Dieting and Weight Gain – willpower is not the answer

Have you tried dieting? Chances are you have. You probably heard many times that in order to lose weight you need to eat less and exercise more. That restricting calories creates a negative energy balance that eventually leads to weight loss. In fact, up to 2/3 of dieters regain weight after dieting, gaining back even more weight than they originally lost! And after 5 years there are only 2-5% of dieters who succeed at keeping the weight off.

The effect of caloric deprivation

Significant calorie deprivation puts your body into starvation mode. After thousands of years of evolution, the human body developed mechanisms to protect itself and optimize the chances of survival when food is scarce. These protective mechanisms get activated even if food deprivation is your conscious decision. The body undergoes physiological shifts of which you may not even notice but which work against losing weight.

  • The body tries to preserve the energy by slowing the metabolism and reducing energy expenditure. Slow metabolism makes it extremely difficult to lose weight. It also means you are tired to do your daily activities, and often have no energy to exercise.
  • Starvation is a stress condition and the body will launch a stress response by increasing the levels of cortisol and inflammatory markers. Cortisol will keep blood sugar levels up by breaking down muscle and fat tissues. Over time, lower muscle mass will slow the metabolism even further.
  • Calorie restriction also affects your body’s sensitivity to leptin and insulin. That can lead to food cravings and an increase in appetite.

All willpower to dieting wears out

Its easy to see how struggling against your own body can only last so long. Eventually we can’t fight the hunger and the fatigue anymore. Our will to diet is overwhelmed, and unfortunately, rebound overeating often results. The overeating might not stop even when the original weight is regained!

Sooner or later you give the diet another try with slight variations but with very similar results. And that’s how a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting ensues. Skipping meals, reducing calories, using diet pills, and yo-yo dieting have all become part of our everyday lives.

Look for the root cause of your weight issue

If calorie restriction is not the way to go then what should we do to lose weight? The answer is not simple. I would recommend getting to the bottom of the problem. Figure out what is the root cause of your weight problem. Many physiological or health issues can contribute to weight gain. Get professional advice to rule out thyroid issues, insulin resistance or other hormonal imbalances. Maybe you are so stressed out that you are driving your adrenal glands to overact.

Your mind and your emotions play a huge role in weight gain as well. You might be and emotional overeater, or have food cravings, and even food addictions. You might be suffering from a combination of things as well. As you look into the causes of your weight gain you will get to the core of the problem. When you address the imbalances you will start losing weight in a way that can be sustained into the future.


doi: 10.1037/0003-066X.62.3.220
Ross, J. (2012). The Diet Cure. New York: Penguin Group.

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