What three common reasons cause diets to fail?

According to research, the company of friends, a tempting tipple and evening time are common instances where dieters are more likely to give in to temptation.

Adhering to a diet plan is notoriously tricky. Despite instructions, support and advice, many people repeatedly have a bumpy journey to success when it comes to losing weight, and research has started to focus on why.

A study published in Annals of Behaviour Medicine asked eighty people with an average age of 41 who were either dieting alone or enrolled on a weight-loss programme to report moments when they relapsed or had urges to eat.

For 7-days, the people in the study had mobile phones to record in real-time all urges, temptations and situations that led them to stray from the diet.

Some follow-up questions explored the strength of the urges, depressive feelings, stress levels, hunger signals, other people’s influence, whether the environment made adherence difficult, the importance of the weight loss goal, and beliefs in the ability to resist future urges.

The people in the study reported an average of eleven moments during the week where they felt tempted to cheat. And, actual cheating occurred just over 50% of the time. Keeping a diary made people more aware of urges and temptations.

If the temptation was powerful, the likelihood of relapse increased. Strong temptations were recorded 15% of the time and associated chiefly with stress, feeling hungry, being with other people and in environments where unexpected temptations occurred.

Diets were more likely to be broken in the evening. Possibly because dieting takes willpower, and after resisting urges all day, resolve weakened somewhat by the evening.

Willpower weakened in the company of friends, and alcoholic beverages were often too difficult to resist.

The researchers also noted a link between lapses and peoples confidence to overcome temptations in the future, stressing the importance of boosting dieters’ beliefs in their own ability to meet weight loss goals and develop coping strategies in advance to resist future cravings.

“In the fight against obesity, we need to help people become more aware of the various personal, situational and environmental factors that expose them to dietary temptations,” wrote lead author Heather McKee.


McKee, H. and Ntoumanis, N. and Taylor, I. 2014. An Ecological Momentary Assessment of Lapse Occurrences in Dieters. Annals of Behavioral Medicine. 48 (3): pp. 300-310. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s12160-014-9594-y

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