Four Reasons Diets Fail Part 1

A four-part blog to explain why 97% of people who start a diet fail to keep the weight off. It’s very easy to blame the diet but we must shoulder some of the responsibility. So before I slam the industry 🙂 let’s take a look inward at our own behavior. Four reason diets fail starts with compliance- the ability to do the work needed.


  • Compliance; The act of complying with desire, demand, proposal or regime.
  • Compliance;  Fulfilling requirements.
  • Compliance;  Doing the work as stated.

Compliance is the number one reason people fail on diets, they either can’t, won’t or don’t do what is required. This suggests that the dieter is to blame, but that’s rarely the case.

The majority of people have the desire to lose weight.  I have the desire right now to drop a few myself.  Desire does not equate to action and even when it does, it does not equate to the consistent action that’s needed to hit a weight loss goal.

We live with this struggle every day and not just with food. I desire a clean car (it’s dirty) I desire to get my taxes done early (not happening)  I really want to call a friend (months later and still no call).


The failure to act doesn’t mean you don’t want the result  (I really want a clean car). The failure to act is about the power behind the desire.

  • I desire a clean car vs. I’m taking a new client to lunch and I offered to drive =the car is miraculously clean.
  • I desire to have my taxes completed vs. my husband made an appointment with our CPA in a weeks time = Work is done.
  • I keep meaning to call a friend vs I found out my friends mother just died = I call immediately.

It is the power of the desire that’s crucial for compliance.

  • A dad that wants to get healthy for his newborn son.
  • The bride with her dream dress and a wedding date booked.
  • An athlete with a competition date set.’
  • The patient whose doctor just gave them the “do it or die” pep talk.


Weight loss requires more than one action; it takes months of daily action. To reduce the body fat so easily acquired there really has to be a meaningful reason to subject yourself to the daily discipline required. The reason that pops to mind is usually weak and inaccurate but if we dig deeper and allow ourselves to get uncomfortable, we may find the true strength that we need.

Why we want to lose weight

  1. I look awful in photographs. (Weak)
  2. Which makes me not feel good about myself. (Weak)
  3. Which makes me compare myself to others. (Better)
  4. Which makes me avoid going out with those people. (Better)
  5. I don’t go out much. (Strong)
  6. I’m lonely. (Bingo)

Being lonely is much more powerful than not looking good in photographs. If you can get brutal with yourself, you might find the real power you need to succeed.

Failure to comply with that amazing diet that worked so well for your co-worker might be because YOU ARE NOT YOUR CO-WORKER.

Do you both like horror movies, Monty Python, and tie-dye? No, you are not your co-worker.

If you want to work someone else’s plan you better be sure you align yourself with more than just the same weight loss goal.

One diet does not work for everybody but not because you have a certain blood type or an undiagnosed food intolerance that no one can appreciate (but you) The uniqueness lies in our lifestyles, our responsibilities, obligations, age hormonal state, our body type and our personality.


A 25-year-old single female with Pilates and spin memberships working 30 hours a week may have a great result  following her 30-day juice “cleanse.”

That same lady 20 years on with 2 teenage sons, working 40 hours a week and dealing with pre-menopause will not have the same success.


If a nutritionist offers only one weight loss, I’d head for the door. If you choose an online program be sure to check the testimonials and see if there are people you can relate to.

Even the worst plans can work for some people. The dinosaurs in the industry offer public weigh-ins, social support, and encouragement. I would be hugging the wall, but for others, this hits the very heart of the reason they desire to change.

If you find a person or a program that connects with that real, raw, authentic reason you want to change then you’ve likely won before you begin.


To lose body fat you have to break down stored body fat and use it as fuel (lipolysis) That’s a reality no ones going to argue with, there are however different ways of achieving that fat burning environment.


  1. Intermittent Fasting (IF) – Gaining popularity and very successful.

Pros – A few  uncomfortable days per week but a lot of wiggle room on the other days. Many find it easy to adhere to long term.

Cons – Difficult for those who exercise several hours a day or take medication which requires food.


  1. No Carbohydrates.

Pros – Fast results. Cravings and hunger greatly diminish within weeks.

Cons – Can feel very restrictive. Vegetarians have limited options.  Socially it might be challenging.


  1. Balanced meals with lots of exercise.

Pros – Lots of variety. Can work long term.

Cons – Time-consuming exercise. Progress can be painfully slow. Diligence with macronutrient ratios.


These are just three ways to allow the body to use fat for fuel. One way or another you’re lowering the sugar in your blood to allow fat to be used as fuel.  You’re controlling the sugar in your blood by either eating less food, eating fewer carbohydrates or doing a lot of exercise to use the carbs you eat as fuel.

As we age and our lives change we may find our approach to weight loss changes.  When I was younger I exercised more, my nutrition was good but I also did several hours of exercise a day.  Now at 50 I wish I had those extra hours in my day to exercise, today my nutrition is on point and I rely less on the calorie burn.

Compliance depends on a powerful desire, the correct approach and the willpower to endure.



Three groups of people, none of them have eaten for 3 hours

Each group was given a puzzle.  The puzzle was the same for each group, they were told that the puzzle was easy to solve.  That was a lie.

During the task, the first group was not given any food.  The second group was given radishes to eat.  Group three were given radishes and cookies but told only to eat the radishes.

No one was going to solve the puzzle, but which group worked at it the longest?

You would think that the group with no food would quit first, especially as they were a little hungry when they started the task. It was, in fact, the group that had the temptation of the cookies that gave up fist.

Willpower takes real energy, so does fighting temptation.

The takeaway is that if you are about to enter into something that’s going to call on willpower it’s best to clean your slate of any other energy-sucking tasks.  If you’re going to set a News Year resolution, you will have more success if you just pick one.  If you decide to stop smoking and lose 20 pounds it’s going to be tough as both tasks require a lot of willpower.

‘Focus’ or ‘Tunnel Vision’ the ability to concentrate on one thing and one thing only.

Working with physique competitors (myself included) the competition preparation becomes very insular.  A competitors world becomes very small, with other activities, careers, and relationships taking a back seat.  The more challenging the task the more willpower is needed and your days become mundane. If your nutrition and exercise are enjoyable you’ll need less willpower to comply and you’ll be a lot more likely to succeed.

I hate swimming, hate it.

If swimming were found to be the ultimate exercise and proven to give me the body of my dreams, I would certainly give it another go, but I doubt my willpower would hold out very long because I HATE swimming.  I dislike everything about swimming, from the time commitment to how it ruins my hair to that fact that I am just not good at it.  I’ve competed in triathlons, and I say that in the past tense, because I hate the swim.

Do not make choices that set you up to fail.  If you hate fish, don’t signup for the tilapia and broccoli challenge (and coaches, if your client hates fish don’t force it on them).  I can’t tell you how many times a client has tried to take up running because they think they should.  If you hate to run, don’t run! Eat foods and chose exercises that you can enjoy. If Zumba and egg whites don’t do it for you, then don’t do them.

Do what you love, or at least, what you don’t hate.

Willpower will start a task but it won’t sustain it unless you have a powerful drive behind your desire.

Willpower takes energy and the more you use it, the more it will sabotage your ability to do other things.  When we become focused on a task we let other priorities slip.  If you’ve ever studied for exams or had some other deadline imposed on you you’ll remember how you neglected friendships, didn’t return calls, missed birthdays and let the housework build up for weeks on end.

Children were given marshmallows and told if they didn’t eat any that they would be given two marshmallows later. The children that showed the most willpower and were able to resist had that same willpower and reasoning when they reached their 40’s.

Personality traits persist through life and it’s wise to take into account what you know about yourself.


I’m a morning person, even as a child I put myself to bed early so that I could be up by dawn. I shouldn’t sign up for a night class unless it meant a great deal to me. To commit to an evening obligation would take a lot of willpower and/or a really powerful reason because its a rare sighting to get me out of the house past 9pm.

Be aware of your personal parameters and try to work within them.

Willpower is the ability to delay gratification, to resist short-term temptation to meet long-term goals.

Willpower is the ability to override impulses and the more you rely on willpower, the shorter your fuse becomes.  Willpower and the energy it takes will affect your short-term patience and what you’re able to tolerate.

How many diets fail on Friday night after a long week of work? Willpower requires fuel, and when you’re exhausted, you’re more likely to give in to temptation.


Social support can be priceless when willpower starts to wane.  Weight Watchers, Overeaters, Gamblers or Alcoholics Anonymous all strengthen a persons desire to continue on the path. Today we have online communities, forums, and groups to keep us motivated and on track.

“It takes a village” is never truer than when you take on a task that takes you out of your comfort zone.  If your goal requires some major life changes, then you might need more than your own willpower to succeed.


Compliance is the number one reason diets fail because dieting is rarely fun.  To succeed we have to dig deep into our psyche, we have to get past the fluff and be honest with ourselves. In that vulnerable place, we find the strength we will need.

Willpower is not just for the big things in life. We use restraint daily.  We dress appropriately when we would rather be in sweats.  We order a small ice cream when we really want to guzzle the pint.

The brain works hard to control our continuous urges, and this takes fuel. I’m not here to advocate any one diet, but I will advise against one of the most popular approaches to weight loss. When a diet requires you to severely restrict carbohydrates and fat (both are fuel), it’s going to become very difficult to restrain yourself from the temptations of life.

Initially, you’ll be motivated by the scale, but people crash and burn at week three or four. Studies on willpower show that it carries us on average for less than a month. Starve willpower, and it will not serve you well.


RESIST – PERSIST.  What you resist continues to persist. You ban sugar from your life, and suddenly you see it everywhere. You break up with a boyfriend and “your” song is continually playing on the radio. The men in the Minnesota Starvation Study became obsessed with food; dieters post daily photos of their meals. We fixate on the things we cant have. When there’s no such resistance, the temptation is fleeting.

Men and their cars. A man sees a car he wants, but it’s close to, or over his budget. The temptation is real. He’ll see that car all over town; he’ll research it and contact dealers. He will negotiate with himself, making bargains and agreements until eventually the deal is done, and he buys the car.

We all know that wealthy guy that’s been driving the same car for over a decade. It’s not that he doesnt like cars. He’d like a new car, and he has the means to buy it but because he doesn’t feel the resistance of choice it slips his mind, and ten years on, he’s in the same car.


That which we resist will persist in our thoughts, and resistance takes energy.


The mental energy it takes to have that negotiation with ourselves will weaken willpower. The more we go back and forth in our head the more likely the purchase decision is to happen.

Ladies, we’re just as guilty. Shoes, that purse …

Losing weight requires a lot of resistance energy. The temptation will be constant the more restrictive the diet the more mental energy it’s going to take to stay on track.



Compliance is the ability to stick to a plan but what if its the plan that’s the problem?

Pro action is a Napoleonic trait. Napoleon is said to have thought out every possible outcome for every battle he fought.  He prepared and strategized and was rather successful, winning most of the time and ruling over Europe for more than a decade.

Fail to plan, and you plan to fail.



Throw away or give away all the food in your pantry that is not on your diet. Put your families food in a place that is out of sight and hopefully out of mind.



If you love your coffee shop in the morning take some time to look at what else they have to offer.  It took me a few years, but I weaned my husband off his Starbucks Panini and glazed donut and over to an egg white and spinach wrap.  Making substitutions may be easier than changing the actual action.



Choose one goal at a time.  This is crucial, especially at the beginning. Don’t start a diet the same week your kids go back to school and don’t start that diet in the middle of a divorce or the first month of AA. It may seem like a good idea; it isn’t.

Life events often go hand in hand with the desire to lose weight. Fitting into a wedding dress or ditching maternity clothes are both compelling reasons to start a diet, but weddings and babies require a lot of energy.

Too many goals will deplete your willpower.



I train at 4 am. I’m a morning person, but that 3 am alarm is brutal. After my workout, I shower at the gym and start work.

To make that 4 am workout less of an option I pack my clothes and toiletries and put them in the trunk of my car.

If at 3 am I decide not to workout I now have the inconvenience of having to go outside in the dark to retrieve my gym bag. I then have take out what I need to get ready for work, by which time the house is awake, and I’m regretting that rollover.

Make a good choice easier than a bad choice, at 3 am I’m picking what’s easy.

Put candy on a high shelf out of reach, keep running shoes by your bed and pre-pay for the exercise classes you love/hate.

Make good choices easier and make bad decisions more difficult (or expensive).

If you failed in the past identify the reason (s) and strategize accordingly. You have one significant advantage over Napoleon; you know who you’re up against.


The ultimate goal is to not rely on willpower. An action repeated becomes a behavior, and a behavior soon becomes a habit.

Habits require very little willpower.

Part two coming soon

More about Joanne

joanne lee cornish

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