Home Debunking The Myths The Anatomy of A Diet: Why They Work, and Why The Success Never Lasts

The Anatomy of A Diet: Why They Work, and Why The Success Never Lasts

by Erika Nicole Kendall

Earlier, I asked for a callout of the craziest diets you’ve ever heard of, and I got some pretty awesome responses:

The Cabbage Diet. The Grapefruit Diet. The Cookie Diet. The Cereal Diet. The Mayo Clinic Diet. The Tea Diet. The Seaweed and Coral Diet (better known as The Spongebob Diet… I just made it up, but I bet I could make some money off of it, huh?)

Now, after my post on the Drive-Thru Diet, I’d like to think that my attitude on diets is relatively clear – I strongly believe they’re a band-aid on a bullet wound. They don’t address the core issue (getting the bullet out), they don’t prevent the problem from getting worse (as in, an infection), and they don’t really help you get better… they just help you stop looking at the problem, really.

However, I do realize that because you can get immediate results, it’s easy to opt for a diet. A little discomfort but minimal effort, no need for exercise, quick and easy weight loss. It seems pretty ideal, I guess. We’re just always dumbfounded when the weight manages to pile itself back on. Dumbfounded, and heavier.

So let’s break down the anatomy of the quick weight loss diet, shall we?

What is a diet?

A diet, in general terms, is simply the “list” of foods that you allow yourself to eat during the day. It’s the foods that you limit yourself to – if you were on the cabbage diet, your daily diet consists of boiled cabbage for breakfast and lunch with a regular dinner. Diets are generally named by the food that dominates your day – cereal diet, cookie diet, mashed potato diet. This all seems kind of “duh,” but we’re breaking it down to it’s very core, right? Gotta start somewhere.

Why is dieting so popular?

Dieting is popular because the notion, quite frankly, is that it works. Limiting yourself to only one food that you KNOW you enjoy, eating it all day every day, and losing weight while you’re at it? It’s a painless way to take care of a problem that already makes us uncomfortable to address or even discuss. Not only that, but in some circles, it’s considered common practice and even “trendy” to be on the current “popular” diet.

Taking it a step further, there is money to be made off of pushing diets. The Mayo Clinic Diet required you to purchase a book. All information about the Cookie Diet led to a website that required you to purchase (and, essentially, live off of) one particular brand of cookie. Most diets that tend to gain media steam behind them do so because someone’s pushing it. Why? You have to invest money to make money.. so pay for the diet to get a little exposure, watch that exposure bring you a lot more money.

Why does dieting work?

Dieting works because it is an extremely mindless form of calorie counting. If I’ve only allowed myself to choose from this one low-calorie food to eat, I can’t possibly gain weight, right? You don’t have to think about the food you’re eating and whether or not it’ll cause you to gain weight – you KNOW this one food won’t cause you to put on any pounds, you know exactly what you’re going to do. It’s auto-pilot for weight loss.

However – because it usually involves something that you can only manage temporarily, you tend to come off of it – excited to beat the pounds – by celebrating with what? More food you have no business indulging in in the first place!

Why does the weight ALWAYS come back?

Because… wait for it… auto-pilot doesn’t work for weight loss! That’s right – you can’t do it. Why? Because waking up one day and deciding that you’re going to go auto-pilot eating nothing but grapefruit for breakfast and lunch can’t change the fact that your auto-pilot used to lead you to McDonalds or Krispy Kreme for breakfast every morning. Auto-pilot, unfortunately, does equate to mindlessness. It’s operating without thinking. “Not thinking” before led us to being unhealthy in the first place. It certainly won’t lead us to “healthy,” and if it does, it certainly wouldn’t do it overnight… or in two-six weeks like other diets.

Without a relatively rare medical condition, you cannot put the weight on if you aren’t putting harmful things in your mouth. It simply does not work that way. Dieting might help you drop a few pounds, but if your eating habits are in check you couldn’t put it on in the first place… and you couldn’t run the risk of gaining it back once you “come off” of your diet. It solves the immediate visual problem – if only momentarily- however you’re not addressing the thing that not only ensures that you’ll always have the weight, but in some cases also ensures that you’re doing some damage to your insides, as well.

How can I successfully lose weight?

You have to look at your lifestyle and gauge what you’re doing that is causing you to keep the weight on. Addressing that will not only cause the weight you’ve put on to fall off, but it will prevent the weight from returning. Sure, you can exercise to help keep it off, but thepurpose of exercise is to preserve your body’s range of motion. Weight loss is only an additional benefit to it.

The best way to protect and preserve our bodies is to be conscious of what we’re putting into it. Although it should be a recurring theme by now, a lifetime of bad habits cannot be corrected or rectified by one to six weeks of sacrifice. When you can be real and honest with yourself about the problem, then you can be real and honest with yourself about a practical long-term solution. And that includes, bypassing the trendy fad diets!

Are you a serial dieter? Have you had success with a diet? Share your stories below – I’d love to hear ’em!

You may also like


Ora Witherspoon January 30, 2010 - 8:16 PM

I just love this website!

Johnnie December 5, 2010 - 12:10 PM

About five years ago I did the Weighdown program which promotes waiting for a physical indicator of hunger such as your stomach growling, a hollow feeling in the stomach, etc., then eat half of what you normally would eat and no food is off limits. If you want to eat something before your next “growl” you are told to run to God instead of food. Exercise and eating healthy is discouraged because then you are accused of relying on something outside of God for your weight loss and want to do things your way. During that 12 week class I lost 29 lbs; the first week I lost 12 lbs but I “cheated” because I Just ate mostly veggies that week. I gained a good part of the weight back because 1. I got tired of waiting up to 12 hours before I could eat again and 2. I didn’t go to the advanced part of the class which involved a lot of fasting. I also didn’t want to pay another $120(?). Also there something kind of creepy about the founder of that program.

Erika December 5, 2010 - 12:21 PM

I… I think I’m going to have to blog about this. The length of the comment I just wrote in response to this… I just.. I cannot with this.

Let’s just say that I’m glad you didn’t continue the program. VERY glad.

Alana August 5, 2013 - 4:13 PM

I don’t know if you ever wrote that response as a blog post, Erika, (I am reading this blog rather haphazardly) but, I too, did “Weigh Down” twice! Conflating religious practice (fasting to approach God) with weight loss is wrong, no matter whether you come at it from the religious perspective or the weight loss perspective. I have to stop here. This is too complicated and complex.

Olivia February 8, 2011 - 5:57 PM

That is by far the most absurd thing I have heard and what’s worse is that they involved God in their lunacy. God wants us to eat, He just doesn’t want us to be a slave to food. No wonder the head character was creepy, trying to use God as a gimmick is just weird!

Francesca February 22, 2013 - 9:52 AM

This mess sounds like a fat camp turned cult……Glad you didn’t drink the diet kool aid!

FionaBee July 26, 2014 - 10:02 PM

This is crazy and obviously some kind of cult. God wants us to eat and be healthy and take care of our bodies. This program is using God’s name in making people starve themselves, glad to hear you got out.

Kerri March 1, 2011 - 8:14 PM

Erika, I just found you a week ago and I am in love!!! I am just soaking up all your myth-busting & truth-telling on weight loss, dieting and exercise.

I’m especially intrigued by what you said in this post about conscious eating being more important to weight loss than exercising. I actually didn’t start out planning to eat right; I thought I could keep eating the junk food I craved as long as I worked out enough. But after two weeks of exercising for 1 hr 5 times a week, my body started craving more water, veggies and fruit, and now I find that I cannot sit down and eat a giant piece of chocolate cake in a single sitting anymore. It’s almost as though my body realized that it needed “clean” fuel in order to maintain my new active lifestyle, and so my eating habits have adjusted accordingly. So far I’ve shed almost 10 lbs and 3% body fat, and I yesterday I zipped up a pair of pants that haven’t made it past my hips in almost a year! Yippee!

Anyways, thanks for creating this site!

Becca March 18, 2011 - 6:22 PM

I think this blog post could also cover cleansings.

Lilangel May 22, 2011 - 2:23 PM

Sooooo True! When I was in grade school my mom would have us try out Slim-Fast shakes (her diet of choice). UGH! I watched her go through all sorts of other diets and as I got older trying to get my siblings and I to do them too! Yuck! They never gave her the results she wanted…

I also have friends that have tried every diet you can name! I have one on the Atkins diet (which, I’m sorry, all meat, no carbs, and no fruit is RIDICULOUS!) It worked for her, but I’m pretty sure (based on what I’ve seen her eat as of late) she quit a while ago. On the other hand, another good friend of mine has just realized that she needed to make a change in lifestyle in order to lose weight! And she’s already lost 12lbs doing so. 🙂 I’m so proud of her!

I’ve gained some weight recently and I’m beginning to focus more on whole, fresh, organic foods instead of prepacked boxes and containers of it. BIG difference in taste and nutritional value. I can make as much as I need (not like frozen dinners) until I am satisfied and know that I am healthy! I also start a new workout regime on Monday!

Boo diets! Yay new attitude and lifestyle! 🙂

Nichelle February 23, 2012 - 5:51 PM

LOL@ Bandaid on a bullet.

Sheryl April 30, 2012 - 4:21 PM

I am so happy that I have found this website. Thank you Erica! I really need help with figuring out what I need to do. I mean it’s so easy to say exersize and eat better but in practice if you don’t know how to it’s hard. I appreciate the recipes and the knowlege I am getting here. And I just bought some muscovado sugar…lol

Lisette June 10, 2012 - 6:59 PM

I’m working on reducing my body fat percentage to 20% (at 24% woohoo!), and I happened to mention it to a male friend at the gym who was “training” another lady. I said that I eat pretty clean most days, but I still have a ways to go in cleaning up my diet to get rid of that belly fat.

He suggested that I eat egg whites, which I informed him I already do with my oatmeal in the mornings. His reply? “Naw, I mean don’t eat anything but egg whites for two weeks, and you’ll lose that belly fat.” The lady he’s training is looking at us, and I said to myself, “Teachable moment.”

I replied, “I don’t intend to just eat egg whites for the rest of my life to keep the belly fat from ever coming back. I think I’ll just keep focusing on cleaning up my eating. That’s sustainable.” And sashayed my tight glutes right on to the next machine!

Jackie December 1, 2013 - 1:00 PM

Good for you Lisette. I am like you, steadily trying to changing the way I eat and my approach to food. It seems like a slow process but I have seen changes over the years (e.g. switching for white to wheat breads, white to brown rice, decrease in soft drinks).

pam June 16, 2012 - 1:03 PM

I think the term fad diet (also known as a quick weight loss diet) should be differentiated from the word diet as in “an eating plan”. I used to follow a macrobiotic diet. I also used to follow a vegan diet. The best diet for me is basically a “pull it out the ground, wash it, apply a small amount of heat to it, and eat it without applying salt, sugar, or oil diet”. On that particular meal plan I have low blood pressure, low body fat, no arthritis, no cavities, etc. And since I love meal preparation, it is sustainable. It does take some training and adjustment to get there though, and it doesn’t travel very well to other people’s homes because most people just do not eat that way; even most raw food vegans don’t eat like penitents in a medieval monastery. Most of us are slaves to our taste buds, and the snacking industry knows that if we are all truthful we will admit that out favorite food groups are fats, sugars, salts, and carbs which is why the ideal meal is a honeybun with icing followed by fritos.

That being said, chances are that if one follows the clean food diet (meal plan) that you espouse, Erika, the weight will fall off. I should warn you though, as a 30 year vegetarian (no red meat), you never really lose the taste for certain things just because we are genetically programmed to like them: chocolate (if that’s your thing), fried chicken skin, donuts, etc. The trick is to love yourself and your health enough to NOT be enslaved by your taste buds and to remove the bullet and let the wound heal. Otherwise, before you know it, you will be be pulling into Chick Fil-A for some lemonade and waffle fries (why is my mouth watering?), or heading to Cheesecake Factory for some take out tiramisu, or even coming out of McDonald’s with that Big Mac. You might even find yourself eating five pounds of home made organic fried potatoes and onions every night, or a pint of Soy Delicious cocoa coffee swirl in the tub every night.

It’s that wound that needs healing. Otherwise nothing will work.

Angelica October 27, 2012 - 8:23 PM

Back in the 90’s, when I was on the Atkins Diet, I was thrilled to lose 30 pounds in 30 days! I wasn’t thrilled to be constipated & suffering from crazy memory loss, though.

Not being able to get money out the ATM machine because I couldn’t remember my PIN number was sad. Having to ask the gym attendant to cut my lock off (twice!) because I couldn’t remember my locker combination was sad. I couldn’t remember my phone number, parent’s phone number, or SSN number!!! Needless to say, I got off that diet, regained my memory, and regained those 30 pounds (plus 20 more)!

I’m trying to eat healthier and exercise more. I’m also addressing my emotional eating problems & how I use food to cope with stress. The weight loss process is not happening as fast as I’d like, but when it happens, I hope that it lasts.

Ah, patience, patience. I’m determined to reach my weight loss goals, eventually. Your columns are always informative and very helpful & encouraging. Thank you, and please keep them coming 🙂

Heidi March 8, 2013 - 3:55 PM

How do u feel about a 30 day detox diet that consist of fruits and veggies and h2o in made at home in a juice maker?

Erika Nicole Kendall March 8, 2013 - 8:50 PM

I think it’s an absolute waste of time and money. Learn how to eat the veggies…don’t just placate yourself by drinking them.

Cree December 11, 2014 - 1:12 PM

Erica, let me just say I LIVE for this blog! Man, it’s everything I was looking for when I googled “weight loss for black women” LoL but seriously…(holds head in shame) I was 21 and a Senior in college when I gave birth to my first daughter. I was tired of hearing how much weight I’d gained from friends, Professors and everybody on campus so I decided to try the HGC diet. Mind you, I wasn’t even 12weeks postpartum. I started to experience some extreme symtpoms such as organge colored blood. I knew right then that the foolishness had to stop. I have since dropped 85 pounds through clean eating and excercising!

Erika Nicole Kendall December 13, 2014 - 8:47 AM


Tina January 31, 2016 - 5:08 PM

Cree congratulations its a horrible thing when people try and make you feel bad about body changes especially after giving birth. Glad you stopped the poor diet and found a healthy way.

Comments are closed.