Why Do Most Weight Loss “Diets” Fail?
We are obviously not winning the war on obesity in the US and with the current obesity trends, up to 51% of Americans will be obese or severely obese by 20301. Of the 51% obese – it is projected that 11% will be severely obese which is defined as having a BMI higher than 40. It might be noted, in the 1970’s, severe obesity was extremely rare but has been increasing at a much a faster rate than obesity rates and there is no evidence of this trend slowing.1 The cost of our obesity crisis to our healthcare system is projected to be as high as $147 billion per year or roughly 9% of annual medical expenditures.1
Yet, we spend over $60 billion per year on weight loss diets and programs like Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, MediFast and NutriSystem. Why are they not working? Is there something in the water??? At this point it is hard to find evidence as to the success of these programs due to lack of peer-reviewed studies however it has been shown that an estimated 90% of dieters who lose 25 pounds regain the weight within 2 years. Only 1 in 50 dieters manage to keep the weight off for 7 years.
Perhaps the number one reason these diets and programs fail is because they are based on the calorie deficient model. A recent quote from an article on the most effective diets for weight loss, the author, K. Aleisha Fetters stated, “if you are consuming fewer calories than you are burning per day, you are going to lose weight.”3 But is that true in all cases? Sure, I see this with younger clients, people who are active and especially with men. They eat less calories, exercise more and they lose weight. Whew, that was easy! If only it was that easy.
But looking at the statistics it is obvious that these programs are not working for those who are struggling to lose weight or to just maintain their weight. Most of my clients who are middle aged women are in this boat and not only struggle to lose weight but have lost that 20-30 pounds many times over going on these programs or even more calorie-restrictive diets. All thinking that if I just cut my calorie down and exercise more….
Why isn’t this simple weight loss theory working for them? Research is now showing that going on low calorie diet (less than 1200) and then gaining the weight back or what is called “yo-yo” dieting eventually causes the body to excessively store fat for that “rainy day” or for when you go back on that starvation diet or back to over exercising again. Eventually this leads to fat metabolism hormone imbalances – creating the environment that favors fat storage not fat burning.
Compound this with menopause, life stresses and nutritional deficiencies – you have the trifecta of fat storage and a slower metabolism.
We often blame that slower metabolism on thyroid hormone conditions or under active thyroid and maybe even get our doctor to prescribe hypothyroid medications. In most cases or what I see in my practice, this is not the underlying cause of weight gain but more of an imbalance in fat metabolism hormones such as insulin, cortisol and for some leptin.
Not only are these diet programs restrictive in calories, they usually involve cutting or close to the elimination of a macronutrient – protein, fat or carbohydrates. Some actually cut down two of the major macronutrients as seen in the China Study diet that restricts protein and fat. Of course, if you eliminate or greatly reduce a macronutrient, you will be eating less calories. This is especially true with carbohydrates which traditionally are 50% or more of the standard American diet (SAD).
So what happens when we eliminate or greatly reduce a macronutrient? First, it leads to nutrient deficiencies! Not just vitamins and minerals but dietary fat and protein contain essential nutrients that our bodies needs and cannot produce on its own. For instance, essential fatty acids, i.e. omega-3, omega-6, are essential for the body and are needed for the production of hormones that help to regulate our bodies. And, there are essential amino acids (protein building blocks) that our bodies needs to produce just about everything our bodies needs including energy, immune support and of course bone and muscle.
In addition, a diet that restricts a macronutrient is not sustainable. We just cannot stay on that type of diet for the long term. Often people will go on the Atkins diet which is a very carbohydrate restrictive dietary plan; they will lose weight but they usually gain the weight back when they go back to their normal dietary habits.
To quote one of the leader in obesity research, Dr. Tim Church, MD, MPH, Ph.D.,“If you can’t eat a certain way for the rest of your life, that diet is an exercise in futility.”
Then there is the genetic involvement – certain variances in our genes can actually affect the way that we metabolize starch or carbohydrates causing weight gain. For those with this genetic variance (AMY1), a vegan diet, high carbohydrate or starchy diet like seen with Pritikin, Ornish or Esselstyn programs may actually lead to weight gain not loss. Research is now showing that people that lack copies of the amylase coding gene, AMY1 or who are low amylase producers have an increased risk for metabolic syndrome and obesity when they consume a high starch/carbohydrate diet.
To me, however the big million dollar question is, why did we gain weight in the first place?
For some of us it was too many cookies during the holidays or just not exercising enough. But for most of those that struggle with a 25 or more pounds of weight gain or just can’t seem to lose the weight – you have to find out the underlying cause of weight gain if you are going to be successful in losing weight.
The answer to the question of why we gained weight could be as simple as having a nutrient deficiency like iron anemia, hypothyroidism or deficiencies in B vitamins. Or, it can be the result of developing insulin resistance which lowers our bodies’ ability to efficiently metabolize carbohydrates eventually damaging our metabolism and possibly leading to metabolic syndrome.
Addressing metabolic issues must be addressed – have we developed insulin resistance, are their nutritional deficiencies or imbalances in fat metabolism hormones? Without addressing the underlying cause for our weight gain, this greatly lowers our success to achieve optimal health and a healthy weight.
That is why I became a metabolic balance® coach which is one of the few metabolic/weight loss programs that starts by addressing the underlying cause and works with clients to develop strategies for lasting lifestyle and dietary changes.
The metabolic balance ® program goes beyond looking at just a health history and uses blood values to determine a food plan that addresses the underlying cause of weight gain. That is what makes this program so unique. And, so different from the many diet and weight loss programs currently being offered in the United States. Join me or follow me on FaceBook to learn more.
- Finkelstein, et al “Obesity and Severe Obesity Forecasts Through 2030”, American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 2012