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A Reminder of Why Diets Don’t Work

Although many disregulated eaters know that diets don’t work long-term, when they get frustrated that “normal” eating isn’t producing the weight loss they desire, they consider—and sometimes return to—dieting. So for those of you teeter-tottering on the brink, here’s more proof that restricting calories will hurt, not help, you.

In “Why crash diets call for some caution” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 3/26/14) Gabriella Boston gives prime time to several experts on the subject. Nutritionist Rebecca Mohning advises that “If you go on, say a 900-calorie-a-day diet, you will have a hard time getting the nutrients you need. Without the daily requirement of protein, you will break down your lean muscle mass.” The problem: Lean muscle mass burns calories, so the more we have of it, the more calories we burn. Mohning also reminds us that, as night follows day, lost weight after dieting will return—likely as fat, not muscle—decreasing, not increasing, calorie-burning efficiency. Exactly what you don’t want to happen, right?

Moreover, eating less lowers the body’s basil metabolic rate (BMR), the energy needed to maintain bodily functions. Says Scott Kahan, MD, “Whenever you lose weight, whether intentionally or not, your BMR goes down.” Age affects BMR as does gender, height, weight and genetics, which is why you can’t compare your eating and weight-loss efforts with anyone else’s. (Where’ve you heard that before?) We all have different genetic loading. By the way, after age 25, our BMR decreases by “2% or more per decade,” so you’re not crazy in thinking that it’s harder to lose weight as you get older.

According to the article, if you’ve been dieting for ages—even if you used to restrict calories earlier in life—you probably have altered your BMR. In which case, you either can feel hopeless and uselessly blame yourself or accept that this is where you are now and problem solve ways to boost your BMR. Toward this end, there may be some scientific promise in green tea and spices like cayenne pepper, but experts caution that their BMR-boosting powers are small.

Nutritionist Danielle Omar advises, “The only real solution is to put on muscle,” which is why we’re told repeatedly to exercise. Believe me, I don’t want to be yet one more nagging voice, but facts are facts. It is difficult to take weight off as you age, especially if you’ve been a chronic dieter, but the way to turn around the situation is not to regress to behaviors which caused the problem in the first place. Try this: every time you have a non-hunger urge to eat, instead, move your body for ten minutes.