *one on one* coaching for the group coaching price! You’ll have a personal coach to help you game plan and survive the holiday season without gaining weight, and have your spot already reserved for the group, so you won’t be left out in the cold when it sells out next month!

Sign up here and select group coaching at 97 dollars a month, no contract.

Questions? Ask in the comments.

Offer good from Dec 9 – Dec 12, 2014

Print Friendly


6 Sane Tips For A Healthier December

It’s cold. The days are shorter. Winter can be cozy and sparkly, or downright dreary if poor self care leaves you feel sick, plump and lethargic.  Let’s do what we can to at least keep ourselves healthy, shall we?

1. Be sparing with high sugar holiday drinks. Egg nog lattes, gingerbread martinis and minty hot cocoas may be tasty, but they can pack as many calories as a fast food cheeseburger. If you have one, choose the smallest size, sip it slowly, and consider it your dessert.Gingerbread Cookie Martini


2. Take advantage of winter produce. Summer’s peaches and tomatoes may be out of season, but winter brings the peak of tangerines, grapefruit, broccoli, leeks, kale and pomegranates. Working more fruits and vegetables into your diet is a no-hassle way to boost your nutrient intake while decreasing calorie density, a trick to lose weight without counting a thing.

3. Avoid the temptation to try any drastic diet plan or supplement. Advertising for get slim quick products increases throughout December and peaks in January, but don’t be swayed. They don’t work and can damage your health. If you want to get healthier or slim down, upgrading your habits will get you further than purchasing a pretended shortcut from the supplement store, and you can get started in the right direction for free.

4. If your workplace has a holiday potluck or luncheon buffet, steer clear of any dishes which contain meat or dairy ingredients that aren’t being kept very hot or very cold and have been left out for more than 2 hours at room temperature. They can become havens for food borne illness causing bacteria. Best bet: dish up your meal when the food is steaming hot, not after it cools off.

5. As soon as you finish up at the gym, wash your hands. Lots of palms have gripped those dumbbells and elliptical handles before you did, and 30 seconds with soap and warm water can help you avoid transferring bacteria and viruses into your eyes, nose or mouth.

6. Winter endurance athletes: If you’re doing workouts of more than 90 minutes, such as training for a marathon, sip some sports drink instead of plain water. You may not be as dehydrated in the cold months since you sweat less, but providing carbohydrates during and after your tough workouts can prevent exercise-induced immune system suppression.

Hot News: Come check out our new site if you haven’t seen it yet. I’d love to know what you think. (Don’t worry, AskGeorgie won’t be going anywhere.)

Want all the latest advice, coaching news, and recipes from AskGeorgie PLUS a free book of tasty recipes? Enter your email address below and hit Sign Me Up!

Print Friendly