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Why Dieting Doesn’t Work in 10 Bullet Points

Why Dieting Doesn’t Work in 10 Bullet Points 960 689 Janie

We are told that to lose weight we need to go on a diet. In other words we need to restrict the calories we eat – especially fat which has more calories per gram than carbohydrates or protein. Apparently if we eat 300-500 calories less than we normally eat we will “safely” lose 0.5-1kg per week.

But how true is this? I have run quite a few weight loss seminars and workshops and when I ask the audience if they know anybody at all who has lost weight through dieting, achieved their goal weight and kept it off for a few years or so, there is usually a deathly silence in the room.

whiAnd it has also been shown many times in well regarded research that dieting doesn’t work long-term. The Women’s Health Initiative is one of the largest long-term studies ever conducted on women’s health and is considered to be the gold standard in public health research. When 25,000 women were asked to go on a diet they each reduced their caloric intake by an average of 361 per day and exercised 14% more than a control group of another 25,000 women who continued to eat and exercise normally. The researchers monitored these women for more than 7 years. The dieting group lost some weight initially, but after about 3-4 years their weight started to return to what it was when they started. After over 7 years they only weighed 0.4kg less than the control group even though they had dieted consistently for almost a decade.

Yes these women may have had some initial good results from their diet, but ultimately they were better off doing nothing! At the end of the study they weighed the same as the control group, but they were eating a lot less food to have to maintain that weight.

What is going on?

If important studies like this tell us clearly that dieting doesn’t work long-term why do we keep being told to do it over and over again?

Let’s have a look at the reasons why dieting doesn’t work:

onesmBody weight set point – The body has a body weight set point that it wants to stay at. Just like all other body functions like temperature and pH the body keeps body weight around an ideal set point – this is called homeostasis. This is actually a matter of survival. When the body is deprived of food it continues as normal for a little while, but once the lack of food becomes ongoing the body thinks it is experiencing a famine, and it does its hardest to get back to its original body weight to protect its fat stores as energy for the future. It does this by making metabolic adjustments to compensate for the reduced food intake. Basically the metabolic rate comes down to match the food intake. The women on the study reduced their average calorie intake from about 1800 to 1450 per day, so the basal metabolic rate (BMR) before they started the study was based on consumption of 1800 calories per day, and after 3-4 years their BMR reduced to be based on only 1450 per day. That’s why their weight went back up to where it started while they were still dieting.

They were in the midst of a self-induced famine.

twosmSick Woman Lying In BedLess energy for secondary functions – When the body needs to reduce its BMR it has to take the energy from somewhere right? Secondary functions are the first to be sacrificed in the name of survival. Hair, skin and nail growth, digestive health, cognition, the immune system, sex drive and fertility – these are all considered expendable when the body has limited energy available for other important life processes. When people diet they can feel fatigued, they get sick easily, they don’t heal quickly, and they can experience digestive issues, skin outbreaks and mood swings.

The body simply doesn’t have enough energy available to heal, let alone thrive.

threesmYou will need to diet for the rest of your life – So an interesting question to ask now is what do these women have to do to lose weight again? Do they have to diet even more? Do they cut their calories down to say 1200 per day? The problem is if they do that, their BMR will slow down even further down the track to match the even lower food intake. That doesn’t really sound like a good long-term solution, does it?

Basically if you want to lose weight through dieting you will need to be prepared to diet for the rest of your life.

foursmThe girl greedy eats sweet pie. Unhealthy lifestyle (bulimia) coYou only have finite willpower – Long-term dieting sets people up for cycles of undereating and overeating – or yoyo dieting. If they try to go back to normal eating after going on a diet and their metabolism has slowed down, guess what happens? They put on even more weight. They end up having to starve themselves just to maintain their current weight, let alone lose weight. The problem is starving yourself is not really so great for the body – starvation experiments have shown us that it can lead to exhaustion, obsessive hunger, depression, and a drop in body temperature. Willpower can win against a deep biological urge to eat food for only so long, so the person eventually binge eats and puts on weight quite quickly.

Then they experience guilt and shame and this sets them up for yet another cycle of undereating.

fivesmLoss of muscle mass – The other issue is that when you lose weight through dieting you end up losing muscle mass instead of fat tissue. The body is highly protective of its fat stores when in survival mode so when it needs energy from somewhere while under starvation conditions, it preferentially takes the energy from lean tissue and keeps hold of the fat. So when body weight is put back on again after a diet, the weight put back on is mostly fat – as the body is storing as much as it can as preparation for the next starvation/diet. So even though a dieter returns to their normal weight after returning to normal eating they now have more fat and less muscle tissue compared to before they started.

Muscle mass is vital to life so losing muscle mass will ultimately lead to worsened health and a reduced quality of life.

sixsmYoung woman eating tasty pizza.Diets focus on quantity not quality – Another problem with calorie counting is that it assumes all calories are the same. This means that people can be on a diet and more than likely be eating poor quality foods that leave the body malnourished and under stress. Do you really think eating 100 calories of broccoli is the same as having 100 calories of a soft drink? If you asked a primary school kid if they were the same I bet they would clearly say “no”. They might not be able to articulate why but they intuitively know there is food that is good for you and food that isn’t. So why do we deny this reality when we count calories? Of course if your body doesn’t get the nutrients it needs it will be in bad shape.

And it is a double whammy to both restrict the amount of food we eat and eat poor quality calories.

sevensmDiets focus on weight not health – The underlying concept of the diet is that having an optimal body weight equals health. This is evidenced by the fact that if you go to the doctor and you are overweight he or she will tell you to “lose some weight”. It doesn’t seem to matter to the doctor HOW you lose weight – in fact he or she may be highly likely to refer you to a meal replacement program or give you a script – he or she just tells you to lose weight. But being overweight is not the CAUSE of health problems, being overweight is a SYMPTOM of a larger health problem. If you simply lose the weight but don’t address the underlying cause you may be no better off health-wise than before you lost weight. Read more in our article on why BMI may not be such a good indicator of health. Instead if you focus on getting truly healthy your body weight will adjust to match your level of health in its own way and in its own time.

You don’t lose weight in order to get healthy – you get healthy in order to lose weight.

eightsmJunkfoodReduced desire to exercise –  When a person is dieting the body reduces the desire to move and exercise in order to conserve what energy it does have. Think about the person who drives around and around the shopping centre carpark to park as close as they can to the entry doors. This is driven by a deep biological urge to survive by conserving energy, not necessarily laziness. A lack of movement in modern society is pervasive enough already without a reduced desire to move due to under-eating.

This just sets you up for a sedentary lifestyle so you will lose even more muscle mass and miss out on all the amazing health benefits or regular movement or exercise.

ninesmOK so if dieting doesn’t work let’s talk about what does? First of all we have to understand what leads to being overweight. Being overweight is a very complex issue but there is a general consensus that balancing our hormones is a vital step in getting healthy and therefore losing weight. The hormone insulin is primarily responsible for how much fat we store and how much fat we use for energy, and unfortunately most people secrete far too much insulin these days and have developed what is called insulin resistance. This is the result of eating highly processed foods (especially processed carbohydrates and man-made fats), malnutrition due to poor food quality, overeating, poor sleep, mental and physical stress, physical stress caused by chemicals and drugs in our food, air, water & personal care products, and a sedentary lifestyle.

Hormonal imbalances are thought to be the stepping stone for many of the chronic diseases we are seeing today – heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, Alzheimers and periodontal disease for example.

tensmSo an important first step in getting healthy and losing weight is to balance your hormones.

This can be achieved by:

  • Eating real food – stop eating the highly processed foods and highly inflammatory foods that increase insulin secretion.
  • Getting stronger – the more you use your muscles the more insulin sensitive you will become and the more your BMR will increase.
  • Sleeping well – make sure you get sound sleep at least 7-8 hours every night. Less sleep makes you more insulin resistant.
  • Managing stress – relax and do things you enjoy and change your attitude to things that stress you. Chronic stress increases insulin secretion.

Thrive Health can help you do this with our flexible 100% personalised programs.

If you want to find out how we can help you get healthy book in for your FREE no obligation Discovery Session.