Ditching the Diet

With spring and summer approaching, many people will be franticly trying to lose some weight in a bid to look good on the beach.

It would appear that we are indeed a nation obsessed with weight loss, and a search for the word “diet” on Amazon will return 26,972 results for books on the subject. Google comes up with 251,000,000 websites dedicated to the cause.

However recent studies have shown that diets are not the best way to lose weight in the long term. Those that do manage to shed some weight will usually be back to their pre-diet weight within 5 years, and in some cases will have actually gained weight.

“Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.You can initially lose 5 to 10% of your weight on any number of diets, but then the weight comes back” said Professor Traci Mann, a psychologist at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA).

Professor Mann and her team followed people on a variety of commercial diets for between two and five years. The results concluded that most people would have been better off not dieting at all.

“What happens to people on diets in the long run?” Mann asked. “We concluded most of them would have been better off not going on the diet at all. Their weight would be pretty much the same, and their bodies would not suffer the wear and tear from losing weight and gaining it all back.”

In fact 83% of dieters followed for more than two years eventually put more weight back on than they had lost. Some ended up weighing nearly a stone more than their starting weight five years after the diet. There is evidence to suggest that the body adjusts to going on a diet by changing its metabolic rate. This makes people more prone to putting on weight once their diet ends.

According to Janet Tomiyama, a psychologist at UCLA who also worked on the analysis, “One of the best predictors of weight gain over the four years was having lost weight on a diet at some point during the years before the study started.”

In effect, dieting is contributing to the proliferation of obesity, putting people at risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes.

British Dietetic Association (BDA) spokeswoman Judy More, is not surprised at the results.

“When people are on a diet, people feel as if they are denying themselves things, so when they come off it, they think, ‘Oh, thank God, I can go back to eating.'”

People who want to lose weight should look at a long term change of lifestyle, and not just a quick fix to be achieved in a matter of months.

“They have to look at it not as a diet where they are denying themselves, because eventually people get sick of that and go back to their previous lifestyle.What they’ve got to think about moving towards is a new lifestyle, but doing it through small, sustainable changes” adds More.

Amanda Wynne, also a dietician with the BDA agrees, and also calls for small changes to be made.

“A little bit less fat, slightly smaller portion sizes, a few more fruit and vegetables and more exercise. Just building things in to your life which you can actually sustain.”