I have had several clients lately ask my opinion on all the different types of diets. Do they work? Would a person benefit from trying one, two or twelve of them? Hmmm, let me think… NO!
If you’ve ever tried losing weight before, you know just how many ”diets” are out there (way too many for my liking). There’s everything from the food specific diets such as the banana diet, the grapefruit diet and the cabbage soup diet to diets named after places such as South Beach, Mediterranean and Sonoma. Don’t forget the diets that are named after the people who created them like Atkins and the diets that are named after the theories behind them like the Blood Type, Body Type and the ADHD diet. There’s dangerous diets like extreme calorie restriction diets, extreme detox diets and the hCG diet. Then, as if that’s not enough, you have the diets that you know the very second you hear the name of them that they are a hoax…like the party girl diet and the cookie diet (don’t EVEN get me started on those two)! Where do they all come from? I’ll tell you.
The weight loss industry is reported as being a $55 billion dollar industry and Americans alone spend $40 million of the total. Still have questions on where all these diets come from? Greed. Now I’m not saying that all of them are garbage or that every person who has come up with and published a “diet” book is greedy. I am saying that there are people out there in the world who are greedy and know that you, I and the neighbor next door as well as the neighbor down the street want to lose weight and they are more than willing to be the one to take our money. They figure that if you’ve tried one diet, you’ll try another…and another…and another. Unfortunately, we are the ones who make them right time and time again. There are so many people looking for a magic pill, silver bullet and/or an easy way out that they just keep giving us another option to look over and take a whack at it with.
Now obviously, I have not read every diet book out there, and I’m not claiming that I have. Obviously I cannot even begin to say that I know and understand the components and claims of each diet plan out there and how they each act/react with the human body…especially when you start to factor in genetic disorders, thyroid issues, hormone imbalances, cancer and diseases of every shape and kind. What I am claiming is this:
If a nutrition plan, diet, food/menu plan or dietary program is not something that you can honestly see yourself doing for the rest of your life, it won’t work for you in the long run. Sure, you may lose 10, 20 or even 50 pounds on any given plan in the beginning but the minute your body adapts to it or you go off of it and return to your “normal” dietary intake, you’ll put it all back on and then some. Wanna know why?
The Human Body and Calorie Restriction
Your body has one goal each and every day and that is to keep you alive. There is a multitude of checks and balances that our bodies go through each and every day in order to assure that the goal is met. When you restrict your caloric intake, your body compensates by reducing your metabolic rate. Simply put, you burn less calories and therefore less stored fat as well. As if that’s not enough bad news, studies have shown that lipoprotein lipase (a fat storing enzyme) levels increase dramaticallywhen calories are restricted. While lipoprotein lipase levels are rising, your T3 (a thyroid hormone) levels plummet. Why is that a bad thing? Low levels of T3 slow metabolism which, you guessed it, aids in preserving stored body fat.
Going back to your body’s primary focus of keeping you alive every day, the whole metabolic slowing process makes a lot of sense. The slower your metabolism, the less calories you burn. The less calories you burn, the longer your stored energy (fat) will keep you alive. The longer you’re alive, the greater your odds that the famine will end, the crisis will be be averted, the circumstances surrounding your current unfortunate situation will change and food will be found therefore avoiding death. Chalk one up for your body for being smarter than you, huh?
The picture above depicts what happens to the average American when they decide to go on a diet. You start out and all seems well, but unbeknown to you, your metabolism slows down so that after the initial weight loss in the beginning you don’t notice much change. You hit a plateau, because your body has slowed your metabolism to the point that it needs to in order to keep you alive on the amount of calories you’re giving it, and you get frustrated. You start thinking that if all this sacrifice isn’t getting you any results anyway, why should you continue? You finally decide that the diet plan has become unbearable and you cave in to your ”normal” eating habits. Inside your body, your lipoprotein lipase levels remain elevated and your metabolic rate stays suppressed. This causes that ten pounds you lost to find it’s way back home in a hurry, and not only does the ten pounds find it’s way back into the pockets of your jeans, it brings a few friends home to play too! Your body looks at it like a life insurance policy in case another famine or crisis comes your way. In other words, the rate of fat storage is increased after a period of calorie restriction (a.k.a. dieting) and it stays that way until your pre-diet level of body fat is re-established.
In addition to that basket of roses, you lose lean muscle mass while your calories are restricted as well. Loss of lean muscle mass further supresses your metabolism and negatively affects the shape, tone, and functionality of your body. Muscle loss resulting from restrictive dieting can be as high as 40-50% of the total amount of weight lost. With this muscle to fat loss ratio, body composition only improves slightly (if at all) while on any given calorie restrictive diet and when said diet ends and the fat returns but the muscle doesn’t, your body composition is actually worse. In this vicious calorie restricting, dieting cycle you go from being unhappy with yourself because you feel you are fat and flabby, to being less fat but more flabby due to loss of muscle mass and then you march onward to being fatter and flabbier than you were to begin with. Awesome huh? Not.
The Real Answer (According to Me)
If you want to lose weight (and keep it off for good), you’ll need some discipline, period. Discipline is a common theme, whether you’re talking about following a diet plan or initiating a healthy lifestyle. The difference is in how you choose to apply it. When you’re dieting, there is almost always a “Foods That Can Be Eaten” and a ”Foods That Can’t be Eaten” list, meaning you must completely give up certain foods and eating habits. Instead of developing a lifetime sustaining and moderate approach to food, you must learn to exercise absolute discipline in regards to certain foods, cutting them out completely. When you are forbidden to eat something, what is it that you crave? To be completely honest with you, if this approach actually worked for most people, there wouldn’t be an obesity epidemic across America.
Sure, most anyone can lose weight in the short term, but very few people keep the weight off for even a year, let alone permanently. For this reason alone, a healthy lifestyle is much more beneficial, in the short term as well as the long run, than any diet ever will be. It is important for you to understand that most diet plans, if you follow them to the letter, will result in weight loss (especially in the beginning phases of the plan). In fact, eating almost anything drastically different from what you normally eat over the course of a few weeks to a month or so will result in temporary weight loss. Unfortunately, like we talked about earlier, your body adapts to the new diet with a slower metabolism and, as I explained above, it’s all downhill from there. No good.
It must therefore be realized that diet plans in general are erronius attempts at a “quick fix” to a problem that, simply put, has none. It is a key step in learning how to stay healthy. Being healthy isn’t about being able to discipline ourselves toward or away from certain foods for a certain space of time in order to see a certain number on the scale or the tag in your pants. It is about being disciplined enough to take on a long-term strategy for living healthy for the rest of our lives. In other words, to get and stay healthy, to get the long term changes to your waistline you desire, you must make long term changes to the way you live.