A Whopping 95% of all Diets Fail: Is it Anorexia in the Making?

Contributor: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC.

woman-285655_640We love to eat from the moment we are born! Feeling full and satiated addresses one of our body’s greatest needs and is arguably one of the top pleasures of life! In the 21st Century, our ability to access and consume delectable foods is more profound than ever before.

As a matter of fact, did you know that US companies spend 2 billion a year marketing food and beverages to our youth alone? Sadly, the vast majority of these items have little nutritional value. [1] So, should we be shocked to learn that dieting is almost as common in our society as is eating?

“Diet” in the Connotative Sense

Let’s be clear, to most people the word ‘diet’ means restrictive eating, and this approach is often a gateway to developing disordered eating habits. Yet, when we consume too much food, exercise too little and gain weight – our typical solution is to restrict our eating and exercise more.

In fact, close to 100 million Americans are dieting at any given time. [2]

Dieting is largely believed to be (and marketed as) the solution to weight management, but, alas, once we begin to restrict our intake of calories, our hunger increases and we find ourselves locked in an internal battle of wanting to eat to satisfy the all-consuming demands of our body and yet not wanting to eat in order to lose weight. A miserable state of affairs!

Most People Regain Their Weight

jay-548381_640Some individuals can sustain a deprived caloric state for longer than others, but the vast majority eventually give in to the physical demands for more food and break the diet, end the restrictive eating and all too often find that they then overeat voraciously and rapidly gain any weight lost and then some.

In fact, 95% of all dieters regain the weight they lost.[3] This is the typical American weight cycling that fuels an annual 60.5 billion dollar diet industry.[4]

The Extra Weight Is Just One Consequence

While these yo-yo dieting results can bring about their own health consequences, a small percentage of females in society, about 1.0% to 4.2% [5] will develop anorexia nervosa and have the uncanny ability to continue restrictive eating well past the majority of us, well past the demands of their bodies for calories to function and well below a healthy weight.

These individuals often have personality traits, like a propensity toward perfectionism and anxiety, [6] that make them outstanding students, employees and athletes. They are often driven to excel and are capable of making extreme sacrifices to reach their goals.

All of this is rewarded in the world typically, with these individuals achieving significantly in their lives.

When Good Traits Are Taken to the Extreme

sea-81251_640The problem is these vary traits that make them exceptional in some performance areas can also drive them to excessively diet, well beyond the norms of health and well-being.

What starts out as a diet for many can end up becoming a life threatening eating disorder for some.

Hence, given the lousy statistics for dieting success (95% failure rate) and the very real possibility that the restrictive eating that is fundamental to dieting can lead to disordered eating, most of us would likely agree that there has to be a better way to maintain a healthy weight.

Tips for Developing Healthy Behaviors

Lifestyle focus on wellness and health is an excellent starting point for those of us who are concerned about our weight or eating and exercise habits. When we build a lifestyle of taking excellent care of ourselves, it tends to move us toward a balanced and long standing approach to health and weight.

Tips for developing healthy behaviors in our lifestyles include:

  • Eating a nutritious and balanced diet
  • Eating at regular intervals or meal times
  • Exercising regularly
  • Practicing self acceptance and “body acceptance”
  • Avoiding or decreasing stress
  • Obtaining adequate sleep
  • Avoiding weight obsession and focusing on overall health and well being

In summary, dieting simply doesn’t work for most and can be very dangerous for some.

If you or someone you care about is obsessing about weight, calories or exercise, reach out and review information on eating disorders and seriously consider seeking support and help to turn around the behaviors that are leading toward anorexia and instead redirect your behaviors and your life toward wellness and health.

Community Discussion – Share your thoughts here!

What is your experience with implementing health behaviors into your lifestyle in order to practice self-acceptance and body acceptance?



  1. Congressional Democrats Call on FTC to Strengthen Oversight of Food Marketing to Children. (2014, September 3). Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://www.help.senate.gov/newsroom/press/release/?id=e02951df-023b-4c8f-b538-ed5216ce0b9e
  2. Weight Management: U.S. Consumer Mindsets. (2014, August 28). Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://www.marketresearch.com/Packaged-Facts-v768/Weight-Management-Consumer-Mindsets-8351387/#pagetop
  3. http://www.nationaleatingdisorders.org/get-facts-eating-disorders. (Grodstein, Levine, Spencer, Colditz, &Stampfer, 1996; Neumark-Sztainer, Haines, Wall, & Eisenberg, 2007).
  4. (2014, February 1). Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://www.marketresearch.com/Marketdata-Enterprises-Inc-v416/Weight-Loss-Status-Forecast-8016030/
    The Renfrew Center Foundation for Eating Disorders, Eating Disorders 101 Guide: A Summary of Issues, Statistics and Resources, 2003.
  5. Kaye, W., Bailer, U., Klabunde, M., & Brow, H. (n.d.). IS ANOREXIA NERVOSA AN EATING DISORDER? How neurobiology can help us understand the puzzling eating symptoms of anorexia nervosa. Retrieved December 7, 2014, from http://eatingdisorders.ucsd.edu/research/biocorrelates/PDFs/Kaye2010NeurobiologyofAN.pdf

Last Updated & Reviewed By: Jacquelyn Ekern, MS, LPC on December 18th, 2014
Published on EatingDisorderHope.com

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