Study Explores Why Deprivation Diets Often Fail

Hands chopping vegetables on counterDieters who deprive themselves of their favorite types of food often fail to stick to their plans, according to a study published in Psychology & Marketing. The study suggests diets are more successful when they add healthy food rather than focusing solely on deprivation of food that is perceived as unhealthy.

Previous studies have found diets rarely work. A 2007 analysis of 31 long-term studies found that dieters initially lose 5-10% of their body weight, but people tend to gain it all back, plus some additional weight. Research shows dieters often struggle to keep up with their diet plans after they have achieved weight loss, and the latest study sheds light on one factor contributing to this finding.

The Role of Deprivation in Diet Failure

The study analyzed the results of three previous studies that examined a total of 542 participants. Participants answered questions about their diet strategies and weight loss success. Researchers also asked the participants to develop rules that others might follow if they wish to become healthier.

The majority of dieters made rules based on deprivation, such as eliminating favorite foods. People with low levels of self-control were even more likely to recommend these deprivation-based strategies. The study’s authors suggest people who already struggle with self-control may set themselves up for failure by embracing deprivation rather than focusing on healthy eating.

People with higher levels of self-control were less likely to focus on abandoning their favorite foods and more likely to incorporate healthy food. While these participants focused on eating healthy food they enjoyed such as certain kinds of fruits, low self-control participants fixated on healthy food they dislike such as brussels sprouts.

A Better Approach to Dieting

Effective diets can be sustainable over time, not just until a dieter achieves a weight-loss goal. For this reason, the study suggests healthy approaches to dieting should not focus on specific “bad” or “good” food, but instead on strategies dieters can use to embrace healthy eating in everyday life. The researchers say this mindset is likely to help people achieve better health and wellness.


  1. David, M. E., & Haws, K. L. (2016). Saying “no” to cake or “yes” to kale: Approach and avoidance strategies in pursuit of health goals. Psychology & Marketing, 33(8), 588-594. doi:10.1002/mar.20901
  2. Wolpert, S. (2007, April 3). Dieting does not work, UCLA researchers report. Retrieved from
  3. Your diet plan isn’t working? New Baylor research explains why. (2016, July 12). Retrieved from

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  • Glynnis

    July 14th, 2016 at 2:14 PM

    I have tried deprivation and then I have tried the everything but in moderation.
    Truthfully it feels like my body just wants to be a certain weight and i should probably just stop trying to fight it.
    Just give into the fact that this is the size I am going to be and come to terms with that.

  • lana

    July 15th, 2016 at 7:17 AM

    When I am trying to lose weight I am the person who will take things to the extreme, cut out anything bad from my diet and eat nothing for weeks on end. And then eventually you are so ravenous and starved that I eat everything in sight and pretty much blow any progress that I have made in losing anything. It is this vicious cycle, but I think that I am so motivated at first that I want to see instant weight loss, and then after a while, I am just done with being hungry all the time.

  • Kimberly

    July 15th, 2016 at 10:00 AM

    For me I can do it all in moderation and be alright with that but I know there are people who struggle with just one or two bites of something if it is a food that triggers happiness or some sort of comfort for them. I think that the reality is that it is so much easier to never let yourself get overweight in the first place, but if it happens like it does to so many of us you just have to find the method of eating that is the most comfortable to you. That might mean never losing the weight and then again that might mean making huge changes to change your whole lifestyle. But unfortunately what works for me might not work for you so a lot of it is about trial and error..

  • ed

    July 17th, 2016 at 8:14 AM

    It shouldn’t be a diet, it should just be about modifying one’s lifestyle so that it is healthier overall.

  • Sandy

    July 18th, 2016 at 11:31 AM

    So it’s like your body starts to think that you are never going to feed it again so it starts holding onto every little thing.
    That just makes it even harder to lose weight

  • tess b

    July 19th, 2016 at 2:12 PM

    Most of the time diets will fail because we set ourselves up to believe that this is it, we are going to lose the weight and then life is going to be perfect for us. We think that just because we lose a few pounds that this will automatically make life better. And when that doesn’t happen, things are still bleak even though we might be smaller, we still turn to food for comfort and bam, the weight is right back on and probably even more. I don’t know. I have been through the yo yo thing so many times and losing the weight has never fulfilled me quite the way that I always anticipated that it would, and I am ready to just be off that up and down cycle but them your doctors start telling you that this is the only option so you go and try it again. Can I ever get to the point with you know, I am happy, I am healthy, I might be fat but I am okay with that? Is that ever going to be a viable option for any of us?

  • Giselle

    July 20th, 2016 at 2:08 PM

    I have given myself one cheat day a week, and if that means I want to eat chocolate cake all day, then I just go for it. That gets me through til the next time when I want something decadent.

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