Welcome to diet season. After the holidays, people often feel the propulsion of self-loathing and throw the life ring to a diet protocol they may have heard about on a talk show or seen on social media. Oftentimes they have little to no knowledge how these diets work. Here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular “programs” people do to lose weight.

• Keto

The ketogenic diet relies on the physiological process of ketosis in order for one’s body to use energy. The key to this process is cutting all carbohydrates out of the diet because ketosis is an energetic pathway which activates when carbohydrates are depleted. The general population sees this, and makes a connection to the diet as fat burning, and leaning. Although this can be true, it’s not because of the diet but because a person is eating less overall once sugars, grains, and other carbs are off limits.

• Paleo

The paleolithic diet asks a person to consider what their ancestors ate in bygone eras. This theory states that evolution is a very long process and humans aren’t equipped to eat the foods in the quantities eaten in modern ages. Tens of thousands of years ago, no one ate refined grains, processed foods, sugars, and more. This diet helps people lose weight, not because of a special characteristic of the foods being better, but without all the snacks and indulgences available, they are going to eat less.

• Whole30

The Whole30 diet bases its eating paradigm around low-processed foods with little to no “inflammatory” foods, which aims to “reset” one’s eating into a healthier status. It takes out dairy, beans, grains and sugars, and follows a pattern to help people understand how their eating affects their overall wellness. It works because people need to follow a very prescriptive plan and it allows for only minor deviation. This gets them to eat less, and what they’re eating is much lower calorie; therefore, they lose weight.

• Intermittent Fasting

This diet program has little restriction beyond asking people not to eat at given times in order to achieve better health in many claims. From lowering insulin sensitivity to increasing cognition, there are several claims, many of which are still theory. There are many types of ways to fast — from not eating an entire day, to eating only from noon to 8 p.m., and many others. This diet works mainly because in narrowing the window of eating, people have less chance to eat. There is also something to mention about hormones and eating disorders, but this topic will be saved for a full intermittent fasting review.

• Vegan/Vegetarian

Vegan or vegetarian diets eschew animal products to certain degrees. They can be strictly against all animal products, or allow for cheese, eggs, and others depending on their constituent’s outlook. It’s low in cholesterol, unhealthy fats, and compounds in meat which are believed to be carcinogenic. It asks us to eat better by eliminating these products and usually, when very calorically dense meats and the like are removed, it effectively gets you to eat less.

The mechanism in action.

Notice anything similar to all these diets? First, they all are asking the dieters to eat less. Once you have a limited scope on what you can eat, you might just eat less. Next, you consider what you’re eating. This can have huge implications, as mindless eating or snacking can be a big reason why some people consume too many calories.

What the diets aren’t.

These aren’t silver bullets of health, wellness, and immortality. In fact, a lot of junk food can still be eaten on these diets. French fries and beer are vegan. Keto lets its disciples nosh on salami and processed meats ad libitum. The main thing that fails all of these diets is that if the patron of the diet doesn’t make healthy eating habitual, once the diet is over they gain their weight back.

Our weight is more or less a direct reflection of the way we eat, so we have to systematically change — and this is hard. People want to diet, and then they want to not diet but keep their diet body. This equation doesn’t work.

Seek out simple habits and attack those first.