You’ve decided that once and for all, you are going to lose weight. No dropping out. This time you’re going to stick with it and it’s going to work. You put your credit card details in and sign up once again. You’re going to be stronger this time, THIS time you’ll keep the weight off. You’re friends have lost weight with this program, YOU lost weight with this program. The only reason you regained the weight was because you didn’t stick to it. Didn’t have the willpower.
This is what these weight loss programs want you to believe.
But the truth is, it’s not your fault you didn’t keep the weight off. You didn’t keep the weight off because it DOESN’T work.
We don’t start a weight loss program planning to lose weight only to regain it again. But that’s what happens. Weight loss programs often have tag lines like ‘this works!’ or ‘nation’s favourite weight loss program’. In that sense they’re not lying – because you probably will lose weight initially. The problem is when you gain it back again. So naturally we start out assuming they work and when we regain the weight, we blame ourselves – not the diet!
THESE DIET PROGRAMS ARE NOT DESIGNED TO WORK LONG TERM.
That may sound like a dramatic claim, but it’s not. These are companies that are worth tens or hundreds of millions of dollars. They only got to being that successful by having long-term, repeat customers. If their diets actually worked long-term, customers would never need to diet again! They would make only a fraction of the money they are actually making.
THAT’S CRAZY! IF IT WERE TRUE EVERYONE WOULD BE TALKING ABOUT IT!
Well, actually people are talking about it. Just about every newspaper or health publication has had articles explaining why diets don’t work. But remember, these highly successful companies have a lot of money to invest in marketing and media and ultimately their message is louder and can drown the voice of independent experts and health professionals.
SO WHY DON’T THEY WORK LONG-TERM?
1. They are designed to be as complicated and unclear as possible.
Each diet program allocates a score to different foods, the lower the number the more of it you can eat and foods with high numbers shouldn’t be eaten too often. Sounds simple, right? Well, diet companies claim they are making it simple, but they’re actually doing the opposite. You aren’t told why each food is scored the way it is, though you’ve probably (correctly) guessed it’s something to do fat and calories. That’s not giving us enough information to continue the diet long-term unless we want to be paying for the program for our whole life, or buying their branded diet food forever. Which brings us to the second point…
2. We wouldn’t be able to maintain the diet long term.
Even if we did know exactly why the program scored some foods higher and some foods lower, we still wouldn’t be able to maintain the diet long term. The difference between a regular blueberry muffin and a low fat or diet blueberry muffin, is that the regular one will fill us up and satisfy us. The diet one contains less fat, and low calorie carbs (so usually less fibre) which means we have to eat much more of them to feel full and satisfied. We eat so much more of them that in the end, we might as well have eaten the regular muffin. Which leads us onto…
3. The bad ingredients.
Fat gives our food flavour. It makes it taste good. So when diet companies take fat out the equation they have to make the food tasty in another way. Otherwise you’d stop the diet straight away, right? That’s where sugar comes in. Sugar, a carbohydrate, has less calories than fat by weight. This means diet companies can take out most or all of the fat in our food, put a load of sugar in it and still label it as ‘diet’, ‘light’ or ‘low fat’. The problem is that sugar is very bad for us and not at all helpful for weight loss. Eating too much of it puts us at a higher risk of diabetes, and raises our cholesterol which can lead to heart disease. It also makes us hungrier after we eat it which leads to overeating and is highly addictive. So the more we eat of it, the more we want it. And finally, sugar is very easily converted to and stored as fat in the body.
To add to the fact that sugar is very bad for weight loss and terrible for our health, food manufacturers have become very clever at ‘disguising’ sugars by using names like ‘rice syrup’, ‘invert cane syrup’, ‘maltose’, and ‘lactose’ to name just a few (learn more names here).
SO HOW COME I LOST WEIGHT TO BEGIN WITH?
These weight loss programs are very low calorie. You are almost certain to lose weight to begin with. The issue is that when we are on a very low calorie, or food restrictive diet, we can’t continue it for very long. For a while, we get by on willpower – and our willpower is highest when we begin a weight loss program. But willpower is a limited resource so we can’t use it for a very long (we wrote about willpower here
Aside from willpower, our body goes through a lot of changes while we are dieting. It starts fighting against weight loss, perceiving it as a shortage of food, by slowing down the rate at which we burn calories (metabolism). Our bodies don’t know the difference between when we are on a diet and when we are actually starving! Because of this, hormonal changes in our stomach make us hungrier more often and less full after eating the same amount of food the more weight we lose.
There are also changes in our psychological responses to food; food becomes much more attractive to us and we think about it more often. All of these are mechanisms used by our body to protect us against starvation. This is why we reach a plateau during weight loss, then start gaining weight back.
None of the information covered in this article is controversial or contested. It is all well studied and documented by experts and nutritionists. The diet companies know this too.
THAT DOESN’T MEAN WE CAN’T LOSE WEIGHT.
Diet programs like the kind discussed, do not work. But you can lose weight and keep it off by making long-term lifestyle changes. Here are some of the fundamentals of successful weight loss and good health.
– Break out of unhealthy habits and forming new healthy ones.
– Change the way you think about food through mindfulness.
– Become aware of your emotions
– Learn about making the right food choices.
All of these can be achieved with a bit of guidance and encouragement and none of it is as difficult as it sounds. In fact, it’s completely intuitive once we tune into our body!
The best part is, once you have the basics, you’re good to go. This means you won’t need to be paying for weight loss plans or meal subscriptions. Everything we need to lose weight, keep it off, live healthily and feel great about ourselves, is right there inside of us! We just need a little help to harness it.