If we agree that the point of going on a diet is to lose fat and to keep it off, then it’s pretty obvious that diets only address one part of the equation (I’ll go into the difference between fat loss and weight loss in an upcoming blog entry but for the moment, I’ll just call it weight loss). That’s why they’re called yo-yo diets; the weight comes off and it goes straight back on, often with a vengeance.
The dieting industry should be renamed the “The Weight Cycling Industry” because that’s all it’s good for – taking weight off and putting it back on in order to perpetuate an endless cycle aimed at selling the latest hyped-up wonder diet, fad fast or super-effective (but useless) pill, all promising dramatic results, usually with minimal effort and even less discomfort or inconvenience. Sooner or later, the industry is standing by with credit card readers in hand to offer desperate dieters the next best thing since the last best thing.
Unfortunately, it’s all a load of rubbish because the human body doesn’t respond the way the weight-loss authors in women’s magazines wish it would.
Here’s a prime example from a recent article on stuff.co.nz
“She has done Weight Watchers “a bazzilion times”, and every celebrity fad fast. All worked in the short term, but then the kilos came back. The last time she weighed herself she tipped 135 kilograms.”
Well gee, imagine that. A short-term focus equals short-term results and long-term frustration.
There’s a reason these things have been known as “crash diets” for so long – your body does crash. If you radically cut your calories, you’ll lose weight; that almost goes without saying, but it’s what’s happening to your body during that time that matters.
Keeping things really simple, it’s safe to say that your body doesn’t like the idea of a major reduction in your caloric intake. To the primitive organism that is your body, this is a sign of a famine, of hard times to come and in order for you to survive in the long term, your base metabolic rate will progressively slow down to allow you to survive. This means that your body needs fewer calories just to get by. It also becomes reluctant to give up the vital reserves of body fat while your calories are too low, so in only a short time, you’ve not only slowed down your body’s built-in furnace but also programmed it to store body fat. This isn’t really the best plan if you want to get lean.
The picture gets even bleaker. How can that be possible I hear you ask? It is, trust me on this because with every trip up and down the yo-yo diet ladder, you’re probably going to increase your body fat percentage, even if your upper weight stays about the same.
Here’s how the process works: let’s assume that our subject has a body fat level of 40 percent, eats 2,500 calories a day and does zero exercise – at this level she’s slowly gaining weight (she’s in a calorie positive state). We’ll also assume that at 2,300 calories a day, she’d be calorie neutral and would neither gain nor lose weight.
She then starts the 1,200 calorie a day diet that she read about in a magazine and starts walking, burning off 300 extra calories a day. So she’s now calorie deficient by 1,500 calories a day from her neutral point. At this rate, the weight is going to fly off but her body is going to rapidly decide that this is bad news. As discussed, her metabolism will slow down and she’ll find it harder to shift the fat. But that weight she’s losing isn’t all fat. Unless she’s eating a lot of protein (unlikely because 1,200 calories isn’t a great deal of food), and even then, her body will be cannibalizing muscle to support its basic functions. Remember that according to the body, losing fat in a famine is bad. So after a month or so, our subject has reached her goal weight and can fit into the new dress she chose for the big company Christmas party.
From here on out, she shifts back to her normal mode of eating, and even manages to stay more or less in control bar a few blowouts. She’s now eating 2,300 calories a day, which is less than she was before the diet; she’s also no longer exercising because she reached her goal and she’s happy. The problem is that her metabolism has noticeably slowed down and even at 2,300 calories a day, she’s putting on weight quicker than she was when she was eating 2,500 calories a day.
She’ll gain back all the weight she lost but it’s all fat, the lost muscle isn’t replaced, so once she’s back at her original weight, she may well find that her bodyfat is now at 43%. Repeat this cycle twice a year for five years and her bodyfat percentage will keep increasing even if her top bodyweight remains the same.
However, it’s unlikely that the top weight will stay the same, because each time she diets, she’ll be slowing her metabolism a little more. Also, the more muscle you carry, the faster your metabolism burns but she’s dropped what muscle she had, further reducing the amount of calories burned every day. So she’s primed to gain weight (all fat) as long as she persists in this cycle.
In short, it’s a disaster that can have no positive outcome. Frustration, misery and self-esteem issues are part and parcel of the weight cycling industry but it doesn’t have to be like this. There’s only one healthy way to lose weight and to keep it off and that’s a sustained change of lifestyle – and no, a gastric bypass doesn’t count.
This change doesn’t even have to be all that radical but it needs to be permanent. As I continue with this series of articles, I’ll look at ways to beat the diet rollercoaster that offer long-term fat loss, not to mention the immense benefits of increased health and a good dose of satisfaction, maybe even happiness. ASHLEY KRAMER