3 Big, Fat Reasons Why Popular Weight Loss Diets Fail

By Michael A. Smith, MD

You’ve probably seen or at least heard by now that U.S. News & World Report has evaluated the most popular diets and published a list of the top 25. The researchers at the respected magazine broke the diets down into categories such as “heart-healthy” and “weight-loss.” And, interestingly, in addition to consulting 22 specialists in diet and nutrition for their expertise, researchers conducted a non-scientific reader survey of each diet plan’s effectiveness.

Not surprisingly, when it came to weight-loss diets, the overwhelming response from readers was “no!” — they don’t work. And that seemed to be true for even the top ranked ones. The only exception was Weight Watchers® diet program, which really isn’t a specific type of diet.

For instance, as of January 5, 2012, the popular Atkins Diet had 21,958 responses of which 84% (18,539) were negative, claiming that it had not worked. The Raw Food Diet had 1,369 responses of which 335 were positive and 1,034 were negative.

So what’s going on? Why are all of these weight-loss diets failing people? Well, there are at least three big reasons why they don’t work. Let’s take a look at each one.

Reason #1: Diets are Too Restrictive

Most of the weight-loss diets seem to work early on. That’s why many experts say the issue isn’t losing weight, but it’s keeping it off. Why do we have such a hard time keeping weight off?

Well, there are several reasons why, and one of them is that weight-loss diets tend to be too restrictive. Atkins, for instance, removes carbohydrate calories and replaces them with a lot of protein. If you’re going to eat a lot of protein and don’t want to feel hungry all the time, you’re likely going to end up gorging on animal products, especially red meat.

This may sound appealing at first; however, after several weeks, it gets old for most people. Carb cravings intensify and the temptation to cheat with fresh baked breads and pasta becomes increasingly hard to resist.

Here’s a list of the top ranked weight-loss diets that are too restrictive for most people. We’re not saying that these diets can’t work but only that they’re difficult to stick with for most people.

  • Atkins Diet — Results in intense carb cravings for some people.
  • Eco-Atkins Diet — Requires protein to come from plants, and people become hungry quickly.
  • Raw Diet — Requires a major lifestyle change for most people.
  • Volumetric Diet — Requires less dense foods and doesn’t satisfy hunger.
Interestingly, all of the diets above tend to have a weight rebound effect — where people regain more weight than they lost. Cutting calories, which is primarily what all weight-loss diets do, forces a metabolic shift toward energy storage … a.k.a. body fat accumulation. For instance, decreasing calories serves as a signal to the gene that produces an enzyme called lipoprotein lipase or LPL. When activated, LPL stores fat.

Of note, the Vegan Diet garnered a lot of positive responses: Out of 17,217 responses, 90% said yes the diet had worked for them. But it’s interesting that for most people, this particular weight-loss diet would require a major dietary change that might be too restrictive. But if you could make the change, then success could very well be yours.

Reason #2: Doesn't Correct Low Hormonal Levels or Imbalances

If you follow a weight-loss diet, cut calories, and exercise but still can’t lose weight, it might be because of hormonal imbalances. There are unique and common imbalances to men and women that weight-loss diets don’t address, and these may be the culprit behind failure.

  1. Estrogen dominance in women counteracts dieting efforts. When there is a relative increase in estrogen because of a greater loss in progesterone, women gain weight. Estrogen stimulates fat production around the mid-section and hips. In this type of environment, cutting calories via any weight-loss plan won’t work or at best will be minimally effective.
  2. Aging men undergo andropause. This is characterized by a decrease in testosterone and an increase in estrogen. A lower T-to-E ratio creates changes in metabolism that often result in accumulation of belly fat.
  3. Low thyroid function is another hormonal reason weight-loss diets fail. And it’s far more common than conventional medicine acknowledges. Thyroid hormone is your metabolic throttle. It drives metabolism which is fueled by the burning of calories. If your thyroid levels are low, metabolism drops and calories are stored mostly as fat.
This is exactly why you need a hormone test before starting a weight-loss diet. If you have imbalances, correct them. This is a great way to make your weight-loss or nutritional strategy work.

Reason #3: Doesn't Correct Low Neurotransmitter Levels

Hormones aren’t the only problem when it comes to losing weight. Low brain neurotransmitter levels can also impede your efforts. One in particular is low serotonin. When this important neurotransmitter is low, you’ll crave carbohydrates, especially the sugary and starchy ones.1 Cravings like this can’t be good when you’re trying to lose weight.

Funny, weight-loss physiologists actually believe that this is one reason that exercise is so beneficial. Exercising increases the rate and frequency at which serotonin is “fired” within the brain, resulting in an increase in both serotonin production and release.2 Although the exact mechanism is not completely understood, one thing is clear: Exercise improves serotonin levels in the brain.

Other Reasons Why Weight-Loss Diets Fail

So we just covered the three big reasons weight-loss diets fail, but there are several others worth mentioning. We don’t have time to cover them all in this post, but here’s a few:

  1. Poor insulin sensitivity
  2. Quick and excessive dietary carbohydrate absorption
  3. Quick and excessive dietary fat absorption
  4. Lack of exercise
  5. Low resting metabolism
  6. Abnormal fat cell size and metabolism

Make Your Weight-Loss Diet Work!

If you want to succeed, no matter which diet plan you choose, counteract the above reasons first. Here are the steps you should follow:

  1. Start off slow. Ease into the diet plan. Allow yourself time to adjust. Try and remember this isn’t a race. It took time to gain the weight, and it will take time to lose it — especially if you want to keep it off.
  2. Test your hormones and correct any problems. Life Extension® offers blood tests that measure male and female hormone levels, plus a comprehensive thyroid panel.
  3. Consider optimizing brain serotonin levels. We suggest tryptophan, 5-HTP or saffron extract. And don’t forget that exercise not only improves lean muscle mass, but also helps serotonin production and activity.
Finally, remember that you’re not alone. For example, our health advisors will be happy to help you along the way. Give them a call at 1-800-226-2370 if you need any support or guidance at all.


  1. Eating Disorders: A Reference Sourcebook. Lemberg R. Ed., Oryx Press; 1998:51.
  2. Behav Pharmacol. 1996 Jan;7(1):101-104.


Mark said...

This is probably the first time in 9 years that I've seen Life Extension get it wrong! Or maybe just incomplete. The biggest reason for diets to fail, is that the people going on them don't understand them to begin with..... Actually, including the author of this blog above when it comes to Atkins. Atkins is only restrictive when it comes to the 1st phase, which can last as little as 2 weeks. The remaining phases have you adding back in carbohydrates until you get to the final (fourth)phase which is "lifetime maintenance". That phase, like I believe most diets, comes down to one and only thing: DON'T EAT JUNK. By junk meaning processed foods, added sugar, and transfats. There really is no phase, including the first, which would actually be classified as "high protein". Anyway.... people need to read and understand what the diet they are undertaking is all about, not just hear the sound bite from their neighbor and go on it. That is certain failure. I'd love to know how many people that went on the diets listed actually read the book! I enjoy LEF and Life Extension magazine for the information it provides, as the more informed we are, the better able to implement a proper supplement program. Ditto for diets, and more importantly, for a lifetime of eating.

Life Extension said...

Hi Mark. We don't think we got it wrong. Are there other factors involved that we didn't cover here? Yes! Like what you mention, for instance. We are just trying to find an answer to why so many people fail at losing weight when following one of the popular diets, like Atkins. If it worked for you, than obviously what we discussed in the post doesn't apply to you. But let's be honest...diets don't work for most people. All we did was outline 3 potential reasons for that. Thanks for reading the post and for your support of Life Extension.

The Kettlebell Guy said...

Not to lead with a leading question, but, don't you think that people have just plain old forgotten the concept of time as applied to "dieting?" I can't remember the Prof's name from Kansas State (I think) who did the Twinkie Diet last year, but he simply cut his calories, ate twinkies, and lost weight. At the end of the day, if you quit eating so darn much food, you'll lose weight, regardless of the source of calories. Just look at the extremes - anorexics and concentration camp victims. Very little food + time = extreme weight loss.

Now weight loss v. fat loss v. getting lean is a different story...

Life Extension said...

Kettelbell Guy, there's truth in what you said. There is a simple mathematical equation that determines weight: calories in minus calories out. What makes weight loss difficult are the things that keep us eating too much and the things that prevent the burning of calories.

Chris - onlineweightlossprogram said...

I'd like to address the first reason: Diets are too restrictive. I couldn't agree more. Following any one of the diets listed seems not only tedious, but it would make me associate pain and punishment to weight loss.

Real sustainable weight loss is about developing eating habits that allow you to eat delicious foods, but in the right quantities and at the right times.

I affirm that there really are very few bad foods, just bad timing. Carbohydrates, though not ideal during most of the day, can be relevant during the post-workout window where our body makes better use of them.

To this point, I would add that following a restrictive diet may result in weight loss, but in following it you will most likely fail to develop the right habits that you need for long-term weight loss management.

Life Extension said...

Hi Chris. Thanks for your insight and passion. We absolutely agree with everything you wrote. Thanks again.

TheHomeOfWeightLoss said...

I agree with chris, the reason why most of the diets will fail is that not everyone has the appropriate knowledge, sure they can follow a restrictive diet to try and lose the weight fast, but what are they going to do when it comes to keeping it off?

Lasse for abdominal fat loos said...

I will agree a little with the other comments on the reasons to fail a diet, but in the article i think they make a good point about how to MAKE it work. Just my 5 cents :)

LifeExtension said...

Lasse for abdominal fat loss - Thanks for saying so!

Julia Wilson said...

I completely agree that diets fail people not because they are scams but because most diets are not going to be specific to a person's needs. Hormonal balance and liver efficiency are two areas that a diet really must address for it to be useful. And of course making it realistic for the dieter so they will not get discouraged!

weight loss surgery mexico said...

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LifeExtension said...

Julia Wilson - Right! Diets need to be tailored for effectiveness. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

LifeExtension said...

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Suzzi said...

I agree, diets are too restrictive, don't think of it as a diet but instead find foods that are good for you and eat in moderation.

Sarah said...

I would love to see clever dialogue on the weight loss diets fail issue by government programs, but you can see exactly no one is pursuing that end. You couldn't make it up!

weight loss products said...

weight loss has become a common issue and people around the world experience this problem because of many reasons. While they ignore their eating habits and routines, they still expect to be fit and healthy.

LifeExtension said...

weight loss products - Right! Unfortunately, many people are looking for an easy way out.

Sam said...

Saffron extract has ever being recognized as a great energy booster, but only a few people are aware of its role in effective weight loss. You must consult your weight lose expert to know the right dosage of saffron extract for healthy weight loss.

Full Bodylicious said...

Well, in my opinion, the main reasons are the first and last ones. Some people expect that just going in a diet will make them have the body they want, ignoring that they need to exercise too, people can, as you said, start slow and keep making it more intense step-by-step, but it needs patiente and will. And yes, popular diets tend to be so restrictive that at the first time we have a chance to eat anything different, we all in temptation, we feel guilty later, but it will probably happen again, I think it's better simply eating healthy, in a 70% vegetables and 30% meat. What do you think?


weight loss programs for men said...

Your post is very important. I am also try my diets to reduce my body weight but it has no effect on my weight but I am thankful to you for sharing your great knowledge with us. Your guidelines are easy solution to improve my fitness. Now, I know the best weight loosing tips from this post and I will must try it soon.

Life Extension said...

weight loss programs for men - Good luck! Feel free to contact us via Facebook or Twitter with any questions.

Life Extension said...

Full Bodylicious - We agree! Having realistic expectations can definitely help.

Medical Weight Loss Clinic said...

I have tried many good diets for my weight loss and I failed but, I know today from your post why my good diet failed? I have found a good diet plan and many informative knowledge at this post and your tips are good for me to lose my weight in a proper order. Thanks!

Joan said...

I find it hilarious that you write that "a vegan diet is too restrictive". I hear that all the time from people with CVD and yet people never think twice about what happens when a person has to undergo a CABG procedure: cut from stem to stern, a hand saw to cut into the sternum, retractors, be put on a pump to circulate blood while an artery from you leg is attached to bypass the occluded artery in your chest, reperfusion injury, cognitive dysfunction from lack of O2 to the brain, ACE inhibitors, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, statins, diuretics for the rest of your life...this is mainstream and normal??? But a vegan diet is restrictive???

Jamie said...

I'm fairly certain he was only talking about a temporary diet to lose weight. Not from people who are vegans for life. I can see how it could be considered "restrictive" to someone who isn't accustomed to it, and switch to it for a temporary diet plan.

jee ivan said...

I totally agree with your article. Thats the 3 reasons why those weight loss diets always fail. For me, all we need is to believe in our self and also set the clear mind set.

Slimming Evolution said...

Worth Reading
Thanks For Sharing

Wet Wolf Training said...

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Heather Royals said...

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Life Extension said...

Heather Royals - You're welcome!

Elizabeth WMcGlone said...

Your articles is very helpful. I have suffered from weight problem. When I read your articles , I got some important tips to reduce my weight. Obviously, it is very important that dieting is the best process to loss someones weight. Already I started my dieting. I also follow you. Lastly, Thanks for posting this effective post.

Life Extension said...

Elizabeth WMcGlone -We're glad you enjoyed the post!

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