Dieting is an unethical prescription for health

Don’t ever let your kids diet!

We are vehemently and unequivocally anti-diet. We say this especially when it comes to children. The reasons are many, but the three main reasons we implore parents to never allow their children to diet are: 

  1. Diets lead to eating disorders
  2. Dieting leads to higher weights
  3. Dieting causes irreparable harm to the body

You are probably skeptical. After all, it seems like everyone is on a diet, and doctors, counselors, magazines, countless books, and other trusted sources all recommend dieting. We can’t say why all these sources recommend something that is so harmful, but we can provide you with the information you need to make an informed decision about your child’s health.

The International Journal of Obesity is a proponent of eliminating weight loss as a prescription for health. “It is unethical to continue to prescribe weight loss to patients and communities as a pathway to health, knowing the associated outcomes – weight regain and weight cycling – are connected to further stigmatization, poor health, and well-being. The data suggest that a different approach is needed to foster physical health and well-being of our patients and communities.” [1]

A “diet” is any form of intentional weight loss, including programs like Jenny Craig and Weight Watchers, “clean eating,” paleo, appetite-suppressing lollipops and gummies, detoxes, books, magazine articles, blog posts, websites, prescription drugs, weight loss surgery, crystals, acupuncture, yoga, and more. Don’t be fooled by claims of “wellness.” If weight loss is listed anywhere as a benefit of the product or service, then it’s a diet.

1. Diets lead to eating disorders

Dieting is the most important predictor of new eating disorders. [2] Studies have shown that adolescent females who dieted at a severe level were 18x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet. Even subjects who dieted at a moderate level were still 5x more likely to develop an eating disorder than those who did not diet. [3]

The same study found that 8% of 15-year-old girls dieted at a severe level, while 60% dieted at a moderate level. This research, combined with others, show that dieting is a significant risk factor in developing disordered eating behaviors and full-blown eating disorders. [4]

Eating disorders are much more than dieting, but diet behaviors – restricting food, measuring weight, and exercising with weight loss goals – are all core eating disorder behaviors. It appears that for those who have certain genetic and epigenetic conditions find in dieting a way to soothe discomfort, and thus become obsessed and develop unhealthy eating disorders.

2. Dieting leads to higher body weights

The most rigorous diet studies show that about half of dieters will weigh more 4-5 years post-diet than they did before they dieted. [5] This is not a secret by any means, as evidenced by the following quotes from researchers:

  • Ample clinical data confirm that most dieters rapidly regain any achieved weight loss or even more. [6]
  • Dieting to control weight is not only ineffective, it may actually promote weight gain. [7]
  • It is well established that the more people engage in dieting, the more they gain weight in the long-term. [6]
  • Over one-third of lost weight tends to return within the first year, and the majority is gained back within 3 to 5 years. [8, 9]
  • In women, prior weight loss was the strongest predictor of subsequent large weight gain. [10]
  • The risk of becoming overweight in initially non-overweight participants was proportional to intentional weight loss frequency. [6]

Researchers are still digging for the answer, but one clue is the finding that people who intentionally lose weight immediately increase the level of cortisol (stress hormone) in their bodies and decrease their metabolisms long-term [11]

This effect has even been reproduced in rats. Researchers found they could induce rapid weight loss, but the lost weight was regained and the final body weight was higher in cycled rats than in the rats that were never restricted. [12] Worse, it has been found that the type of weight regained is the more dangerous subcutaneous abdominal and hip fat areas. [13]

3. Dieting causes irreparable harm to the body

Weight cycling, which accompanies the vast majority of intentional weight loss efforts, have been strongly associated with an increased rate of mortality (death) and the development of chronic diseases. [14] This means that all the noise about the dangers of obesity can actually be attributed to intentional weight loss efforts rather than obesity itself. Here are some of the physiological dangers of dieting:

  • Dieters are more susceptible to infections, bone density decreases, blood pressure increases, and damaged blood vessels. [15]
  • Several prospective studies have shown that weight loss is linked to an increased all-cause mortality. [16]
  • Weight loss has a significant impact on mortality independent of the amount of weight lost [17]

Once again, this is replicated in animal studies, in which weight cycling in rats exacerbates obesity, metabolic efficiency, abdominal fat accumulation, sympathetic activity, and hypertension. [18]

Please don’t let your kids diet

If you’re still skeptical, please dive in and read the papers referenced. Read some books by people who have devoted their professional careers to the science of weight loss. The best we can say about people who recommend weight loss is that they are going off their opinions and assumptions. They are also backed by a powerful $70 billion industry that profits off every weight loss product and promise.


[1] Tracy, T, et al, Evaluating the Evidence for Prioritizing Well-Being over Weight Loss, Journal of Obesity, 2014

[2] GC Patton, R Selzer, et al, Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population cohort study over 3 years, BMJ, 1999

[3] GC Patton, R Selzer, et al, Onset of adolescent eating disorders: population cohort study over 3 years, BMJ, 1999

[4] Neumark-Sztainer D, Wall M, Guo J, Story M, Haines J, Eisenberg M. Obesity, disordered eating, and eating disorders in a longitudinal study of adolescents: how do dieters fare 5 years later? J Am Diet Assoc. 2006

[5] Mann, Secrets From the Eating Lab: The Science of Weight Loss, the Myth of Willpower, and Why You Should Never Diet Again

[6] Pietilainen, Saarni, et al, Does dieting make you fat? A twin study, International Journal of Obesity, 2011

[7] Field AE, Austin SB, Taylor CB, et al. Relationship between dieting and weight change among preadolescents and adolescents. Pediatrics 2003

[8] Anderson JW, Konz EC, et al, Long-term weight-loss maintenance: a meta-analysis of US studies, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 2001

[9] Weiss EC, Galuska DA, et al, Weight regain in U.S. adults who experienced substantial weight loss, 1999-2002. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2007

[10] A Kroke, AD Liese, Recent weight changes and weight cycling as predictors of subsequent two year weight change in a middle-aged cohort , International Journal of Obesity, 2002

[11] Fothergill, et al., Persistent metabolic adaptation 6 years after “The Biggest Loser” competition, Obesity, Aug 2016

[12] Ernsberger P, Koletsky RJ, et al, Consequences of weight cycling in obese spontaneously hypertensive rats, American Journal of Physiology, 1996

[13] van der Kooy K, Leenen R, et al, Effect of a weight cycle on visceral fat accumulation, American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1993

[14] Strohacker K, Carpenter, K, McFarlin B, Consequences of Weight Cycling: An Increase in Disease Risk?, International Journal of Exercise Science, 2009

[15] Robert M. Sapolsky, Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers: The Acclaimed Guide to Stress, Stress-Related Diseases, and Coping, 2004

[16] Lee D, Artero E, et al, Mortality trends in the general population: the importance of cardiorespiratory fitness, Journal of Psychopharmacology, 2010

[17] Mikkelsen KL, Heitmann BL, Keiding N, Sorensen TI, Independent effects of stable and changing body weight on total mortality, Epidemiology, 1999

[18] Ernsberger, R.J. Koletsky, et al, Consequences of weight cycling in obese spontaneously hypertensive rats, American Journal of Physiology-Regulatory, Integrative and Comparative Physiology, 1996