Why diets don’t work

Over the last few weeks I have started to realise that diets don’t work. For starters, I have been reading a book by Traci Mann (PhD).  It’s called Secrets from the Eating Lab, and this book has changed my life.  Why?  Because Traci explains in great detail three fundamental truths that nobody really wants us to know.

  1. Diets don’t work
  2. Dieting is not good for you
  3. Obesity will not necessarily kill you.

Now if you’re anything like me, you probably dismissed Traci as a quack straight off the bat.  I mean, there’s no way she can be right.  She is contradicting everything I have ever been taught since I was a small child.

Who says diets don’t work

Diets have to work, right?.  How else are we supposed to lose weight?  And dieting must be good for you because it’s the only way to lose weight.  Lastly, obesity will most definitely kill you which is why it is essential that we all lose weight.

Did I mention how important it is to LOSE WEIGHT?

People like Traci Mann have to be off their rocker.  It’s the only explanation. They’re either a charlatan trying to sell you some miracle weight loss cure made out of a rare kind of seaweed mixed with water from a natural spring in a tiny village in the Andes.  Or they are obese themselves and living in denial.  Perhaps they live off-grid, spout conspiracy theories to no one in particular and refuse to shower.

Because advising against diets is the equivalent of advising against vaccinating children.  It makes absolutely no sense whatsoever.

Actually, not so much.  Turns out Traci Mann and others like her appears might actually be on to something. If you don’t believe me, read the book first.

[I still think antivaxers are absolute idiots and all deserve to catch measles.] 

But Traci Mann has been studying people’s eating habits for the past 20 years and is essentially an expert.  She has published numerous papers, and she uses evidence to support her three claims. 

Why diet’s don’t work for me

I’ve been restricting my calorie intake for the last 3 months.  I’ve lost a total of 16kg which is 15% of my body weight.  My clothes no longer fit.  People have noticed.  Dieting is clearly working for me. So how comes I’m writing a blog post entitled “Why diets don’t work”? 

The answer is simple.  But first you need to define the term “work”.  Because that tiny little word actually changes everything. 

For starters, I am not looking for a quick fix, I’m looking for a long term solution. I don’t want to lose 16 kg in 3 months only to gain it all back over the next two years.  And that is reason number one that diets don’t work. 

The vast majority of people who lose weight will pile it all back on within the next few years.  In fact, the good people at weight watchers and slimming world are counting on it. It’s their business model, in fact. They rely on repeat customers, and they admit it publicly.

Consider the science

Did you know that the majority of studies that are able to demonstrate effective weight loss don’t usually follow patients up beyond 6 months? Why? Because nobody wants us to know that in the vast majority of cases, weight loss is only temporary.

Add to that the fact that biology is working against you.  The longer you restrict your calorie intake, the harder it gets.  As I have mentioned in previous posts, our bodies are designed to hold on to our weight and prevent us from starving.  This is hard wired in to our DNA.  Until recently, we never knew where our next meal was coming from. 

So the more you starve yourself (in other words whenever you consume less energy than you use) the more your body starts to panic.  Your metabolic rate slows down which means you become less and less efficient at burning calories and getting rid of fat stores.  And this is why weight loss begins to plateau after a couple of months.

In order to achieve and maintain a significant amount of weight loss, I will need to eat less and less calories as time goes by.  The minute I stop, the weight piles back on.  And this is simply unsustainable. 

Diets are more about looks than they are about health

I’ve got to the stage in my life where I am no longer trying to lose weight so I can look good and people will notice, I’m trying to be healthy for me. All my life, I’ve believed the only way to be healthy was to be slim.  But health is much more than that.  You can be slim and live a very unhealthy life.  Being slim doesn’t mean you eat a balanced nutritious diet.  It doesn’t mean that you have an active lifestyle either.

Equally you can lead a healthy active life and not be slim.  One of my closest friends has managed to completely reverse her diabetes in the last 9 months by following a good diet and exercising her little heart out.  For a long time, the weight did not seem to be shifting and it has been a slow process.  But the proof is in the pudding.  Her BMI may not be where she wants it to be, but her sugar levels are now within normal range.

The reason diets don’t work is that they focus on weight loss as opposed to the steps you take to get there.  Most people have an unrealistic target that they want to achieve, and there is very little evidence that reaching this target will benefit their health in any way.

When my friend spoke to the diabetic nurse to find out her results, they were more focussed on the amount of weight she had lost than what she had done to achieve her target.  Because that nurse is under the impression that weight loss reverses diabetes.  But as I argued in a previous post, who says it’s the weight loss?  Perhaps the weight loss is simply a byproduct of the new lifestyle that my friend has adopted. 

Diets are bad for your health

I’m trying to be the healthiest version of myself that I can possibly be.  And health isn’t just physical – it’s emotional and psychological too.  That’s reason number three why diets don’t work.  I actually think it’s the most important one.  Diets may result in weight loss, but they can also cause a number of negative side effects.  In her twenty years of research, Traci Mann and her team have managed to demonstrate a number of them.

Diets cause you to feel more stressed.  Stress can take a very significant toll on your body and has been linked to a number of serious issues including lack of immunity (pretty important at a time like this).  Diets can mess with your ability to concentrate and perform other tasks.  They make you slower and dumber. Not exactly what you look for in a GP, is it?

Diets also have an impact on your self-esteem and your emotional wellbeing.  And we all know that my mental health is not as robust as it could be. A lot of overweight people are in a similar boat.

We have been subject to prejudice and discrimination. We have been made to feel ashamed of our bodies. We’re under the misguided impression that we are weak-willed and have no self control. And being on a diet just exacerbates all this. Diets make you sad. Feeling sad makes you want to eat more. And so the story goes.

There has to be a better way

According to one source  “the Global Weight Loss and Weight Management Diet Market is valued at approximately USD 192 billion in 2019 and is anticipated to grow with a healthy growth rate of more than 10.5% over the forecast period 2020-2027”. 

A lot of the obesity research out there is funded by this industry.  They want us to believe that diets are the only way because they are trying to sell us something. But after reading around and taking the time to hear both sides of the argument, I have come to the conclusion that diets don’t work.  It’s that simple. 

Contrary to popular belief, I don’t believe that health and weight loss are always synonymous with each other.  And I therefore believe that weight is not a particularly useful measure of health.   There’s too much stigma and misinformation surrounding it. 

I need to find a better, healthier and more robust way of measuring my own health in order to set my own goals and measure my progress. But suffice it to say, I’m done with diets. 

2 thoughts on “Why diets don’t work”

  1. This is fascinating and thought provoking. I am loving watching your journey and how you are unravelling the truths over time and adjusting your position accordingly. Brilliant read as always.

  2. Pingback: Five Myths About Weight Loss - The Fat Doctor

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