Karen's Blogs

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Research Explains Why Diets Fail

I rarely blog on weight loss because obsession with a number on the scale or clothing size is unhealthy, and a goal of shedding pounds is not as effective in changing eating habits as a focus on fitness and health. However, many of you still struggle with whether or not to diet and may need a bit more convincing that diets really don’t work long term.

Toward that end, I was delighted to read Jane Brody’s, “Why Even the Most Resolute Dieters Fail” (Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 9/27/11) which explains what goes wrong with diets and how to shed pounds that stay shed. Here’s her summary of research on the highly complex subject of weight loss as published in The Lancet. She observes that "…lasting weight loss takes a long time to achieve“ and “gradual weight loss is nearly always more effective because it allows the new eating and exercise habits to become a lasting lifestyle.” So, for those of you who are frustrated and impatient to see results, be glad they’re happening slowly. That means that change is more likely to be permanent.

Brody adds that “…the same increase in calories will result in more pounds gained by a heavier person than by a lean one—and a greater proportion of the weight gained by the heavier person will be body fat. This happens because lean tissue (muscles, bones and organs) uses more calories than the same weight of fat.” As you can see, you’re not crazy when you notice that you may eat the same amount—or less—than leaner people but still struggle with weight. Metabolisms differ.

For those of you who’ve spent a lifetime dieting and regaining weight, it’s not your fault. Explains Brody: “…typical weight-loss programs result in significant losses over a period of six to eight months, followed by a gradual weight regain in the years that follow.” Too bad diet plans and programs don’t tell you this long-known fact. Now that you do know the outcome, it’s time to banish all thoughts of dieting. Brody goes on to describe why you reach a weight plateau: “…heavier people burn more calories in an equivalent amount of exercise [than lean people], but as their weight drops, the number of calories used in exercise does too.” Remember this fact when you reach a plateau and significant weight loss slows or comes to a halt. Don’t stop practicing positive eating behaviors and exercise because you’re frustrated and expect pounds to drop at the same rate as before. Now you know that even through practicing “normal” eating behaviors and exercise, weight loss gradually slows down. The key to success is to continue them anyway because you’re moving in the right direction which eventually will bring you to reaching your goals. There is no more effective alternative!

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