Diet, disordered eating, Gluttony, Health & Wellness

The Solution to Disordered Eating: Do Diets Work?

Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC

In this article, I first want to define what I mean by disordered eating. To do that I share Flot’s (2002) definition of disordered eating. Flot described disordered eating as being on a continuum. He pointed out that persons who do not display dieting, bingeing, purging, or other eating disorder behaviors are on the lower end. Persons hospitalized with clinically diagnosed eating disorders fall on the upper end. Classifications along the continuum, according to Vohs, Heatherton, and Herrin (2001), include nondieter, dieter, problem eater, subclinical eating disorder, and clinical eating disorders identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manuel of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association (2013).

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Disordered Eating Continuum

Flot (2002) explained that where an individual lies on the continuum of disordered eating fluctuates over time as behaviors related to eating and exercise change. “In reality, most people probably find themselves somewhere in the middle of this continuum.” (Flot, p. 1)

What about the term “diet? What does that mean? In this article, I am referring to a diet as a means to lose weight. Although, a broader definition of diet , “food or feed habitually eaten or provided: The rabbits were fed a diet of carrots and lettuce.” (diet, n.d., definition 5), one can see that we are all on a diet.

Harmful Effects of Being Overweight

Kirby (2004) identified the consequences to carrying extra weight. Physical health problems that overweight individuals are at greater risk of developing include certain types of cancer, including breast and endometrial cancers; diabetes; gallbladder disease; heart disease; high blood pressure; osteoarthritis, and respiratory problems, such as sleep apnea. Psychosocial consequences also accompany being overweight. These consequences include experiencing depression or self-esteem problems and facing prejudice or discrimination at work and from others in society.

Do Diets Work?

Kratina, King, and Hayes (1996, 1999, 2002), National Eating Disorders Association (2005), Lobue and Marcus (1999), and McGraw (2003) stressed that diets do not work. Kratina, King, & Hayes and the National Eating Disorders Association reported multiple reasons for giving up dieting. The biggest reason pointed out is that dieting can lead to more serious eating disorders and is dangerous for personal physical health. Among the physical health problems reported by the National Eating Disorders Association that can result from dieting are malnutrition, electrolyte imbalances, fainting, less muscle strength and endurance, and loss of hair. Kratina, King, and Hayes give other reasons for not dieting:

  • Diets can be expensive.
  • Dieters are boring to others when they focus on diet talk.
  • Diets will not make a person beautiful or sexy, contrary to images portrayed by the media.
  • Diets can lead to a fear of food.
  • Diets rob participants of their energy.

Healthy Alternatives to Dieting

Kratina, King, and Hayes (1996, 1999, 2002,), LoBue and Marcus (1999), and McGraw (2003) presented alternatives to dieting. The Nondiet Approach of  Kratina, King, and Hayes encourages on demand eating where persons eat only when they are physiologically hungry. Furthermore, any food a person wants to eat is acceptable. Like Kratina, King, and Hayes, LoBue and Marcus encourage these practices. Additionally,  LoBue and Marcus recommend that individuals not base their self-worth on weight or appearance and that they find a support person or group.

McGraw’s (2003) solution to achieving and maintaining a healthy weight encompasses seven keys that result in permanent weight management. The first key presented by McGraw is to eliminate self-defeating, negative thoughts and to believe that you can succeed. Key Two involves learning to overcome emotional eating and to deal with unresolved past issues that trigger overeating. Creating a no-fail environment is Key Three. A no-fail environment promotes external control. For example, McGraw requires participants in his program to not bring problematic/binge foods into their home. Key Four in McGraw’s plan teaches participants to recognize personal eating habits, assess what needs to be changed, and then make the choice to change.

In Key Five McGraw (2003) advocates a healthy selection of foods that he calls High-Response Cost, High-Yield Food Plan. High-response cost foods require mor effort to prepare and eat and calorie payoff is low. An example is raw broccoli. On the contrary, an example of a low-response cost food would be a sour cream-and-bean burrito purchased at a fast food restaurant.

McGraw (2003) promotes regular, intentional exercise as Key Six to permanent weight management. According to McGraw, exercise must be a priority to be successful at achieving and maintaining optimum health. McGraw’s last key to permanent weight management involves having relationships that support a healthy lifestyle and behavioral changes.


Based on my life experiences, the literature reviewed to write this article, and other educational resources and experiences, I am more convinced that diets not only do not work and that dieting is unhealthier than most persons want to admit or realize. For example, most persons do not think about the fact that dieting lowers metabolism which partly explains why most dieters regain their weight and more too after going off a diet. Furthermore, I think that the negative ramifications of dieting, such as the physical harm to the body, should be enough to make all individuals want to eliminate dieting from their lifestyle behaviors.

Of the alternatives presented to dieting, I advocate the program presented by McGraw (2003) because Kratina, King, and Hayes (1996, 1999, 2002) and LoBue and Marcus (1999) do not emphasize the importance of eating healthy foods the provide necessary vitamins and minerals the body needs to function. Nor do they recognize regular exercise, which is needed for optimum cardiovascular health and strength, as being important in achieving and maintaining a healthy weight. Furthermore, contrary to the other alternatives presented, McGraw’s plan emphasizes overcoming the emotional and social reasons why individuals overeat or eat unhealthy.


American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th ed.). Washington, DC: Author.

diet. (n.d.). unabridged.  Retrieved March 28, 2017 from website

Kratina, K., King, N. L., & Hayes, D. (1996, 1999, 2002). Moving away from diets: New ways to heal eating problems & exercise resistance. Lake Dallas, TX: Helm. Available for purchase at

Lobue, A., & Marcus, M. (1999). The don’t diet live-it workbook: Healing food, weight & body issues. Carlsbad, CA: Gurze. Available for purchase at

McGraw, P. (2003). The ultimate weight solution: The 7 keys to weight loss freedom. New York: Free Press. Available for purchase at

National Eating Disorders Association. (2005). Know dieting: Risks and reasons to stop.  Retrieved February 19, 2018 from Book available for purchase at


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