Why Do Most Diets Fail?

How To Lose Weight And Keep It Off

New Year DietTomorrow is the official start of another dieting season. Millions of Americans will be making a New Year’s Resolution to lose weight. The top three reasons for these weight loss resolutions are:

1)    Reduce disease risk (73%). After all, we are being told those excess pounds increase our risk of diabetes, heart disease, cancer, and just about every other disease known to man.

2)    Improve self-esteem (61%). Some of this may be due to the social stigma associated with obesity, but many people simply want to improve the image they see in the mirror every morning when they get out of the shower.

3)    Boost energy (49%).

Those are all good reasons for losing weight. But before you make your New Year’s resolution to embark on another weight loss journey, you should ask yourself “Do weight loss diets work?” If you look at the statistics, they aren’t very encouraging:

1)    45 million Americans go on a weight loss diet every year.

·       50% go on fad diets.

·       They spend $33 billion on weight loss products.

·       90% regain almost all the weight. That’s called the yo-yo effect.

·       On average, Americans gain 11 pounds on every diet yo-yo.

o   They might as well have thrown that $33 billion to the wind.

2)    228,000 Americans get gastric bypass surgery.

·       80% regain almost all the weight.

o   Their digestion and their health will never be the same.

As if those statistics weren’t bad enough, the obesity epidemic gets worse year after year (see the graphic on the Obesity Epidemicright). Americans keep getting fatter. What we are doing clearly isn’t working.

You are probably saying to yourself: “I know that, but this year I’m going to try a new diet.” As the saying goes “Hope springs eternal in the human breast”, but is it realistic to think this time will be different?

Let me share a quote from a book and TV series called “The Weight Of the Nation” by John Hoffman & Dr. Judith Salerno”:

“First we blamed fat – low fat diets didn’t work! Then we blamed carbs, eggs, red meat, dairy, white flour, sugar, juices, sodas, high-fructose corn syrup, & partially hydrogenated fats. One by one, we replaced the evil food du jour…and watched our collective waistlines grow.”

In other words, they are saying it’s not just low-fat diets that don’t work. None of the popular diets work long term. I come across lots of people who tell me the Atkins weight-loss diet works best for them. That would be convincing if they were slender, but they aren’t! They gained it all back and then some. Now that the keto diet has been around for a few years, I am starting to see the same pattern there as well.

Clearly, the problem isn’t losing the weight. Any diet can help you lose weight. The problem is keeping the weight off. Let’s look at why this is.

Why Do Most Diets Fail?

WhyTo understand the answer to this question, let’s start with another quote from “The Weight Of the Nation”: “Our bodies were designed to store fat in times of plenty and retain fat in times of famine”

Essentially, the authors were saying when our ancestors were hunters and gatherers, there were times when food was abundant, and times when food was scarce. In order to survive, our bodies had to store energy in its most efficient form when food was abundant and hold on to those energy stores as long as possible when food was scarce.

Fat provides more than twice as many calories per gram as either carbohydrate or protein. Additionally, our ability to store carbohydrate is limited. And we don’t really have protein stores. All the proteins in our body have essential functions. However, our ability to store fat is unlimited. Now you understand why fat is the preferred energy store in times of plenty and our bodies try to hold on to it as long as possible in times of famine.

With that perspective in mind, there are three reasons why most diets fail:

1)    Most dieters are looking for rapid weight loss (at least 2-5 pounds/week). That is a problem because “Our bodies were designed to…retain fat in times of famine”. When we lose weight quickly, our bodies interpret that as famine. Our bodies respond by decreasing our metabolic rate so we can hold on to those fat stores.

The solution to this problem is to set more reasonable weight loss goals. If we keep the rate of weight loss in the 1-2 pound/week range (0.5-1 pounds/week is even better), we can largely avoid this famine response. You should ask yourself, “What’s the rush?” After all, the average American only gains 1-2 pounds/year. Why do we need to get rid of that excess weight in just a few weeks?

2)    Most dieters are looking for significant weight loss (more than 20 pounds). That is a problem because our bodies are designed to retain fat stores, not protein stores. When our bodies sense a famine they burn our protein stores (lean muscle mass) to spare as much of our fat stores as possible. The longer the diet (famine) lasts, the more muscle mass we lose.

That’s a problem because muscle burns calories much faster than fat. The more muscle we lose, the more our metabolic rate decreases. It gets harder and harder to lose weight, and eventually we reach a plateau. Most people get discouraged at that point and go off their diet.

That’s where the other part of the quote from “The Weight Of The Nation” kicks in: “Our bodies are Yo-Yo with Boydesigned to store fat in times of plenty”. Once again, it is fat we store, not protein. Most people never regain the protein stores they lost, so their metabolic rate remains low. They regain most of the weight they lost, and then some. This is the origin of the yo-yo effect.

There are two solutions to this problem:

·       Increase your resistance exercise and your intake of protein with high levels of the essential amino acid leucine. I have covered this in a previous issue of “Health Tips From The Professor”.

·       Set more reasonable weight loss goals. It is possible to lose more than 20 pounds without losing muscle mass. We just need to think in terms of reaching those weight loss goals in years rather than in months. Once again, remember it took us years to gain the weight. Why not think in terms of years to lose the weight?

3)    Most dieters think in terms of diets rather than lifestyle change. Diets have an expiration date. Then most people just drift back to “the way they really live”. Lifestyle change, on the other hand, is permanent. Once we change to a healthier lifestyle, we no longer need to focus on weight loss. The weight comes off automatically.

To better understand the power of lifestyle change let’s look at something called “The National Weight Control Registry”.

How To Lose Weight And Keep It Off

Happy woman on scaleRather than focus on the abysmal statistics for long-term weight loss, doctors Rena Hill and James O Wing decided to focus on the characteristic of people who manage to keep their weight off. They founded something called “The National Weight Control Registry” and invited people who were successful at keeping the weight off to participate in their program.

Currently, the National Weight Control Registry is tracking over 10,000 individuals who have lost 30 pounds or more and have kept it off for long periods of time. They use detailed questionnaires and annual follow-up surveys to study the behavioral and psychological characteristics and the strategies of weight loss maintainers.

When you look at how they lost weight, they are a very diverse group:

·       They lost weight on every possible diet – from vegan to keto to just plain crazy.

·       50% lost weight on commercial diet programs. 50% lost weight on their own.

·       Some lost weight quickly. Some lost weight slowly.

When you look at weight maintenance, you realize that the dismal weight maintenance statistics don’t have to apply to you. The good news is:

·       On average, people in The National Weight Control Registry have lost 66 pounds and have kept it off for 5 years or more.

·       12-14% of them have maintained a weight loss of 100 pounds or more for 5 or more years.

·       Even better, once they maintained their weight loss for 2-5 years, it became easy.

They no longer had to battle hunger and a sluggish metabolism. They no longer had to think about the lifestyle changes they were trying to maintain. Their new lifestyle became what they did automatically, without even thinking about it. Their weight loss had become permanent.

By now, you are probably wondering how they do it. Here are the top 7 characteristics of those who are successfulhealthy living at keeping the weight off:

1)    They consumed reduced calorie, low-fat, healthy diets.

2)    They had internalized their eating patterns. It had become how they ate every day without even thinking about it.

3)    They monitored their weight regularly. This allowed them to make adjustments whenever they saw their weight start to creep up.

4)    They ate breakfast on a regular basis.

5)    They got lots of exercise (on average, about 1 hour/day).

6)    They watched less than 10 hours of TV/week. If you were wondering where you would find the time to exercise an hour/day, this is probably your answer.

7)    They were consistent. They had no planned “cheat days”. This doesn’t mean they were purists. They still allowed themselves to eat some of their favorite unhealthy foods on an occasional basis. They just didn’t set aside regular times when they planned to “pig out”.

There was one other interesting observation from this study:

·       Those who used meal replacement shakes as part of their weight loss, focused more on diet and included meal replacement shakes as part of their maintenance program.

·       Those who lost weight on their own, also followed healthy eating habits, but put a bit more emphasis on exercise to keep themselves on track.

·       Both approaches were effective.

The take-home message of the National Weight Control Registry is clear. There is no magic diet that guarantees you will keep the weight off. The “secret” to keeping the weight off is a healthy eating pattern and a healthy lifestyle.

In short, if your resolution is to lose weight next year, don’t focus on the diet you will follow to lose the weight. Instead, focus on the healthy lifestyle you will follow to keep the weight off.

Of course, you will be most successful if the diet you are following to lose weight incorporates the healthy lifestyle you plan to follow to maintain your weight loss.

What Role Do Habits Play In Weight Loss?

Habits-Old-vs-NewFinally, I would like to share a recent study (G Cleo et al, International Journal of Obesity, 43: 374-383, 2019) that puts the whole issue of weight loss and weight maintenance in a different perspective. This study looked at the role that habits play in weight loss.

In short, the study enrolled 130 participants who wanted to lose weight. All the participants were told this was a weight loss study, but none of the participants were given detailed diet and exercise recommendations to follow. The study had a 12-week intervention phase followed by a 12-month follow-up phase. The participants were divided into three groups.

1)    Group 1 received no advice during the intervention phase. This was the control group.

2)    Group 2 focused on breaking old habits. During the intervention phase they were sent daily tests suggesting new habit patterns. These were suggestions like “Drive a different route to work today”. None of the texts had anything to do with diet or lifestyle.

3)    Group 3 focused on creating new healthy habits. They were given a list of 10 healthy habits. During the intervention phase they were asked to log how many of these habits they implemented each day. The 10 healthy habits were:

#1: Keep to a daily meal routine.

#2: Choose reduced fat versions of foods.

#3: Walk off the weight (aim for 10,000 steps/day).

#4: Pack a healthy snack (Choose healthy options such as fruits, nuts, or low-fat yogurt).

#5: Read labels.

#6: Be cautious with your portions.

#7: Break up your sitting time (Stand for 10 minutes every hour).

#8: Think about your drinks (Choose water instead of sodas and fruit juices).

#9: Focus on your food (Slow down. Don’t eat while watching TV).

#10: Don’t forget your 5 servings of fruits and vegetables a day.

The results were:

·       People in both habit change groups lost significantly more weight than people in the control group.

·       People in the habit change groups continued to lose weight for 12 months after the intervention ended.

·       Weight loss was essentially identical in the two habit change groups.

The last observation is particularly interesting. Remember that one of the habit change groups was simply focused on breaking old habits, yet people in this group did just as well as people who were taught healthy lifestyle habits. This implies that people already know about healthy lifestyle habits. They just don’t know how to break their old habits. Once they become comfortable breaking old habits, they find it easy to adopt healthier lifestyle habits.

In short, change your habits, change your lifestyle. Change your lifestyle, control your weight.

What Does This Mean For You?

why-do-most-dirts-failI covered a lot of information in this article. Let me sum it up by giving you my top 10 tips for losing weight and keeping it off.

1)    You don’t need to achieve your “ideal weight”. Losing 5-10% of your body weight may be enough.

2)    Ditch diets. Focus on lifestyle change.

3)    Slow and steady wins the day.

4)    Change your habits, change your weight.

5)    Long-term weight loss is possible.

6)    Low-fat, healthy eating patterns are best.

7)    Once you have internalized healthy habits, they become automatic.

8)    If you stick with a healthy lifestyle long enough, keeping the weight off becomes easy.

9)    Focus on all the healthy food choices you have, not what you have to give up. There is a cornucopia of great tasting, healthy foods to choose from.

10)  Never say never. Allow yourself to enjoy your old favorite foods on occasion. Just don’t make it a habit.

The Bottom Line

I cover a lot of information in this article. Let me sum it up by giving you my top 10 tips for losing weight and keeping it off.

1)    You don’t need to achieve your “ideal weight”. Losing 5-10% of your body weight may be enough.

2)    Ditch diets. Focus on lifestyle change.

3)    Slow and steady wins the day.

4)    Change your habits, change your weight.

5)    Long-term weight loss is possible.

6)    Low-fat, healthy eating patterns are best.

7)    Once you have internalized healthy habits, they become automatic.

8)    If you stick with a healthy lifestyle long enough, keeping the weight off becomes easy.

9)    Focus on all the healthy food choices you have, not what you have to give up. There is a cornucopia of great tasting, healthy foods to choose from.

10)  Never say never. Allow yourself to enjoy your old favorite foods on occasion. Just don’t make it a habit.

For more details on how to lose weight and keep it off, read the article above. In fact, if you plan to lose weight in the coming year, you should really read this article first.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.



Can Chocolate Help You Lose Weight?

A Candy a Day Keeps The Weight Away?

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

chocolateSometimes you come across news that just seems too good to be true. The recent headlines saying that you can lose weight just by eating chocolate are a perfect example. Your first reaction when you heard that was probably “Sure, when pigs fly!”

But, it’s such an enticing idea – one might even say a deliciously enticing idea. And, in today’s world enticing ideas like this quickly gain a life of their own. Two popular books have been written on the subject. Chocolate diet plans are springing up right and left. A quick scan of the internet even revealed a web site saying that by investing a mere $1,250 in a training course you could become a “Certified Chocolate Weight Loss Coach” earning $50,000/year.

If you like chocolate as much as most people you are probably wondering could it just possibly be true?

Can Eating Chocolate Help You Lose Weight?

The idea that chocolate could help you lose weight does have some support. There are actually three published clinical studies suggesting that chocolate consumption is associated with lower weight (European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 62: 247-253, 2008; Nutrition Research, 31: 122-130, 2011; Archives of Internal Medicine, 172: 519-521, 2012).

While that sounds pretty impressive, they were all cross-sectional studies. That means they looked at a cross section of the population and compared chocolate intake with BMI (a measure of obesity). Cross sectional studies have a couple of very important limitations:

1)    Cross sectional studies merely measure associations. They don’t prove cause and effect. Was it the chocolate that caused the lower weight, or was it something else that those populations were doing? We don’t really know.

2)    Cross sectional studies don’t tell us why an association occurs. In many ways this is the old chicken and egg conundrum. Which comes first? In this case the question is whether the people in the studies became obese because they ate less chocolate – or did they eat less chocolate because they were obese and were trying to control their calories? Again, we have no way of knowing.

If Pigs Could Only Fly

If Pigs Could FlyChocolate is relatively rich in fat and high in calories. It’s not your typical diet food. On the surface it seems fairly implausible that eating chocolate could actually help you lose weight.

Scientists love to poke holes in implausible hypotheses, so it is no surprise that a recent study (PLOS ONE, 8(8) e70271) has poked some huge holes in the “chocolate causes weight loss” hypothesis.

This study analyzed data from over 12,000 participants in the Atherosclerosis Risk in Community (ARIC) Study. This was also a cross sectional study, but it was a prospective cross sectional study (That’s just a fancy scientific term which means that the study followed a cross section of the population over time, rather than just asking what that population group looked like at a single time point).

The authors of the study assessed frequency of chocolate intake and weight for each individual in the study at two separate time points 6 years apart. The results were very interesting:

  • When they looked at a cross section of the population at either time point, their results were the same as the previous three studies – namely those who consumed the most chocolate weighed less. So the data are pretty consistent. Overweight people consume less chocolate. But, that still doesn’t tell us why they consume less chocolate.
  • However, when they followed the individuals in the study over 6 years, those who consumed the most chocolate gained the most weight. The chocolate eaters were skinnier than the non-chocolate eaters at the beginning of the study, but they gained more weight as the study progressed. And, the more chocolate they consumed the more weight they gained over the next 6 years. [No surprise here. Calories still count.]
  • When they specifically looked at the population who had developed an obesity related illness between the first and second time point, they found that by the end of the study those participants had:

– Decreased chocolate intake by 37%

– Decreased fat intake by 4.5%

– Increased fruit intake by 20%

– Increased vegetable intake by 17%

  • In short, this study is more consistent with the “obesity causes reduced chocolate intake” model than the “reduced chocolate intake causes obesity” model. Simply put, if you are trying to lose weight, sweets like chocolate are probably among the first things to go.

Of course, even prospective cross sectional studies have their limitations. Double blind, placebo controlled studies are clearly needed to resolve this question. The only published study of this type has reported a slight weight gain associated 25 g/day of dark chocolate, but the study was too small and too short in duration to draw firm conclusions.

In summary, more studies are needed, but the current evidence does not support the “miracle diet food” claims for chocolate.

The Bottom Line:

1)    Pigs still haven’t learned how to fly. As enticing as it may sound, the weight of current evidence does not support the claims that chocolate is a miracle diet food or that eating chocolate every day is a sensible strategy for losing weight.

2)    On the other hand, dark chocolate is probably one of the healthier dessert foods. There is no reason not to enjoy an occasional bite of chocolate as part of a healthy, calorie-controlled diet.

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.

Are Diet Pills Safe?

Another Diet Pill Bites the Dust

Author: Dr. Stephen Chaney

New Year DietThe New Year is upon us, and everyone is looking for an easy way to lose weight.

Let’s face it. Losing weight is difficult. You have to give up your favorite foods. You’re often hungry and cranky. You have to change your lifestyle. And did I mention that you might need to put on your running shoes and go for a run or, heaven forbid, actually go to the gym.

It’s so much easier to take one of those diet pills. You know the ones I’m talking about. They promise to give you energyburn the fatsuppress your appetite. All you need to do is take one of those little pills every day and, voila, you’re ready to try on that bikini.

It all sounds great. But are those diet pills really safe? A few weeks ago I shared with you that the experts have warned against the use of fat burning sports supplements. They consider them unsafe. Now it’s time to turn our attention to the fat burning diet pills.

Are Diet Pills Safe?

Lots of diet pills have come and gone over the years. Some have just faded away because they didn’t work. They didn’t live up to their claims. Others have been withdrawn from the market by regulatory agencies because they were dangerous or actually killed people- Ma huang and Fen-Phen come to mind, but there have been many others.

And now it looks like yet another diet pill, one called Dexaprine, may have the same fate.

The ads make it sound like a wonder pill.

  • “With one little change…you could feel energy all day long”
  • “With one little change…you can suppress your insatiable appetite”
  • “You can try another unsuccessful diet without it, but when you’re ready…the ultimate fat burner will be waiting for you with open arms.”

The Dark Side

And yet, like most diet pills, it also has a dark side. Side effects include insomnia, sweating, heart palpitations and high blood pressure. As if that weren’t bad enough, the supplement manufacturer that makes Dexaprine conducts no clinical studies on their products, so they have no idea whether their product is safe or not.

And, it appears that it may not be safe. Dutch authorities banned Dexaprine in August after reports of 11 adverse reactions associated with Dexaprine use in Holland since March of this year, including hospitalizations and severe heart problems. British authorizes followed suit the next day and issued a warning against use of “fat burner” supplements in general. It’s probably just a matter of time before other governments step in and ban Dexaprine as well.

And, it’s not just Dexaprine. New diet pills hit the market almost every day. And, they all have those same “magical” claims.

The Only Safe Drug Is A New Drug

It reminds me of the wise advice that a physician colleague of mine gave to the medical students near the start of their first year. He told them “The only safe drug is a new drug”. He went on to say that he didn’t mean that new drugs were safer than the older drugs. It’s just that we don’t know all of their bad side effects until they’ve been on the market for a few years.

Diets pills are no different. They burst on the market full of promise. But, once they’ve been on the market for a year or two, reports of their bad side effects start to appear. We start to learn just how dangerous they are. And, one by one, they all bite the dust.

The Bottom Line

1)     There is no “Tooth Fairy”. There is no “Easter Bunny”. And, there is no magical pill that will SAFELY melt the pounds away. You simply don’t want to risk the diet pill solution – no matter how easy it sounds. No magical, “quick fix” diet solution is worth risking permanent heart damage – or worse.

2)     If you are fortunate to lose weight safely using one of those diet pills, you won’t have learned anything. You won’t have changed anything. The weight will come right back on.

3)     Permanent weight loss requires a permanent change to your lifestyle. Some of those changes will be difficult at first, but once those lifestyle changes become habits – once they become part of who you are, they will become easy.

You can achieve both the weight and the health you want!

These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This information is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.


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