Why Weight Loss Never Works Long Term (and what to do instead)

Jan 17, 2024

Weight loss is a common goal for many people, yet it's also something most of us struggle with. The reason for this is surprisingly simple: the methods we're using, even the ones promoted by health professionals, are fundamentally flawed. They focus on manipulation and control, depriving us of our autonomy and eroding our sense of competence. But there's a better way. In this post, we're going to look at why traditional weight loss methods don't work long-term and explore more effective alternatives. 

Current Weight Loss Theories

Two of the most popular weight loss theories are the Health Belief Model and the Calorie Model. The Health Belief Model, developed in the 1950s by social psychologists, suggests that our beliefs about health, benefits of action, barriers to action, and self-efficacy dictate our engagement in health-promoting behavior. A stimulus or cue must also be present to trigger the health-promoting behavior.

The Calorie Model, on the other hand, was developed by American chemist Wilbur Olin Atwater in the 19th century. It calculates the average number of calories in one gram of fat, protein, and carbohydrate. Unfortunately, this model doesn't account for the fact that every food is digested differently, or even that the same food can yield a different number of calories for different people.

The Problem with Manipulation

The main issue with these models is that they attempt to manipulate behavior in the hope that this will lead to change. But manipulation only works short term. Over time, it feels oppressive and unsustainable. Plus, it erodes our self-belief, leading us to label ourselves as unmotivated, lazy, weak, and undisciplined.

The Solution: A New Way of Thinking About Weight Loss

Instead of trying to manipulate our behavior, we need to fundamentally change the way we think about weight loss. This requires three new theories: Self-Determination Theory (SDT), Food Psychology, and Mindfulness.

Self-Determination Theory (SDT)

SDT posits that humans need three things to be motivated: autonomy, competence, and relatedness. Autonomy refers to living with freedom and choice, competence is about feeling capable of achieving things, and relatedness is about feeling connected to others. Traditional weight loss methods often rob us of these three things, which is why they fail long term.

Food Psychology

While traditional methods focus on what we eat, Food Psychology looks at why we eat. It distinguishes between three types of dysfunctional eating: Restrictive Eating (eating in a specific way out of fear), External Eating (eating because of external cues), and Emotional Eating (eating to suppress or trigger certain feelings). By understanding why we eat, we can address the root cause of our behavior.


Mindfulness is about being present and aware of our thoughts, feelings, and bodily sensations. It's about tuning into our bodies' needs and creating an optimal fat-burning environment. This can automatically lead to eating less food, doing more exercise, working less, having more fun, and engaging in more creative activities.

Putting it all Together

To achieve long-term weight loss, we need to stop trying to manipulate our behavior and start trusting our bodies. This means giving ourselves the freedom to eat what we want, when we want it, without guilt or shame. It means acknowledging that our bodies are capable of achieving our weight loss goals, without needing to intervene or control. And it means connecting with others, sharing our experiences, and supporting each other in our weight loss journeys.

By adopting these principles, we can move away from the yo-yo cycle of diets and frustration, and towards permanent success. We can leave the insane world of weight loss and food behind, and learn to live in a way that's healthy, sustainable, and fulfilling. And most importantly, we can learn to trust ourselves and our bodies, and start living the life we want to live.