The Surprising Truth: Diets Might Make You Sad and Guilty Instead of Skinny

Millions of people around the globe embark on diets each year to lose weight, consuming minuscule portions and battling to control their food intake. However, researchers in the Netherlands have discovered that these diets may not be effective in keeping the pounds off, and, more surprisingly, they can have a significant impact on mental health.

The Unintended Consequences of Dieting

Diets, it turns out, often lead to substantial increases in depression, anxiety, lowered self-esteem, and feelings of guilt. The Dutch researchers found that, after following these diets, individuals tended to consume as much as their non-dieting counterparts by the end of the day. However, dieting made them feel much guiltier about the amount they ate.

The researchers highlighted their findings by stating that “dieting is not an indicator of actual restricted food intake, but rather a reflection of concerns about food and eating manifested in eating-related guilt.”

Understanding the Effects of Dieting on Mental Health

The implications of these findings are significant and warrant further discussion. Delving into the mental health effects caused by dieting can help us better understand how to approach weight loss from a more holistic and sustainable standpoint.


Dieting often requires an individual to cut out or significantly reduce the consumption of certain foods or food groups, leading to feelings of deprivation, irritability, and sadness. When the body is forced to endure such restrictions, it’s natural for people to feel disheartened and unmotivated, resulting in heightened levels of depression. [1]


In addition to depression, dieting can bring on anxiety. When someone is constantly worried about whether they’ve eaten too much or too little, the stress and anxiety can become overwhelming. This anxiety can perpetuate obsessive behaviors, like constantly checking the scale or over-analyzing food choices, which create a vicious cycle that fuels further anxiety. [2]

Low Self-Esteem

Self-esteem can take a serious hit when someone is on a diet. Being unable to follow a diet plan without lapses, coupled with ineffective weight loss results, can lead a person to feel like a failure. This lack of self-confidence seeps into other aspects of life, having an overall negative impact on a person’s self-esteem. [3]


As mentioned in the Dutch study, guilt is a significant emotional impact experienced by dieters. The perpetual feelings of falling short can lead people to feel guilty about their perceived “cheating” or lack of self-control and can cause them to beat themselves up about not reaching their weight loss goals. [4]

Alternative Approaches to Dieting

Given the potential mental health ramifications of dieting, it’s crucial to explore alternative methods of weight management that focus on overall health and well-being, rather than on numbers on a scale.

Intuitive Eating

Intuitive eating encourages individuals to honor their hunger cues and listen to their body’s needs, instead of succumbing to externally imposed meal plans or calorie restrictions. This approach fosters a healthier relationship with food and removes the pressure to conform to unrealistic expectations, helping to alleviate feelings of guilt, anxiety, and other negative emotions. [5]

Mindful Eating

Like intuitive eating, mindful eating is about creating a positive relationship with food by paying close attention to hunger cues and eating with intention. Mindful eating also emphasizes the act of engaging in mealtimes free from distractions, thereby cultivating a genuine understanding and appreciation for what is on the plate. [6]


Incorporating regular physical activity into daily routines can be a great way to maintain a healthy body weight without the stress of dieting. Exercise helps burn calories, build lean muscle mass, and trigger the release of endorphins that improve mood and lower stress levels. [7]

Closing Thoughts

It’s essential to recognize that dieting does more than just affect physical appearance and weight; it can also impact mental health in significant ways. By shedding light on the relationship between dieting and mental health, we can empower individuals to make healthier decisions and adopt more sustainable, positive approaches to managing weight and overall well-being.