Study: Dieting Increases Your Risk of Becoming Obese

Using national survey data of almost 9,000 people, researchers found that the odds for becoming obese*¹ increased according to the number of times you diet.

  • Diet once and the odds almost double.
  • Diet twice and they go up almost three times.
  • Always on a diet? The odds of becoming obese are more than triple that of someone who has never dieted.

This isn’t news to those of us who follow a non-diet approach to health and healthy weights.

Over four decades ago, Thelma Wayler, RD, Green Mountain’s founder, recognized that diets not only wouldn’t take people in the direction they wanted to go, diets would send them in the exact opposite direction.

That’s why she founded Green Mountain at Fox Run – to help women (who were most affected by dieting back then) learn how to eat instead of starve, and how to take care of themselves without worrying about weight.

Still, it’s always good to see what we know to be true proven out in studies. Especially a study as huge as this one is.

Dieting Is Anytime You Restrict Your Eating to Control Your Weight

It’s important to understand that dieting isn’t just following specific diet plans. It’s anytime you restrict what you eat in an attempt to control your weight.

Many people today say they don’t diet, but they do (try to) follow rules about what’s good to eat and what’s not, how much you “should” eat at any one time, and when to eat.

Often this is done under the guise of concern about health, but when you dig deep, you usually find weight concerns at the bottom. That’s often because of the confusion about the impact of weight on health, but well-conducted studies show clearly that weight is not a reliable measure of health.

Bottom line: Restricting what you eat in the name of body size is dieting. And it has the same effect on your weight as formal diet plans.

Moving Beyond Diets

What can a person do instead? Let their bodies guide them in eating in a way that supports both their health and their healthy weight. Our bodies are designed to do that, if we know how to listen.

Many of us don’t know how to listen to our bodies about eating anymore, or how to interpret what we are hearing, precisely because the diet mentality has taught us to tune out and not trust our bodies’ cues. Others of us are so out of balance due to all the restrictive eating, and subsequent overeating (yes, there’s a direct link), that our bodies are confused. They can’t give us accurate signals.

The good news is that we can get back in balance through effective self-care. At Green Mountain, we believe enjoyment is a fundamental part of effective self-care so that rules out dieting right away. Bonus!


*Obesity is defined as a body mass index (BMI) of over 30. It’s not a term we use at Green Mountain as it doesn’t make anyone feel good to be labeled in this way. But researchers use it in order to effectively analyze data. That’s why we use it in this post.

¹Siahpush M, Tibbits M, Shaikh RA, Singh GK, Sikora Kessler A, Huang TT. Dieting Increases the Likelihood of Subsequent Obesity and BMI Gain: Results from a Prospective Study of an Australian National Sample. Int J Behav Med. 2015 Oct; 22(5):662-71.

8 responses to “Study: Dieting Increases Your Risk of Becoming Obese”

  1. Janet Lewis says:

    I don’t think being mindful of the quality and quantity of what you eat is dieting, but for people with a history of mindlessly overeating, it is good to be aware. It is also important to understand what eat impacts our health. So while my decisions on what to eat are in part because I want to maintain my weight, an equal component is wanting to live a long and healthy life (and regular exercise is part of fulfilling this goal).

    • Kat says:

      You don’t get it

      • Janet says:

        Not sure what you mean. Over the past 2.5 years I have gradually lost over 50 lbs by changing the way I eat and what I eat. I also exercise 4-5x a week. Some might call it a diet but I call it a way of life. I still indulge from time to time but then I return to trying to mindfully eating a clean diet in reasonable quantities.

  2. Dorothy says:

    Right on!, I am proof. In my life time I totaled about a 500 lb. loss…each time gaining more back then I lost

    • Kat says:

      Yes, me too. Now I eat when and what I want. I am so much healthier and body is adjusting to intuitive eating by shedding several pounds every 6 months. I blame the diet industry and all those “non diet” diets. Thanks intuitive eating and health at every size. I like myself now at my perfect weight every day.

    • Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD says:

      Sorry I am just coming into this conversation so long after you were having it! Somehow your comments escaped my attention.

      The line between healthful eating and dieting can often get blurred but I think it comes down to this. When humans eat what they want — defining “want” as wanting to feel good both in how we feel overall as well as the pleasure we get from eating — they will naturally gravitate towards food that truly makes them feel good and keeps them healthy (if they have access and that’s a big if these days for a number of reasons). It’s the notion that we have to exert some kind of control over eating rather than listening to and responding intelligently to our bodies’ signals that get us into trouble. So many people have listened so long to the messages coming from weight loss diets and it’s no wonder things can get confusing in conversations.

  3. Hi Marcia, Thanks for the info on this study. I had not heard of it. Of course it only confirms what we already know, but always good to get this kind of data. I will pass on the post. Hope all is well! Warmest regards, Rivka

    • Marsha Hudnall, MS, RDN, CD says:

      Hi, Rivka! As I said above, sorry I am so long in responding to your comment! Isn’t it a thrill to see all the studies coming out these days that confirm the non-diet approach? Hope you are well!

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