How Diets Can Make You Fatter
Have you ever experienced the “boomerang effect” from dieting? It’s a common story: you get serious about dieting and gradually succeed in losing weight, but it doesn’t last. Eventually, it comes back―very likely in a greater amount than you lost. In fact, many people who diet gain back more weight than they lose.
A recent study followed participants of “The Biggest Loser” television show who lost an average of 129 pounds each. That sounds impressive, but six years after the show’s end, researchers found that every one of those former losers were burning around 500 calories a day less than people of the same size and age who had not dieted. What’s more, most had regained around 70% of the weight they had lost. What this study and many others show is that dieters rarely succeed in keeping off lost weight.
Blame It on Your Genes
Everyone’s weight has a genetically determined “set point.” That means your weight naturally tends to hover within a certain narrow range, depending on how much fat your genes say your body should carry. That amount can vary widely between people, depending on their genetic makeup.
When your weight drops below your set point, you not only begin to burn fewer calories, but you produce a greater amount of hormones that increase appetite. When you start feeling that you’re starving, your body conspires against you to get your weight back up to the set point that is normal for you. You eat more and find that rewarding, so you keep eating more. You increase the number of calories you consume, and you gain weight. No wonder it’s so difficult not only to lose weight, but to keep it off—the odds are against you!
Diets: More Harm Than Good?
It seems that dieting can actually promote weight gain—dieters followed over a long period of time in various studies proved more likely than non-dieters to become obese within a 15-year time frame. A 2006 Finland study followed athletes such as boxers who competed in sports with weight limits and frequently dieted. Compared with athletes who competed in sports without weight limits, they had triple the likelihood of being obese by the time they reached age 60. A 2012 study of 4,000 twins found that those who dieted were more likely to gain weight than their identical siblings who didn’t diet.
Why Would Dieting Cause Weight Gain?
Stress can lead to binge eating, which leads to weight gain, which leads to still more stress and more eating. Adolescent girls who diet are 12 times more likely than non-dieters to become binge eaters, but binging isn’t limited to young girls. Worry over weight and self-image creates anxiety, but changing eating habits that seem normal and depriving yourself of foods you find pleasurable further adds to stress, which makes you crave more (usually unhealthy) food. What’s more, the very act of restricting calories revs up production of stress hormones. These hormones act on fat cells and increase belly fat, which eventually leads to development of insulin resistance, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Little evidence supports the notion that dieting improves health. Dieters may experience improved cholesterol, blood sugar, and other health markers, but that may result from exercising, consuming less sugar, and eating more vegetables rather than dieting.
Focus on Eating Smart
Instead of dieting, focus on healthy eating―that is, on consistently eating food that gives your body the nutrients it needs for good health and excludes those that are harmful and add empty calories:
- Select fresh, whole, organic vegetables and fruits
- Include lean, organic meats, poultry, fish, and eggs
- Eliminate beverages and foods with added sugars
- Avoid all processed foods
- Control portion sizes
Eat when you’re hungry, and stop when you’re full. You don’t have to clean your plate. You don’t have to go back for seconds, even if you are at an all-you-can-eat buffet. If you follow these simple guidelines, you’ll be more apt to avoid the “yo-yo” effect of crash diets, binging, and weight gain.
Physicians within the BodyLogicMD network are fully trained in nutrition and weight management. They can assess your nutritional needs and provide expert guidance on diet, fitness, and supplements to achieve your overall health and weight goals. Contact a physician within the BodyLogicMD network today.