Why Diets Don’t Work

A new scientific article explains why even the most state-of-the-art weight loss programs result in only modest short-term weight loss and little to no long-term weight loss. Even of the obese people who are able to be successful in losing weight on a diet (usually 5-10% of initial body weight), about 98% of them put the weight right back on.  This article is a big step in explaining why that happens.  The article, “Biological Mechanisms that Promote Weight Regain Following Weight Loss in Obese Humans” is available online and published in the August 2013 issue of the journal Physiology & Behavior.

yoyo yoMost weight loss programs are based on a restrictive model that tries to use will-power to overcome powerful biological drives, which is a losing proposition.  It’s no wonder so many obese individuals are frustrated and feel like failures when it comes to weight loss dieting.  They’re doing it completely wrong but that’s exactly what we, the supposed experts, keep telling them to do.  Conventional weight loss programs assume that obese individuals lack sufficient willpower and/or knowledge, and assume that providing motivation and knowledge will fix the issue.  This article sharply challenges this notion.

Food scarcity was one of the largest threats to survival for millions of years.  Over time, humans developed multiple biological mechanisms to help prevent starvation.  For example, someone at risk of starvation would experience a shift in their neural responsivity and hormonal profile to encourage caloric intake, as well as a reduction in fat metabolism in order to conserve energy stores.  This article discusses evidence that this happens not only at the brink of starvation but also when a 400lb individual loses 20 lbs.  The body reacts the same way whether you are on the verge of starving to death or a morbidly obese individual trying to lose weight in order to improve health.  Your body- your very own biology- will fight vehemently against weight loss, regardless of how much you weigh.  And, chances are, it’s eventually going to win.

The article explains that the body adopts an individual’s highest sustained body weight and will then defend that weight in the exact same way it would in order to prevent death from starvation. The authors also discuss evidence that these mechanisms cause notable changes in biological functioning within hours of caloric restriction.  The article goes on to explain that even the best “lifestyle change” diets do nothing to address these biological changes and are, therefore, doomed for failure.  The authors note that bariatric surgery, particularly Roux-en-Y gastric bypass surgery, has been shown to reverse some of these changes, which may help explain why it is currently the only obesity treatment with long-term effectiveness.  Overall, the evidence presented in this article suggests that the approach taken by current weight loss diet programs is fundamentally flawed and that a more biological approach is required to achieve sustainable weight loss.

For a free PDF copy of the article, email Dr. Ochner at cochner@mindfigure.com

Questions or Comments?