Hard to believe summer is just around the corner and bathing suits and shorts are back out of the closet. Diet ads are popping up everywhere and everyone starts thinking about slimming down. But did you know that dieting may make you fatter?
Yes, I did say fatter. And no, I haven’t eaten one too many mangoes and moved to planet crazy.
But this has been my experience with patients who are sincere in their efforts to attain a healthy weight, having tried every new diet with a hopeful enthusiasm, only to be disappointed down the road.
So what is going on? Well, research is finally emerging that validates these frustrating experiences, and provides a new understanding of why dieting doesn’t work.
Weird Reason Why Your Body Says “Give me back that fat!
Obesity has become a serious health epidemic. And with the vast majority of American adults considered overweight (71%) and clinically obese (nearly 40%), we’re talking about millions of Americans whose futures may include increased risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, depression, respiratory problems, major cancers, and even infertility.
If you’ve never struggled with being overweight, you may be thinking, it’s easy: just eat less and exercise more. Theoretically, it seems to make sense. But real-life experience and new research is showing that losing weight is not that simple.
The eat less/exercise more approach was what Kevin Hall, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) used to believe before researching the reality-TV show, The Biggest Loser, a show I’ve also enjoyed watching.
With grueling workouts and restricted diets, contestants often lost 20 lbs. in a week. Hall wanted to figure out what was happening on a physiological level when contestants lost an average of 127 lbs. and about 64% body fat.
What he found, however, was not what he expected.
Hall discovered that even with seemingly ideal conditions, the body ends up working to get back that lost fat. Yes, you read that right: the body wants to reclaim that lost fat. Of the contestants that Hall studied, 13 out of 14 gained back at least 66% of the lost weight and 4 had gained back even more than they had lost.
These results are what I often hear with my patients.
And they’re frustrated it happens to them.
Especially because they know that obesity now drives more early preventable deaths than smoking.
But their successes are often followed by failure. Without fail, the diet that worked so well for their friend does nothing for them.
Now scientists can shed light on why this happens.
Using data from the FinnTwin16 study, researchers from the University of Helsinki followed more than 4,000 men and women over a period of 10 years, from age 24 to 34.
By age 34, most of the participants had gained weight, but those who never dieted were less likely to have added any pounds. It seems regular eating patterns, not dieting, led to stable weight maintenance for both men and women.
Ulla Kårkkåinen, a licensed nutritional therapist and one of the researchers involved in the study, explains,
“Often, people try to prevent and manage excess weight and obesity by dieting and skipping meals. In the long-term, such approaches seem to actually accelerate getting fatter, rather than prevent it.”
Here’s Another Surprising Result Of Dieting
Hall’s studies of The Biggest Loser participants may help explain why more than 80% of obese people who lose weight gain it back and may shed light on the University of Helsinki results.
Resting metabolism, that is the amount of energy your body uses when at rest, slows down when you lose weight. It seemed logical to expect that when some of the weight is gained back, resting metabolism would speed back up.
However, this is not the case.
Instead, Hall found that resting metabolism continued to remain low and in a cruel irony, dieters burned about 700 fewer calories each day than before they started losing weight. Dieting was impacting the body in a way that would make it nearly impossible for many people to maintain weight loss.
Here’s the Real Secret to Losing Weight
First off, don’t let any of this info discourage you. Wanting to shed some extra pounds is a good thing. Surprisingly, even a 10% loss can have an amazing impact on your health.
It’s just that diets are not intended for healthy, long-lasting results.
Diets often restrict certain food groups and can be nutritionally deficient. Many do not establish long-term, realistic habits that can help you lose weight, improve your health and overall well-being, so it’s really not surprising that they don’t work.
Recently Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert and medical director of the Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa, and Hall published an article in the journal The Lancet, supporting the idea that helping people sustain healthy lifestyles would be more productive than focusing on particular diets to achieve weight loss.
To make weight loss really work, shift your focus to making sustainable changes that will transform your life.
Success is found in healthy habits. Not in a fad diet …
Establish regular eating patterns consisting of real, nutritious foods including lean protein, complex carbohydrates, healthy fats, and organic fruits and vegetables.
Consider taking supplements that augment metabolism as well as support healthy nutrient intake.
Also, get moving, whether it’s walking or weight training. And if you’ve been reading my articles for a while, you know I can’t leave out getting a good night’s sleep.
And smile. Changing your lifestyle will not only have you glowing from the inside out but it will enhance your quality of life. And that is definitely something worth smiling about.