According to the World Health Organization (WHO) about 13 percent of the world’s adult population is now obese. While the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that more than one-third or 35 percent of the American adult population is obese. So, it’s no wonder why diets have now become a mega-billion dollar global industry. (1, 2)
The diet industry now pulls in over $150 billion in annually profits in just the US and Europe alone. But, surprisingly, these profits are not only being generated by one select group, and in fact, this diet frenzy has now leaked across scores of groups, as diverse as obese and lean, teenagers and adults, sedentary and elite athletes to commoners and celebrities, all in an attempt to lose those unsightly, unwanted pounds. (3)
However, despite the diet industry’s rapid growth rate there is no evidence that society is becoming any slimmer or healthier as a result. In fact, quite the opposite seems to be taking shape, as the obesity epidemic has now become a worldwide phenomenon.
The High Cost of Dieting
The cost of many conventional weight loss programs can get quite expensive for those seeking to lose more than a few pounds. In a meta-analysis done on the cost-effectiveness of commercial weight loss diets found that, on average, the cost to lose just 11 pounds was $1,742 or (158 dollars per/pound) respectively, using the most cost efficient, mainstream, commercial diet strategies available. (4)
What’s more, most people, on average, attempt to diet four to five times per year. When these multiple attempts are taken into consideration, many will end up spending tens of thousands of dollars trying to lose weight, often without any success at all, especially long term.
Chronic Dieting & Weight Regain
As just outlined, statistically, most people who attempt to lose weight try to do so several times per year, often using the same program or method with each repeated bout. However, studies suggest that, rather than achieving weight loss, most people who frequently diet actually end up gaining weight over the long term.
For example, a 2013 review found that in 15 of the 20 comparisons that examined measures of dieting significantly predicted future weight gain in non-obese dieters. What this tells us is that repeated bouts of dieting actually lead to weight gain over time, not weight loss. (5)
Additionally, studies firmly point out that using a calorie restrictive approach when trying to shed pounds leads to a loss of muscle mass, causing your body’s metabolism to slow down, making it easier to regain weight once “normal eating” is resumed.
In fact, in the Minnesota Starvation Experiment (6), when men of normal weight followed a diet providing 50 percent of their normal caloric needs for three weeks, they started burning 255 fewer calories each day. This firmly shows that your body will automatically make metabolic shifts to slow its processes to compensate for eating less. (7)
It is also well documented that because of the portrayal of body image being pushed on teen girls through the media, many women start to diet as early as their teen or even pre-teen years. Due to this, young females actually increase their risk of becoming overweight, obese or developing eating disorders later in life. (8)
To confirm this, a 2006 study done on “the relation between dieting and weight change among adolescents” found that teens who dieted were twice as likely to become overweight as non-dieting teens, regardless of their starting weight. (9)
Diets & Long Term Success
So, the question becomes…are diets a successful means for achieving weight loss?
The answer…statistics clearly point out that by large, diets are quite ineffective for the majority of people when it comes to losing weight, especially long-term.
In fact, in a three-year follow-up study of participants using commercial diets, only 12 percent had kept off at least 75 percent of the weight they’d originally lost, while a whopping 40 percent had gained back even more weight than they had originally lost. (10)
Another study found that five years after a group of women lost weight during a 6-month weight loss program, they weighed, on average, 8 pounds more than their original starting weight. (11)
Equally, it appears that weight regain happens regardless of the type of diet used. However, some diets are linked to less weight regain than others. For instance, in a study comparing three different diets, people who followed a particular diet, high in monounsaturated fat, regained less weight than those who followed a low-fat or calorie-controlled diet. (12)
And while the percentage of people who regain weight may possibly be lower than the 95 percentile figure that’s so soundly stated through the media (13), research shows that the majority of people will gain back most of the weight, or even wind up weighing more than before they started dieting.
Options & Solutions
Fortunately, there are some alternatives that will give you a much better chance at losing weight and avoiding the all too familiar weight regain, without having to diet.
Focus on Food
Try shifting your focus from an “I’m on a diet mentality” to eating in a way that nourishes your body and optimizes your health.
Start by choosing whole, real, unprocessed foods that will keep you satisfied and allow you to maintain good energy so you feel your best.
Make a conscious effort to take a mindful eating approach using these 5 steps:
- Eat more slowly and chew your food thoroughly.
- Eliminate distractions like the TV, IPad or phone.
- Focus on how the foods you eat make you feel.
- Ask yourself simple questions like: Why am I eating? Am I actually hungry? Is this food healthy?
- Stop eating when you’re full.
By slowing down, appreciating the eating experience and listening to your body’s hunger and fullness cues can improve your relationship with food which can lead to automatic weight loss, without dieting. (14)
It’s well documented that exercise is a natural stress reducing inhibitor while also enhancing overall health and sense of well-being.
However, while some forms of exercise are proven more beneficial that others, it’s best to choose something you enjoy that will fit easily into your over-all lifestyle. This way you will more likely commit to doing consistently, on a long-term basis.
Set Realistic Expectations
The body mass index (BMI) is a measure of your weight divided by the square of your height. This measure is often used to help people determine their healthy weight range.
However, researchers have challenged the usefulness of BMI for predicting health risk because it doesn’t account for differences in bone structure, age, gender, or over-all body composition (muscle mass vs. body fat percentage). (17)
A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is looked at as “normal” while a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered “overweight” and a BMI above 30 is classified as “obese.”
Despite this, it’s important to recognize that you can be healthy even if you’re outside of the range that’s so-called “normal”. And some people will actually feel and perform much better at a weight higher than what’s considered a normal BMI.
Although many diets promise to help you achieve your “perfect weight” or “dream body” the truth is that some people simply aren’t cut out to be thin.
Therefore, by first accepting your current weight can lead to increased self-esteem and body confidence, along with avoiding the lifelong frustration of trying to achieve an unrealistic weight goal. (21, 22)
Contrary to popular belief or opinion, diets, more often than not, are highly ineffective for weight loss, especially long-term. And in many cases actually cause dieters to gain more weight over time. Therefore, breaking the dieting cycle can help you develop a better relationship with food, making it easier to maintain a more stable, healthy body weight.