Do diets work?
Dieting alone is not successful in combating obesity. We all know people who struggle to keep weight off by changing only what they eat, and this phenomenon was scientifically substantiated in a ground-breaking review of various dietary studies spanning 68 years. In the almost 900 papers referenced, it was found that 85% of dieters did not achieve long-term success.
Focusing on food quality over quantity would serve Americans well. Eliminate the perception that excessive food intake (obesity) causes diseases; diseases are not that simplistic. A person's heart disease risk increases 8.5% by the under-consumption of nuts—a high-fat food. Amazingly, 30-35% of US cancer deaths are linked to dietary factors. Fruits and vegetables—carbohydrates—contain proven constituents that protect humans from various cancer types.
Because overweight people are judged by society as having no self-control, diets that promise a thin body will always be popular. However, diet fads that restrict certain foods also restrict nutrients needed by the body for long-term health. The hormone ghrelin controls appetite, digestion, and other functions like carbohydrate metabolism. Deficiencies in certain vital nutrients cause ghrelin dysfunction in the feedback system, triggering a person to feel hungry and consume excessive calories to compensate.
In a sense, dieting's food restrictions are only successful if those restrictions focus more on the processed foods that people gravitate toward and less on the quality whole foods that drive overall health.
Finally, it's notable that people overeat for reasons not related to hunger: mindless eating, emotional eating, stress eating, etc. So, until the reasons for these patterns are addressed, weight loss may always be a challenge. Not to mention that exercise--in combination with dieting--is the true winning combination.
Yes, diets do work. There are many scientifically proven diets that deliver their promised results. The 16:8 diet, or intermittent fasting, for instance, has been proven to be highly effective, with long-term, sustainable results. Unfortunately, why diets may seem ineffective is because of people themselves.
Many people fail to differentiate between effective diets and fad diets, which tend to fail because they promote 'magical weight loss' products and vilify certain foods while glorifying others. Moreover, they're difficult to follow long-term due to their highly restrictive nature.
On the other hand, the best diets are nutrient-rich, calorie-controlled, and free from added sugar and refined carbs. These diets allow individuals to reap benefits such as eliminating dangerous fats from meals, boosting self-image, reducing depression, and improving quality of life.
Further, people choose diets at random without consulting professionals or assessing how a diet can fit into their lives. The DIETFITS study uncovered that some diets fail because individuals react differently to low-carb and low-fat diets. These differences arise from factors such as a person's job, surrounding environment, family health concerns or lack of them, and diet quality. Some of these factors trigger emotional eating, which in turn impacts a diet's efficiency.
Finally, commitment is essential for diets to work. A recent study showed that individuals who had behavioral contracts lost more weight, consumed more healthy foods, and avoided unhealthy foods. However, in some cases, individuals may require ongoing support and weight maintenance-related counseling for long-term weight management.
So, while choosing and adhering to a new diet--that can absolutely work for you--it's essential to address these three concerns to truly benefit from it.
- Many diets rely on the counting of calories to maintain an ideal weight. A calorie is a unit of measurement to account for “the amount of heat needed to raise the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius.”
- Harvard School of Public Health’s “Healthy Eating Pyramid” says people should primarily eat healthy fats/oils, whole grains, fruits, and vegetables--and limit red meat, butter, refined grains, sugary drinks and sweets, and salt.
- According to research by Supplement Place, the keto diet was the most popular diet in the US in 2020.
- The Boston Medical Center says that about 45 million Americans diet each year and spend “$33 billion...on weight loss products.”