A. Janet Tomiyama (assistant professor of psychology and director of the Dieting, Stress, and Health Laboratory at the University of California, Los Angeles), Britt Ahlstrom (manager of the Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota) and Traci Mann (professor of psychology and director of the Health and Eating Laboratory at the University of Minnesota), blogging for Huffington Post went back and looked at research on dieting and found (no surprise) over two years, the average amount of maintained weight loss was less than two pounds.  Interesting.

Then they discussed the early shut down of the Look AHEAD (Action for HEAlth in Diabetes) trial because “it did not achieve its most important objective of fewer strokes, heart attacks, or cardiovascular deaths.”  Also interesting.

Because the participants in Look AHEAD were considered successful dieters (even though they did not achieve any improvement in their cardiovascular health), the bloggers decided to look at what constitutes “successful dieting”.

The original standard was based on the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tables.  Most of us grew up with this nasty chart that takes your height and your body frame size and tells you what you are supposed to weigh.  A diet was only successful if you reached the weight the table indicated, and this rarely happened.

What to do?  The problem can’t be the diets – it must be the definition!

The standard was changed to require a successful dieter to lose 20% of his/her starting weight.  Again, not achievable by most dieters – better change that definition.

Eventually this is what the Institute of Medicine came up with as a definition for “successful dieting”:

A diet is successful if people lose 5 percent of their starting weight and maintain that weight loss for a year.

There is no scientifically supported medical reason for this definition; but I’ll bet a lot of fat people have, at one time or another, been “successful” dieters – even though we eventually ended up gaining most (if not all or more) of the weight back.

So the Look AHEAD dieters maintained a 5% weight loss (for a 200 pound person this would be 10 pounds, for a 300 pound person this would be 15 pounds) over a four year period.  That’s nice, but it is hardly a significant amount of weight (and for many women (including me), this would not even take you down a dress size).

So now what?  Is a stricter standard for “successful dieting” coming?  Go for it.  Having a stricter standard doesn’t make it achievable.  We’ve had stricter standards in the past, The diets didn’t work then and they won’t work now.  The problem is not the definition.

Time to ditch dieting (or lifestyle plans or creative eating (I actually found that one when I searched “not a diet”) or whatever they are calling diets these days), stop making weight loss the goal and start making better health the goal.

I agree with Ms. Tomiyama, Ms. Ahlstrom and Ms. Mann:

 “It may finally be time to acknowledge that dieting is not the panacea we hoped it would be.”



  1. I agree with Tomiyama: it’s time for a great big bowl of No Duh Flakes with plenty of delicious milk.

    I know she didn’t put it quite like that, but I’m paraphrasing. It’s my favorite exercise.

  2. My goodness. Maybe they’ll take the revolutionary step of admitting that dieting standards have been one big game of Watch The Moving Goalposts . . . nah.

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