Paradigm Shift: Weight Regained After Dieting Is Not Failure
I am often surprised by the number of people who claim that diets don’t work. Perhaps there is a miscommunication on what they mean by that. If anyone would clarify that for me in the comments, I would love to have a discussion on that.
All diets work. You will lose weight if you change what you are eating to something with fewer calories. All diets are rules of eating that get you to change what you are doing from an eating standpoint so as to consume fewer calories in the end than before. Whether you want to do it with a fancy sounding trending word like a “cleanse,” a “detox,” or “paleo,” or if you want to add fasting into it (such as intermittent fasting), or if you want to do it less radically, the diet will work. At the end of the week, you ate fewer calories than you did last week.
Not all diets are created equal. When cutting calories, it is more important to make sure that the calories left that you ARE eating are actually doing something for your health. You want them to be highly nutrient dense per calorie. Otherwise, theoretically, you could deplete yourself of some nutrients and develop malnutrition during the process. Then, how healthy will that diet actually be for you? If you deplete yourself of nutrients involved in energy metabolism, maybe your body won’t want to lose weight as efficiently at that point. It’s possible.
This is why it is important to work with someone who knows how nutrients affect your physiology so as to recommend diets that are healthy. Shameless plug here for registered dietitians, a medically recognized profession that works with nutrition on a daily basis. These are people to consult if you are planning on changing your eating habits for a goal. Anyone can call himself or herself a nutritionist and set up shop.
To the main point of this article, however, a criticism of diets is that people gain the weight back.
My response to this? So what? Hear me out:
You still lost the weight for some time and learned from the experience. This isn’t an all or none success thing. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater. Diet failure is a highly pessimistic view of the experience.
Yes, it is important to view nutrition changes as things you should accept as long-term, but let’s say you are overweight or obese enough that it affects your ability to perform exercise at a level that you need to maintain your weight. You will HAVE to go on a diet until you reach a weight at which you can start working out intensely without it killing your joints.
People who say that diets don’t work or that they fail do not understand the behaviors you must do to maintain your weight after you lost it. The great part about finishing a diet is that you get to eat more food. You also get to start working out more/harder because you have more energy from all that food you are now eating.
People who regain ALL their weight after a weight loss experience tend to not be progressing in their fitness level while going back to the habits and mindset that brought them to their original weight. Weight loss requires cognitive restructuring of thoughts on how you view food and your relationship with it. This is why cognitive behavioral therapy should be a part of the process. The awesome part about exercise and fitness is that it is EXCELLENT for helping you maintain your weight post weight loss even if the way you view food psychologically hasn’t changed completely.
You know when people plateau with exercise? Their body has adapted to the stimulus. This means that their body requires fewer calories during exercise and recovery because there is less breakdown of existing body tissue from that exercise because they are performing it more skillfully. To get out of that plateau, you have to increase the intensity and get better at what you are doing by adding weight or reps so as to reach an eventual ultimate plateau where your hunger matches your energy expenditure–ie you are able to workout at a level that allows you to eat what you want. This is the “nirvana” or “enlightenment” of nutrition and fitness, your ultimate goal of having maximized your physical fitness capacity while being at peace with the food required for that body.
If you DO regain all your weight back post diet and made good effort with progression in exercise, then you will just have to diet again and figure out what you were doing last time that didn’t work. If you think about times of surplus and famine in history, dieting has happened for a long time. There are times of the year you will be heavier and times you will be lighter. There is always something you can do about it, so seriously, let’s just not say dumb things like “dieting doesn’t work” anymore. At least be more articulate about what you really mean.
I get angry when I hear the idea that regained weight means it is a failure, which is stated even in scientific literature. Yea, if you resume eating exactly like you did before without a change in your exercise habits, of course you will gain all your weight back. That doesn’t mean the diet didn’t work. It means you didn’t change the way you view and use food in respect to your activity and lifestyle. Psychology is a huge part of the process. Are you adaptable, and do you have grit?
You’re not going to get the weight off though initially without some form of a diet unless you are ok with extremely slow progress. It is currently thought that achieving weight loss progress quickly builds adherence to the program (link to PDF).
So in short, dieting DOES work, and exercise is what you must progress with after dieting in order to maintain your weight. Don’t use exercise as a means for weight loss because that doesn’t work, as shown in previous posts. Use it to maintain your new weight!
Please comment and share! If you would like to work with me personally, send me an email.
Edit: This article was featured on CureJoy on 02/24/15. I encourage you to check out their site. Disclosure: I do not have any financial or other incentive through the company.