About 45 million Americans start a new diet each year, for 95% of them the diet will fail. If you’re one of the 42 million in this situation understand you did not fail but the diet itself failed you. Most diet promises rapid weight loss using drastic measures. In our motivation we often fail to see how the drastic approach of the diet requirements are unrealistic for most of us. More importantly, it does not account for our bodies adaptation to weight loss. Evidently, the average time someone follows their new diet is about 1-3 months. This is also the time it takes most of our bodies weight loss adaptation to truly kick in. Diets fail people because they have a one size fits all approach, which does not work for the complexity of obesity. It was recently said “we always praise the miracle of a diet when it works but when it fails it somehow becomes our fault”. I found this statement very insightful, if we glorify a diet when it works we should also shame it when it fails, not ourselves. The other danger of dieting is the harm it can cause, most people have heard of the effects of yo-yo dieting.
When someone goes from one restrictive diet to the next it really damages our metabolism. In the end the person will require very little calories to maintain their current weight and be very hungry due to hormonal changes. When our body thinks we’re starving (with drastic weight loss) it will increase the production of ghrelin making you more hungry. It will also decrease the production of leptin, making you feel less full. These changes in hormones don’t go back to normal after you stop the diet. Your body will also become more efficient, your muscle will learn to utilize less calories to perform the same tasks. In the end, if you go back to how you were eating before the diet, you will be more hungry and more efficient. This has the potential to cause weight gain past your original starting point.
Now it’s not all doom and gloom, there is a way to better our health and lose some weight. It will not however happen overnight or in a few months. Sustainable weight loss is achieved through life long behavior and food habit changes. It is very hard and challenging, food is such an integral part of our life and it’s everywhere. The key word is lifelong, any change you make must be permanent for the health benefit such as weight loss to be maintained. To be completely honest, for some who’s body adaptation to weight loss might be very strong, you may transform yourself and have amazing eating habits and exercise regime but will never achieve your desired weight goal. Research indicates sustainable long term weight loss via food and behavior change alone is about 3-5% of the person’s original body weight. Keep in mind most people as they implement change will lose more weight, but in the long run they will most likely gain some back. You might feel 3-5% seems like a very low number, this represents how multi factorial obesity is, it is not about eating less and moving more.
Focusing on health is such a crucial approach, you should be proud of every change you make. Even small changes make big impact on our health, research indicates 5-10% weight loss has amazing health benefits. Always celebrate your victories, even if you make changes and don’t lose weight or only lose a few pounds that’s still an accomplishment. You still improved your health via behavior change; you might be feeling more energized or you might be sleeping better. Also look back at the past years, had you been slowly gaining weight? In that case weight maintenance is a step in the right direction. Most of us seek rapid result, the sad truth is weight loss and health improvement does not work that way. Look back on your life, you’ll see that all great things are earned through patience. For example; you have to wait months to meet your baby and that’s if you got pregnant right away! Most of us search for decades to find our husband/wife. Approach health with that same mentality, it will be hard, there will be heartache, it’ll be worth it in the end. Most of all if you rush into it you might end up with some regrets.
Treatment for obesity such as pharmacotherapy or bariatric surgery are often seen as an easy solution. This is wrong, both those approach are very difficult and still require lifelong lifestyle changes. Both come with many side effects that can be life threatening but they can also be life saving. If you feel you’ve done all you can with behavior and food habit changes but are still concern for your health. These might be great options for you, ask your doctor about it. Don’t be ashamed, you did not fail, obesity is a complex chronic disease and you should be proud to have the courage to seek out treatment to improve your health.