Why Diets Don’t Work & How to Naturally Reach a Healthy Weight

Almost any calorie restriction leads to weight loss in the short-term but 95% of the time, the weight (and then some) returns within 2-5 years. The few who do maintain long-term weight loss through dieting must continue adhering to strict restriction. And even they are an anomaly like the smoker who lives until 90 – it doesn’t prove that smoking doesn’t kill.

Why Diets Don’t Work

  • Just as with height, 50-80% of weight is determined by genetics – even the distribution of fat is 40% due to our genes. And just as there are average heights but no “ideal” heights, average or typical weights are likewise neither good nor bad.
  • Nobody would diet without negative thoughts about one’s body, which perpetuates the diet-binge cycle. Fuelled by shame, dieters experience depression, fatigue, weakness, irritability, social withdrawal, reduced sex drive, low sex-drive, low self-esteem, and low ability to concentrate and think clearly.
  • Though a “typical” woman generally expends around 2,000 calories per day to sustain basic life functions, perform physical activities, and digest food, the “caloric deficit” approach to dieting does not work because there are so many other factors at play, i.e. genetics, age, weight, body composition, stimulants like caffeine, exposure to cold, exercise, nutrient absorption, gut bacteria, environmental toxins like plastic, etc. Not to mention, reported calorie content is an approximation – food labels in the US are allowed a 20% margin of error.
  • Twin studies prove that, even given the same weight-loss program and full compliance, different people show different results.
  • Food restrictions almost always lead to overeating “forbidden foods” because (1) just a taste of forbidden foods disinhibits restrains, even when deprivation is only perceived, and (2) restriction leads the body to increase hunger and make high calorie foods (especially carbohydrates) more enticing for evolutionary purposes – this is proven by increased “hunger hormone” gherlin and decreased peptide YY and leptin’s hunger suppression. Chronic dieting leads to chronically less leptin release, which may explain why yo-yo dieters usually gain weight over time. Overeating after dieting is akin to breathing deeply after physical exertion – a natural response, not a sign of weakness.
  • Our ancestors were able to reproduce because their – and now our – bodies hold onto more fat after famine.
  • Within 24-48 hours of restriction, metabolism (i.e. fat burning) slows 15-30% and it stays low for as long as the body is at a lower weight. As restriction continues or repeats, this reaction is quicker and more severe each time.
  • While both fat and muscle are burned in total weight loss, only fat is put on from weight gain – meaning body size is larger and metabolism is slower.
  • If you constantly try to override your body’s natural ability to maintain weight with diets and binges, your body fights harder by setting a higher weight to maintain, i.e. a “settling point.”
  • Yo-yo dieters are at higher risk of heart disease and diabetes, regardless of current weight, and are 25-100% more likely to die prematurely.
  • Calorie restriction increases inflammation, even more so with cycles of weight loss and gain.
  • Dieting can lead to fatigue, poor sleep, mood changes, depression, obstructed menstrual cycle, reduced mental acuity, and obsession over food and weight loss, as demonstrated in Keys’ study.

How to Naturally Reach a Healthy Weight

  • Like a thermostat, every body has a set point weight range it tends to maintain – as long as the person eats when hungry, stops when full, and is moderately active. Even if you eat a bit more sometimes, your metabolism speeds up to burn the extra calories, as demonstrated in Sims’ study. More than 50 years of research supports the homeostatic regulation of body weight comparable to the way you sweat when you’re hot and shiver when you’re cold.
  • Children are born knowing how to naturally eat what they need, calorically and nutritionally, and no more. By letting go of external rules for weight loss in favour of intuitive (i.e. normal) eating, adults can recover this ability. By trusting themselves and feeling calm about food, they are also more likely to have a more diverse diet, lower body mass index, take more pleasure in eating, and have higher body and life satisfaction.
  • Relearning normal eating is best gradual. In the beginning, most eating will not be in response to hunger, which provides insight into what else triggers your eating. First, try waiting for hunger. And then ask yourself what you are hungry for, if you could have anything right now, and do your best to satisfy that need. It is helpful to prepare by stocking abundant groceries and packing a variety of food choices on the go. Finally, try paying attention to fullness cues and stopping eating when satiated. Collect experiences of intuitive eating – nothing will undo the achievement of accomplishing those experiences.
  • Normal eating (based on internal cues) improves self-esteem and body image, usually without gaining weight – and losing weight if currently above set point. It usually takes 6-12 months, though those much higher than set point may take over 2 years until weight stabilizes.
  • Generally, people can reduce their weight by 10% before their bodies start to fight back – if the weight is lost gradually over about 6 months – because the set point range tends to be about 10%. Once the new weight is maintained for at least 6 months, it is possible to reduce weight by another 10% to a new “settling point.” The goal is to reset back to the original genetically predisposed set point, often lower than the current settling point for yo-yo dieters.
  • Health is much more than weight, shape, and size – it is emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being.Thin is not inherently healthy or beautiful – it is a cultural norm – just as fat is not inherently unhealthy or ugly. 50% of overweight adults are metabolically healthy while 25% of normal weight adults are metabolically unhealthy. A lot of peer-reviewed research shows people in the “overweight” BMI category live longer than people in the “normal” category.
  • Poor dietary behaviour and sedentary lifestyle can lead to obesity and can lead to heart disease and diabetes – in most cases, obesity and disease have correlation, not causation. Eating a variety of foods and moving regularly are key to health – and a healthy body weight for you. According to the US CDC, the other 3/4 of your health is determined by social characteristics (i.e. stress of poverty vs. control over work and home life), total ecology, medical care and genes / biology – the take-away is focus on your own resilience and, if you’re concerned for public health, help build fair societies.
  • The most helpful and healthy intention is thus to take care of your body and enjoy your life! Goals to lose weight rarely pay off – goals related to health and attuned living lead to results more often.

With all this information, it can still be difficult to accept that dieting is not the solution. If this is the case for you, consider writing out a cost/benefit analysis of current or past dieting behavior as recommended in the Turning Points program. “Has dieting led to improvements [or problems] in your body image, relationships, work or study performance, emotional well-being, or physical well-being?”

Really consider, “Have you found the task of keeping your weight down an increasingly difficult battle? After a period of dieting, have you found that your weight returned to and even exceeded its previous level? How many people do you personally know that have permanently lost a very large amount of weight? Alternatively, think of the people in your own life who are true non-dieters. Have you noticed that their weight has remained relatively consistent year after year? Maybe these observations can be explained by the set point notion for body weight.”

Find out more…

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