Do Diets Really Work?

Sustainable Lifestyle Changes Can Help You Maintain a Healthy Weight

Learn how sustainable lifestyle changes can help you maintain a healthy weight.
Learn how sustainable lifestyle changes can help you maintain a healthy weight.

Men and women have struggled for years, searching endlessly for that magic diet pill to reverse all the bad diet and lifestyle decisions they’ve made in the past. Diet pills come in all shapes, sizes and colors with different fantasies attached to each one. They range from celebrity endorsed campaigns to more science-based programs that guarantee success. However, the major question still persists as to whether or not all this diet talk is simply a lie.


Don't Fall for Diet Myths and Illusions

Not long ago, I had the opportunity to star in the ABC Network show, My Diet Is Better Than Yours. The title may have sent the wrong message, but a clear theme emanated from the show. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired. To make matters worse, a majority of the confusion about diet myths stems from the fitness and nutrition experts, who cannot seem to agree on anything diet related. 

The show consisted of five diet experts and I was one of them. Over the course of a 14-week period, the five diet experts worked with a chosen obese client who would follow the expert’s specifically designed weight-loss plan in hopes of creating a sustainable life-style change and losing the weight for good.

Unlike many other weight-loss shows, My Diet Is Better Than Yours aimed for addressing the crucial dieting component of a sustainable lifestyle change, as opposed to typical weight loss shows which deprive their contestants of reality while brutally exhausting them through countless and grueling hours of over-the-top fitness regimens.

This ABC network show really appealed to me because I would be able to implement my plan into the client's normal day. 

In my opinion, this was the first diet reality-show that people could relate to and use the tips in their daily lives.  It brought realism to the often unrealistic notion of how to lose weight.

  I hoped that it would provide viewers with hope to understand that sustainable weight-loss and long-term healthy habits could in fact be accomplished. The comical thing here is that I do not believe in diets for long-term healthy lifestyle change.  

The Importance of Behavioral Change

I would like to break here and mention that I’m not writing this article to point fingers at diet experts. I want to give the truth, and the truth is that diets don’t work. They are a temporary fix with failure built right into them. The sadness lies in that we as a highly intelligent society continue to fall for the ridiculous and glorified diet trap.

Getting back to the show, the title of my “diet” plan was  No Diet Plan: Food is just the habit, not the root cause. My aim was to address my client's 'why' or root-cause.  I wanted to get to his reason, why he used food to suppress his emotion, much like how people use alcohol, sex and drugs as a means to suppress stress. The premise of my No Diet Plan was based on the concept of pattern disruption. Throughout the 14 weeks, I used a host of positive solution strategies designed to interrupt my client's patterns that had lead to him make numerous and repeated negative life-style choices.

The idea is to intercept the negative chain of emotions by introducing a new positive point of view instead. This pattern disruption would help redirect lifestyle choices and create environmental changes, which would ultimately result in positive sustainable outcomes. In addition, I created simple nutritional awareness strategies, such as understanding the psychology of the supermarket and combined these easy to follow strategies with moderate exercise.  

Reaching Self-Management

My goal at the end of the 14 weeks was for my client to self-manage his obesity and chronic conditions by first mastering the ability to self-manage his lifestyle behaviors.

I simply drew upon Maslow's Hierarchy, which helped lead me to creating positive momentum at each level of that Hierarchy until my client was able to develop self-management or self-actualization. The levels of Maslow’s Heirarchy from the bottom up are physiological, safety, love/belonging, esteem, and self-actualization, which is the goal for self-management. 

Yet, I still needed to address my client's 'why' or reason for whatever or whoever brought him to this point.  I wanted to make sure that he wouldn’t become triggered in the future long after he and I went our separate ways. He might have chosen a habit other than food to suppress his negative emotions. I felt that in order to create a sustainable resolution, I had to have him resolve the trigger that brought him to obesity because it would be very difficult for him to make the needed small consistent changes within his daily eating behaviors if this emotional trigger were to resurface in the future.

Making Eating Habit Changes

Small, consistent behavioral changes can lead to a healthy and sustainable lifestyle.

Research conducted by Dr. Brian Wansink of the Cornell Food Lab found this:

"Making small easy changes to our eating habits on a consistent basis can lead to sustainable weight loss. The challenge lies in figuring out which changes work for each individual and how to stick with them long enough to make them second nature. To find answers to these questions, Cornell University researchers launched the National Mindless Eating Challenge (NMEC), an online healthy eating and weight loss program, which focused on simple eating behavior changes, instead of dieting."  Published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research (Nov.-Dec., Vol. 14:6).

Small behavioral steps performed on a consistent basis, can lead to sustainable weight loss. 

On the show, the other experts and many viewers thought that I may have appeared as a nerd or “quacky” in my methods. However, The No Diet Plan stems from the likes of Maslow and follows the principles implemented by Dr. Brian Winsink. This same kind of program, which I developed along with my colleagues, is now being utilized by the employees of Mt. Sinai Hospital.

There is nothing sexy about this program. It will not get me a book deal. It will not have me on any social media pages posing with my shirt off or plastered throughout the pages of popular fitness magazines. Figuring out your 'why,' disrupting negative patterns, and making small consistent behavior changes is a crucial step towards creating long-term and healthy-lifestyle outcomes. 

The Diet Expert Era of "The Soap Box" 

These days anyone can be a diet-expert by simply posting highly appealing pictures of food, exercises or your gluteus maximus and 'bam!” You are a diet-expert!  We have seen this throughout all media fronts including YouTube, Reality TV and Social Media Platforms. People with minimal knowledge and a great smile become highly "liked."

But, the whole dieting paradigm is false. Diets are temporary with failure built right into them. Yet, the marketing of diet solutions essentially lies to you, with the promise of "you are going to look sexy and be cool if you follow this plan." 

How come these social media experts never address behavioral, neurological or hormonal changes when it comes to sustainable weight-loss? Why are we not educating the public about nutritional awareness and making small improvements with moderate exercise? Because these answers, though crucial to success, are not "sexy." They’re not attractive enough at face value to sell.

Miseducated Equals Misguided

In 2012, Miley Cyrus tweeted, "Gluten is crap anyway!" I'm not about to say that Cyrus started the gluten-free trend. But, with the burgeoning popularity of the gluten-free diet and the almost nine-billion dollar value it has, the marketing of this label is only being fueled by uneducated bloggers, celebrities and social media who are doing more harm than good. 

More than 70 million Americans are trying to cut back on gluten, but only people with celiac disease need to be concerned with gluten. Celiac disease only affects about 1 percent of the population, which makes it hard to explain the popularity of the gluten-free diet. Celiac disease is a serious condition and should be addressed by a physician -- not a blogger, social media nutritionist or your roommate.

Let's Go Food Shopping

The grocery store is setup to have you spend money on food that you do not need. They aim to have you eat from a box, while you live in a box, so you can keep visiting your doctor in a box, telling him/her all about your illnesses that will eventually lead you to dying and being placed in a box.

Studies like the University of Notre Dame's Psychology of the Grocery Store clearly illustrate the clever ways marketers and brands make highly unhealthy foods into attractive choices. They also use a host of colors, smells and visual imagery ensure that people are fooled into purchasing them time and time again.

Weight Loss Tips

To help find your way to successful weight loss, follow these simple tips:

  • Focus on small consistent behavioral steps.
  • Surround yourself with friends and loved ones who support your journey.
  • Understand that what the food and beverage labels really mean.
  • Realize that what people say on social media may not always be the truth. 
  • Diets and exercise programs have failure already built into them and will send you down a path to more failure, so don’t fall victim to these typical ploys.
  • Give you body a break and stop judging yourself by your weight.
  • Focus on what's going on in your body a cellular, behavioral and hormonal level, and stop worrying about a petty number on a weight scale. 


Behavioral Treatment of Obesity.  Bailer BA, Foster GD, Makris AP.  The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2005.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Choosing a Safe and Successful Weight Loss Program.  National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Dec 2012.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Diet Myths and Facts.  U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus, 28 May 2014.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Make Your Calories Count - Use the Nutrition Facts Label for Healthy Weight Management: Preface.  U.S. Dept of Health and Human Services: FDA U.S. Food and Drug Administration, Nov 2006.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Nutrition Myths and Healthy Dietary Advice in Clinical Practice.  Lesser LI, Lucan SC, Mazza MC.  PubMed: Am Fam Physician, 1 May 2015.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Overweight.  U.S. National Library of Medicine: MedlinePlus, 14 Aug 2015.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Physical Activity and Obesity.  President's Council on Fitness and Sports Nutrition.  Web.  30 May 2016.

Weight-Loss and Nutrition Myths.  National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases, Oct 2014.  Web.  30 May 2016.

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