Although diet is one of the most important parameters affecting the fitness of terrestrial and marine herbivores, host plant choice and subsequent fitness on that host are not always correlated. This study investigated the effect of diet on fitness of the sea urchin Holopneustes purpurascens, which show an ontogenetic change in host plant use subsequent to recruitment. To test whether fitness on host plant mirrored host plant choice, small and large individuals were collected from both hosts and fed either host plant (Ecklonia radiata or Delisea pulchra). Small urchins survived better than large individuals. Those fed E. radiata produced fewer test lesions, grew faster and were more fecund than those fed D. pulchra, irrespective of size. This pattern was enhanced when the host plant the urchin previously inhabited was assessed. Our results show that diet is driving the previously recorded ontogenetic change in host plant use associated with increasing size in H. purpurascens, where medium-sized individuals switch from D. pulchra to E. radiata.