The Rocky Marriage of Dieting and Weight Loss: Why We Gain Weight from Diets

Diets for most of us are all too familiar. You probably recall gorging on the weekend because you intended on starting a new diet that Monday. Then you would carefully plan what you wore, the time of day and go to the bathroom before stepping on the scale for your weekly weigh-in cringing and hoping it was good news.

I’ve been there, done that. But I have stopped doing this and I have stopped working with clients for weight loss. Yes, you read that correct. I don’t work with clients for weight loss. I work with clients instead on getting lots of energy and a healthier body that fights off disease for an active and long life.

The reason I don’t do weight loss is the evidence is clear, not fuzzy, but crystal clear that diets don’t work and worse than that they drain you financially, mentally, physically and you end up in most cases in worse health than you started. I am not exaggerating nor am I being harsh. We have the facts on diets. The problem is the facts don’t fit the story of our culture right now.

  The facts on diets don’t fit the stories in our culture right now. 

We are obsessed culturally with physical appearance and the hope that there is a diet or pill or surgery that will solve all our weight woes. I have held off on writing this post simply because I know many people will read it and disregard it.

All it takes is meeting one person who lost 12 pounds in just two weeks for our eyes to light up and think maybe this will work for me too. Let me give it a try. I urge you to read this FIRST and put off giving your time, money and energy to another hope that “this is the one.”

Here are five can’t ignore reasons that diets don’t work.


1. By losing and regaining weight repeatedly we become more resistant to weight loss and prone to weight gain.

UCLA researchers reviewed 31 long term studies on the effectiveness of dieting and concluded that dieting is a consistent predictor of weight gain—up to two-thirds of the people regained more weight than they lost. The studies these researchers looked at were not just any study. The researchers scrutinized which studies they would include. In other words, the studies did not have a large number of subjects drop out, the studies analyzed the data correctly, and the studies’ subjects followed the intended diet. These are all real problems with many studies that you see quoted in popular press with weight loss.

Often twins are used as subjects in research to look closer at the effect of genetics and environment. A study done in 2011 looked at 2,000 sets of twins (yes 4000 subjects) and followed them for 25 years. They looked at twin sets where one half of the twin set intentionally went on diets and the other twin half did not. The twin set that dieted were two to three times more likely to become overweight compared to their non dieting twin counterpart. They found the amount of weight gain increased with the number of diets the dieting twin half went on.

Then there is The Biggest Loser television show. During the show, contestants lose a massive amount of weight. So they must be doing something right?! Wrong! A study that followed 14 of The Biggest Loser contestants for six years after the show, all but one regained a bunch of weight after the show. The average weight gain was 70% of their weight loss back from the end of the show.

 All but one of The Biggest Loser contestants gained 70% of their weight back. 

And to make things worse, these contestants metabolic rate did not adapt back up to a more normal metabolism even after the six years of the study. Their metabolism was still low and was rated as abnormally low for their size (500 calories lower than normal calculations for their metabolism even considering their age). This abnormally low metabolism makes maintaining weight loss really tough.

When you lose muscle, keep in mind it burns 10 times more calories than your fat stores. You can start to see why this will make it a bunch harder to keep weight from being gained back. Thus your new body with less muscle on it and more fat is prone to weight gain.


2. Diets are only good for one-night stances or short-term relationships.

When you are in a healthy relationship with another person each partner is helped by the union of the two and neither takes advantage of the other. Well, in the case of diets and weight loss the marriage is rocky.

The dieting industry makes billions every year off people losing most their weight in the first few weeks and if they can keep with it some more comes off in the next few months, not a lot but some. But past a couple months the results are dismal. Past a year, well, things get really bad.

The dieting industry is biased towards making money and getting short-term results. They are not interested in long-term results. This relationship works for them.  People lose and are happy in the first weeks after starting, then they gradually regain. They then decide to break up, end it for a while. Then at some point in the future they gain the courage to try the diet route again thinking they just need more motivation. This isn’t true. And the dieting industry is never held accountable for this.

 The dieting industry is happy – they make billions $$ and get repeat customers. 

The people on the diets are misled. They lose some weight right away. What they don’t focus on is that this weight is a mixture of fat and muscle, not all fat. People give them compliments, they buy a few new outfits. Life seems great.

Then things slow down and it gets harder til the weight loss stops altogether. Then self defeating thoughts, binges, and weight regain enter in.

The catch is now with the weight loss stopping and some of the weight lost creeping back on they feel and look different because they are gaining back fat and not getting back any muscle. Muscle burns metabolically at a much higher rate and helps you feel more energetic. What they don’t realize is it will be harder to lose weight again and easier to gain it.

This is far from a healthy relationship. The power in the relationship is definitely in the hands of the dieting industry.


3. Long term is not really long-term.

You might hear some quotes about weight loss long-term. Look closely at the fine print. Most the time long term means six months. Occasionally you will find a year as what is meant by long-term.

The definition used by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology is individuals who have intentionally lost at least 10% of their body weight and kept it off at least one year. I am not in total agreement with this definition, but it is a benchmark being used for defining long-term weight loss success.

I just don’t see how this is helping. Long-term to me is more like five years and even ten years would be closer to something to aim for. I want people to be able to invest in a solution that they are confident will help them be successful with their health for ten years or more.


4. Calories in, calories out is not true like we have thought all along.

The idea behind this belief is that if you want to lose weight, simply adjust down your calories or become more active so you burn more calories. Then you will lose weight. It is that simple! Not! This is far from simple.

Recall the number 3500. This is supposed to be the magic number for a pound of fat. So if you adjust your calories in and calories burned down by 3500 calories, then you will lose a pound on the scale. That is what we have been told.

The problem with this is different foods have different effects on our bodies and go through different pathways in our bodies before they are turned into energy. Just counting calories is not the whole story.

Researchers at the University of North Caroline looked at American’s eating habits from surveys done on large groups of people with the first survey from 1977 and the last one done in 2006. Over this nearly 30-year period, American’s calories on average increased 570 calories per day.

Lets take the additional 570 calories per day we ate MORE from 1997 to 2006, and calculate the added calories for those ten years and see what should happen. So ten years with 365 days a year adds up to over 2 million extra calories and if you divide it by the 3500 calories supposedly in one pound, that means the average American should have gained 594 pounds during that last ten years of the survey period.

 570 more calories per day which should mean 594 pounds gained per person in ten years. 

 Sound a little ridiculous? Yes, but these are the math calculations we have been told to use and that are supposedly how our bodies metabolize calories. No, it is far more complex than that. We don’t fully understand it. Our bodies are not math equations. And I am very thankful that our bodies do not follow the 3500 calories for each pound of fat gained or lost. Five hundred and ninety four pounds is a lot of extra weight to put on.


5. Our bodies have biological defenses to prevent losing weight.

We don’t know all the answers to what happens to food in your body. What we do know though is that your body has the ability to without your permission go into resistance mode. Resistance mode is where it starts to conserve calories and byproducts of your pathways. Essentially it becomes more efficient at the work it has to do. It is like instead of taking 40 minutes to get from point A to point B it finds a way to do it in 20 minutes.

This was a good thing years ago, really thousands of years ago when food was scarce. People who survived harsh winters had good resistance systems. They could operate well on a low number of calories. Those that had higher metabolisms that did not adjust down in tough times would not make it through the winters.

Back to what happens now. Once your body senses you are going to cut back on calories, it will turn on this resistance mode.


 Your body’s resistance mode kicks in once you start to cut back on calories. 

The thing is your body doesn’t know you are voluntarily restricting your food intake. This shifting into primal survival mode is an automatic response to restricting calories. This means your metabolism slows down and food cravings escalate.

And with each restriction period (or diet), the body learns and adapts, resulting in rebound weight gain. Consequently, many people feel like they are a failure—but it is dieting that has failed them, and contributed to the weight gain process.

If you are still having doubts about dieting leading to weight gain, this last point on liposuction will convince you. Liposuction is the most popular surgery with more than 450,000 operations performed a year. I know you are wondering whether the fat comes back. Yes, it does.

A study done by the University of Colorado randomly assigned overweight, non-obese women to have liposuction on their thighs and lower abdomen or to not have any liposuction done. So those who turned down the surgery were the control group.

What the researchers found was all the fat removed by surgery came back in a year. The body was “defending” it’s fat. So if you lose weight via surgery or dieting, it comes back. We don’t have all the answers, but we do know the body has multiple ways to defend its fat stores.

I hope I haven’t put you into a deep depression about your weight, but instead you now understand why diets lead to weight gain and it isn’t your fault.

I see so many people that have troubled pasts with diets. This is also why when I work with people I don’t help them lose weight. Instead, I help people improve their health and make it stick not for six months or a year, but for many years. That is my aim.

If you want to know how to go about getting lasting changes in your health, read my blog post Brain Change Before Body Change: Lower Your Weight and Improve Your Health Long Term.

I am a mother of 4, active in my church and community, and passionate about making food food fun, high energy and fascinating. I have no extra time to be slaving away in the kitchen or going to special markets for unusual ingredients and I doubt you do either. I will never ask you to eat food you don’t love. Read more >>

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