Why Dieting Alone Doesn’t Work

I’d like to clear up some confusion behind dieting. Though I can talk about this for eons, I will try and keep it as short as possible.

Firstly, the word ‘diet‘ is a loose term that one can simply use to describe his/her eating habits. “I eat a diet high in protein.” “I aim to minimize processed foods in my diet.”

Diet doesn’t necessarily mean “atkins diet,” “raw food diet,”or a “low-fat diet” (which let’s not get started on)…

Now onto WHY dieting alone doesn’t work

Initially when someone cleans up their ‘diet,’ meaning they reduce the junk, scale down the portions, minimize large gaps between meals – YES you will experience some weight loss. Whether this weight is fat or muscle depends on what you are eating. A diet high in protein will aim to retain as much lean mass as possible. Calorie restricting yourself without any direction or knowledge, you will most likely be losing muscle weight. This is LARGELY undesirable as muscle tissue is what we want to retain the most of. This doesn’t mean you have to be jacked/buff/muscular looking. Even with my 40, 50 and 60 year old clients who definitely don’t need to be jacked, the primary goal is to become fitter – aerobically and strength… hence programs are focused on re-building and improving muscle composition/strength in the body.

Muscle tissue helps us to burn fat during all hours of the day, it allows to be stronger for daily activities, and whose kidding who – it’s nice to have a little definition here and there.

To counter one that says they ‘don’t want muscle’… the other option is fat. Soft, adipose tissue that stores toxins, requires sugar to feed itself… hence a person with more fat on their body will crave more sugary and carbohydrate foods as the adipose (fat) tissue requires it for fuel.

Now that we have established you will loose weight by dieting… we just don’t know what kind of weight. My next point is best case scenario – someone says I don’t need to exercise, I eat really well all week long. Eventually this person will hit a weight loss plateau.  This eventual decline is due to a concept called “ADAPTIVE THERMOGENESIS.” 

Adaptive =  is a type of behavior that is used to adjust to another type of behavior or situation

Thermogenesis is  is the process of heat production in organisms.

Similar to how a furnace needs fuel to generate heat, our bodies work in the same way. We need to burn fuel to generate heat. Fuel for our bodies comes from foods.

As humans come from a caveman background, we have inate features in us that are protective mechanisms to help us during time of danger. For example, you may have heard of the “fight-or-flight” response. In short, this is an adaptive trait our body can switch gears into if we are “in danger,” in our case in this modern-day “danger” is in the form of stress. Digestion slows down, hormone regulation is slowed, along with many other processes. Instead, blood is directed towards the extremities to help us “run away” from the danger. Hence, no/little blood flow to the gut, this is why many people experience digestive issues – short-term or pro-longed stress.

Anyhow – back to our caveman background. We use calories from food as our fuel. If this fuel decreases below a point that is optimal for our body… we will adapt and use LESS fuel so even one who eats clean all week long will experience a plateau from one of 2 ways:

A weight loss plateau for adaptive thermogenesis manifests itself in 2 ways:

1) Energy levels decrease with the lesser/below sufficient levels of food, so the likelihood of you sitting on the couch is higher than the likelihood of you actually doing something active whether chores, shopping, walking, or the gym.

2) If you do still get to the gym, run, or do an extra curricular activity, your body has the ability to turn down the thermogenesis (fuel burning) because we simply don’t have enough fuel and our body doesn’t know when we are going to fill up again because we have restricted it.


So, while you could be burning 100 calories doing a given activity, your body efficiency has decreased due to the “dangerous” circumstances you are subjecting it to and will function at a lower speed than it is capable of. Weight loss… minimal if any.

When my client comes in for a session right after work and hasn’t eaten since lunch… they are decreasing their efficiency as 20 minutes into the workout they are physically exhausted. So, yes I will advise them what to eat before and after our workout.

If you are weight-training your body will eventually go into muscle-wasting… which I will blog about next time!


Conclusion: Dieting alone will give you an initial weight loss. Whether this will be muscle or fat loss will be individual depending on WHAT sort of foods you are eating and how often. The weight loss will hit a plateau as our bodies adapt to reserve calorie-burning because  you are depriving it.

Adding in a circuit-training or strength-based program will help fuel your metabolism and appetite, so you will feel hungry (and as per your trainers advice – will eat cleaner, leaner foods) and won’t experience the dreaded PLATEAU.


Please post comments or questions below. Good luck!



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Filed under Get Leaner and Stronger, Weight Loss

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