If there’s one thing I know about elephants, it’s that they’re big. Really big. I learned this first-hand when I was about eight or so. I went to the zoo and saw one and I thought to myself, “Man, that’s a really big animal. How could one of those possibly sit in the corner of a room without being noticed?”

Well, guess what kids. We have an elephant in the room and I would like to be the first one to step forward and point it out. Yes, yes, I see it. You see it too, even if you don’t want to admit it. In short, here it is: diets don’t work. Yeah, yeah, yeah … I know. I’m not the first to say that. We hear about it from dietitians. We read it in magazines. Ironically, we even hear it from people just about to tell us about their own diet program. In a brief but feigned attempt to reveal the elephant, they quickly throw a sheet over it and apply some creative misdirection to distract us. “Don’t look at all those other programs, this is the one for you.”

Here’s the elephant, in full glory. Ready?

If anyone had actually solved the obesity problem, don’t you think we’d know it by now?

I mean, come on. Think about it. Virtually every single program out there claims it has The Answer. Each one presents hard data to back it up. Each one provides glowing testimonials from highly successful participants. Each one honestly swears it’s The One. Proud followers step forth and proclaim, “If I can do it, anybody can do it!” Hmmm… maybe. But that’s an awfully big if. If you follow the plan. If you stick to it. If you don’t cheat, quit, or have something horrible happen to you (like getting hungry one day at 2:27 pm) then it works.

Elephant, I’d like you to meet the rest of the room. Room, this is elephant.

Of course, you might be inclined to argue, “Well, there isn’t just one answer. Although no one program will work for everybody, you can find one that fits you.” After all, every program comes with hard data and glowing testimonials. But don’t you see? Now we’re right back where we started. By my last count there were 3.1 diet programs for every dieter on the planet. The math alone tells us that if the solution had truly been discovered, we wouldn’t still be fat. It’s not that you just haven’t found It yet. It’s that It simply does not exist.

Weight loss is easy. Just expend more calories than you take in. That’s it. That’s the bottom line of every single diet program ever conceived. They may implement different philosophies and employ different approaches. Some may be concerned with your health, others may just be trying to make a fast buck. But in the end, they all boil down to: “expend more calories than you take in.” Period.

Now wait a minute. If every diet is ultimately based on this principle, that means every diet must work. Yet I already stated that diets don’t work. Isn’t that a paradox? Well, that all depends on how you define the term “work”. If by “work” you mean the program’s math is sound, then yes, mathematically they all work. But if by “work” you mean, everyone who tries it succeeds forever, well … I think you know the answer.

The reason that diets don’t work is because not one of them gets to the heart of the issue: You.

You—and your need to feed.

When you’re standing in the kitchen and you’re tempted to take in a few extra calories, what’s really at work? You might believe you’re standing there with a choice. “Should I be good or should I eat this box of cookies?” All you have to do is make the right choice and you win. How simple! You know you shouldn’t eat the box of cookies. You know you’ll feel terrible if you do. You know that it will make you gain weight. You know you will hate, hate, hate yourself tomorrow for it. The right choice is obvious. Yet nine falls out of ten, you eat the damn box of cookies. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t sound like free will to me.

What I believe (and I have absolutely no scientifically testable evidence to back me up) is that you don’t have a say in the matter. I truly believe this is your body working at an involuntary level. Yes, yes. I realize you’re the one moving your hands and arms to get the cookies to your face. You are chewing them up and swallowing them. To any outside observer, you should have complete control over this act. But you don’t—and most of you know exactly where I’m coming from.

Your body comes with a built-in drive to survive. You first need oxygen. Then you need water. Then you need food. And your body will do whatever it takes to get these things without consulting you first. Your body knows for a fact that every meal might be its last. It doesn’t know you have seventeen more boxes of cookies in the cupboard. It only knows one thing: “I need energy and I need it right now.” And that’s an extraordinarily difficult thing to fight.

Difficult, yes, but not impossible. Because obviously some people out there win the battle and lose weight. So how does that piece fit into this puzzle? Well, it all comes down to desires. At any given moment our brains are dealing with a myriad of desires—random thoughts firing in all directions at once. How our body acts at any given moment is the net sum of these desires. For a few of us, the desire to lose weight is greater than the body’s innate desire to stay alive. For most of us, the latter is the stronger desire.

In my book, I call this desire to lose weight The Switch. When it’s on, you can walk away from the box of cookies. When it’s off, you’re doomed. The good news is, it is possible to turn The Switch on. The bad news is, you can’t do it voluntarily. This is because The Switch, just like any other need, want, or desire is not under voluntary control. You never say to yourself, “Hmmm… I think I’ve just decided I like sushi and heavy metal music.” You don’t choose these things. They just are.

And that’s why no diet has ever addressed the root problem. Because they can’t.

If you want to succeed, you have to find out how to trick yourself into making your desire to lose weight greater than your desire to eat. It’s not easy. Not by a long shot. A ninety-seven percent failure rate tells us this. “Results not typical,” tells us this. I know it’s not what we want to hear. We like to believe we’re in control of our own destinies. But I’ve looked at this problem from every angle and this is the only thing I’ve found that explains it.

I figured out why your last diet failed you. And I honestly can’t help you on your next one. That’s up to you and you alone. But when you do figure it out, please let me know. I’m all ears…