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Traditions we may think of as changeless are sometimes not that old. Christmas as we know it in the English-speaking world only came together in the Victorian era. Thanksgiving didn’t become a national holiday until Abraham Lincoln, bowing to pressure, legally proclaimed it.

And these traditions are still in the process of changing. Thanksgiving is now celebrated in many parts of the US as Friendsgiving. Among some, Christmas has become Yule – keep the tree, 86 the overspending.

My proposal for the Tradition Most in Need of a Makeover? The New Year’s Day Diet, a terrible way to get a fresh start and the antithesis of self-care.

It doesn’t matter how extravagant your revels or what the scale has to say. Post-holiday dieting will ONLY MAKE THINGS WORSE. (For my purposes, a “diet” is 1. a prescribed, i.e. “already written,” which is to say an inflexible and unresponsive to current conditions way of eating that 2. Doesn’t typically provide the energy your body legitimately needs.)

Consider two of the standout pieces of research on this topic, The Minnesota “Starvation Experiment,” and Traci Mann and Janet Tomiyama’s 2007 meta-study of dieting statistics.

You may already have heard of the Minnesota experiment, a study done to find the best way of re-feeding starving Europeans following WWII. A group of male undergraduates, chosen for their physical health and psychological sturdiness, were fed on a diet of 1600 calories per day for six months (more calories, you will immediately note, than are prescribed by many popular diets).

No surprise that the men quickly became preoccupied with food. They cut out recipes, collected cookbooks and obsessively discussed what they’d eat first when the experiment concluded. They also lost interest in the news, in their classes, and in sex. One of them became spectacularly self-harming.

In other words, they were a lot like women on diets.

When the experiment concluded, the men gained back all the weight they’d lost and then some, a finding that dieters the world over have reproduced endlessly. The difference between these young mid-century men and the mostly female dieters of today is that, as far as I know, none of those guys ever went on another diet as long as he lived.

Another bleak piece of research is the survey of scientific studies of dieters that Traci Mann, Janet Tomiyama and colleagues published in 2007. Their meta-study looked at every study published on the results of dieting and rolled up the results into one inarguable conclusion: 98% of dieters fail to maintain weight loss. In fact, many gain it all back … AND THEN SOME.

In her follow-up book, Secrets from the Eating Lab (2016), Mann easily shows that if the goal of dieting is weight loss, diets don’t work. I don’t know what Santa and Mrs. Claus traditionally do on January 1, but I know what science would want them to do after a season of indulgence: Go straight to the middle way without swinging to the other extreme.

If you’d like to start the New Year with a little structure, here’s a method I can recommend in good conscience: Gillian Riley’s Eating Less (EL) method, described in her book by the same name. It’s the most lightweight framework I’ve ever come across, consisting of a basic mindset and two simple tools. I use EL in my own life, and with all my clients. The method is nothing like a diet, but it does closely resemble what any thoughtful person might do to control her eating instead of being controlled by it.

I wish you the best in 2017, and as ever, I welcome your comments and questions.

Image CREDIT: Banquet Still Life, Adriaen van Utrecht (1644), Rijksmuseum

More reading:

Dieting Does Not Work, UCLA Researchers Report

In ‘Eating Lab,’ A Psychologist Spills Secrets On Why Diets Fail



About The Author

Max Daniels is a research-based life coach whose weekly emails make us laugh with recognition and rethink everything we thought we knew. Her new book is Meals at Mealtimes. What a concept!


  • Hey Max, email me. I have some data-based concepts about food and weight that you might be able to use.

    • Thanks Laurie! I’m interested. You can always email me at

  • I met a woman whose brother was part of the Minnesota Experiment, and said it caused him permanent physical damage. I had no idea the calorie amount was that high. Thanks.

    • Wow. Thank you for sharing this. It’s such a legendary episode – your note makes it all even more real, and even more sobering.

  • This is a good reminder. I have definitely gone overboard this holiday season…something that I don’t typically do. I think the stress I feel over the future of our country kicked in at the same time as many food temptations. Most of the time I don’t even reach for sweets and I seldom eat red meat. Yikes. I feel lethargic even though I’ve kept up my regular exercise schedule. Now I’m going to ease gradually back into my usual lifestyle….starting with lots more water, which also fell by the wayside….more lean protein and fruits and vegetables. I don’t do diets but I do need to cleanse myself and get back to normal.

    • It is such a great feeling to “get back to normal” after the holidays, I think – whether or not we went overboard :). I’m looking forward to getting back to a normal schedule…

  • Thank you Max! xoA

  • Isn’t this Modern Daily ***Knitting***? Where’s the knitting? So not interested in the latest dieting tips. Or the next frou frou facial, or tips for making my nails look longer, anything else that is currently on the cover of cosmo. Sorry, not sorry.

    • I for one am heartened to see anti-dieting sentiment so strong that it can mistake even the most explicit anti-diet material as the “latest in dieting tips.”

    • Gotta agree with ya. I go to knitting & crochet blogs to read about yarny things.

    • Hi Laurie,

      Don’t know how long you’ve been reading us, but there’s plenty of knitting here, for 13 and a half years. Kind of a lot of knitting, actually. We put it out here, the knitting and the in-addition-to-knitting, daily, in good faith and for an audience that we love and respect. Ann and I have enjoyed Max’s writing for a long time, and we share it here with great enthusiasm, for anyone who chooses to read it.


      • Do you even knit bro?


  • Love this article. Thanks for posting it Max and MDK- thought provoking and timely.

  • To further dilute the “where’s the knitting?” questioner, let me say that I love the new format and the expanded subject matter. I enjoy reading the new columnists when their subject interests me, skim some subjects, and skip over others, depends on the day and my frame of mind. I’ve learned a lot, found things to read, listen to, and knit, and laughed (that being the most important). You keep doing what you’re doing and let the naysayers go elsewhere.

    • Idem.
      From a Yé-sayer. Bises à tous!

      • Agreeagreeagree!

    • Yes- what she said. : )

  • I visit MDK often, and pursue what interests me, and ignore what doesn’t…you know, like people do in every aspect of life. Thanks for the interesting content.

  • I, for one, appreciate all the people and ideas Ann and Kay introduce to us. Juicy things to ponder *while* I am knitting. It all ties together.

  • Interesting article and so pertinent. I personally love all of the varied content. Keep up the good work Ann and Kay! Looking forward to more from you too, Max!

  • Love Snippets because of all the interesting topics. I have recommended it to many knitting friends for all the variety. I look forward to it every week. Thanks and keep it coming!!

    • Love, love, love all I have read of Max, who I was unfamiliar with until Kay and Ann so wisely include
      Max’s wisdom with humor! Kudos,
      To Snippets. Bravo for this new format Kay and Ann !

  • I work with folks in recovery from eating disorders, and this time of year is so so hard when all you hear out there is diet advice, guilt-tripping about the holidays, and demonizing food, all things that could send someone into a dangerous relapse. So as an enthusiastic knitter, I was so pleased to stumble on this, here, and hope that it serves as a welcome surprise/ relief to another knitter who could really use it. Or, the first seed planted about a better path for someone who has been sorely disappointed with how diet culture has failed them.

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