Why diets don't work (and what to do instead!)
I read something interesting the other day that resonated with me. It went along the line of ‘a diet didn’t work if you put the weight back on’. So simple but so true! I have heard so many people talk about how they did a diet and it worked so well, however they slacked off, put the weight back on and really need to get their ass into gear and get back on that ‘diet.’
However those people are missing the operative sentence there- they put the weight back on… ergo the diet did not work!
But more to the point of why a ‘diet’ doesn’t work. When people talk about diets they usually are talking about something that has an end point. They are on a diet to try get to this magical number, envisaging that when they reach this number they will be able to resume their way of eating as normal and all will be well. Wrong. The unfortunate truth of it is that when most people lose weight they will gain it back (and sometimes more) within 1-5 years.
So why does this happen?
Going on a calorie-deprived diet relies solely on the theory of calories in vs. calories out. Now this works well.. to an extent. The problem with chronic calorie deprivation and ‘quick fix’ weight loss is that it can alter your metabolism and the body’s ability to regulate fat storage/loss.
The Biggest Loser study is a great example of this. The study followed contestants from the wrap up of the show to 2015- 6 years on. They looked at body weight, fat percentage, resting metabolic rate and hormones.
After 6 years 13 of the 14 subjects had regained a significant amount of weight, whilst 4 of those are heavier now than what they were before they went on the show!
The average resting metabolic rate (RMR) of the participants was 2,607 kcal/day prior to the competition and dropped to 1996 kcal/day by the 30-week wrap-up. Despite majority of the participants regaining a significant amount of weight, the mean RMR 6 years on was still only 1903 kcal/day!
Put simply, the researchers found that their metabolisms were burning 500 fewer calories each day than expected given their new weight. No wonder they all had a tough time keeping the weight off!
Another interesting find was the significant reductions in the hormone leptin. Leptin is coined the ‘satiety hormone’ and is responsible for the long-term regulation of energy balance, suppressing food intake and thereby inducing weight loss. Before the competition began the mean leptin levels were around 41.14ng/mL. Post competition these levels had plummeted to an average of 2.56ng/mL. At the 6-year mark (and with the significant weight gain) leptin levels had only rebounded to around 60% of what they were!
This is thought to be due to thousands of years of survival tactics the body has developed to stop us from starving to death- very handy back then but not so much now that we have an abundance of food all around us!
So while you can say that the conditions of the biggest loser are very different to real life and therefore the results can’t be taken as gospel (which is definitely true) this does provide some food for thought. As depressing as this all sounds, there are strategies you can put into place that could help to minimize all these negative affects of weight loss.
1. Consult a qualified nutrition professional
Embarking on a severely calorie restricted diet you got from Woman’s weekly is probably not going to be your best bet. Consulting a nutrition specialist can save you a LOT of time, energy and money. They will take away the guesswork and allow you to embark on a plan that is going to work for life. Ensure this person is qualified (e.g. a registered clinical nutritionist, dietician or naturopath) so you get the best results!
2. Practice some self-love
I talk about this a lot but it is so important! In order for weight loss to be sustainable it needs to come from a place of self- love not hate. Stop focusing on reaching ‘that number’ and focus on the stuff that matters. More energy to run around after your kids, be a better friend, husband, wife- you get the point! Let health be your focus and the aesthetics be a side effect of your good health. Once you start choosing foods because you love your body and want to respect it as opposed to limiting foods because you hate it, it will start to feel less like a diet, and more like a way of life. Find exercise and foods you love, spend time with people that empower you and make you feel good about yourself
3. Limit stress
Stress affects our ability to train intensely, recover effectively and get enough sleep. It also directly affects fat-loss by promoting the ‘fight or flight’ response which includes providing more sugar to the body from internal stores. There is also an increase in cortisol with stress and that has been associated with weight gain.