“THE scientific proof that diets make you fat.” That headline on the front page of the Daily Mail was a shocking wake-up call to the estimated 15 millions Britons who are on a diet at any one time. That’s one person in four! So here’s a question for you: Do you go on a diet because you’ve been overeating or are you overeating because you’ve been on a diet?
The answer, which might surprise you, is that both statements are true. It’s the classic diet-fail-diet-fail cycle which we all know as yo-yo dieting.
I’ve been advising people for a long time that yo-yo diets are not the way to lose weight and keep it off in the long term – the Mail points out research that shows the average woman in this country spends 31 years dieting in her lifetime. That’s more than a third of your life doing something that’s agonising, demoralising, possibly harmful – and is never going to work.
The impartial research shows that the way to lose weight permanently is not trying to make a conscious effort using willpower to cut down the calories and the overeating. Permanent weight loss requires a complete change in the mind’s unconscious relationship with food to put an end to overeating.
I’ve studied all the independent research highlighted in the Mail article and here’s the five most important scientifically proven things you should know about why diets fail in the long term and overeating always wins.
ONE: Cutting out calories changes your metabolism and your brain so your body hoards fat and turns minor food cravings into an obsession. Research at Melbourne University proves that when you go on a starvation diet the body produces about 20 per cent more of the appetite stimulating hormone ghrelin, forcing that overeating to resume once the diet stops.
TWO: Because of the way the metabolism changes during dieting, you need to eat 400 fewer calories a day than before you were dieting just to maintain a stable weight. But the powerful appetite stimulator makes this almost impossible to achieve. And studies at Columbia University in America say this yo-yo situation of overeating can last as long as six years.
THREE: Diets change the way the brain reacts to food in a negative way, wilting your willpower. Brain scans carried out by American neuroscientists show dieters display an increase in emotional responses to food and a decrease in brain activity linked to restraint.
FOUR: Within five years, about two-thirds of dieters put back all the weight they have lost – and more. The University of California has found that slimmers lose up to 10 per cent of their body weight in six months on most diets. But an analysis of 31 long-term clinical studies shows that most of the dieters would have been better off not dieting because their weight would have been pretty much the same and their bodies would not have wear and tear from yo-yoing.
FIVE: The younger you start dieting the worse the effects on your body. People who start dieting habitually in their teens tend to be significantly heavier after five years than teens who never dieted, says research published in the medical journal American Psychologist. Once we become overweight through overeating, most of us will stay that way if all we do is diet.
So diets don’t work except in the short term. I spoke to a lovely lady who told me she had “successfully done the Atkins diet.” When I asked her if she’d managed to keep off the weight she’d lost, she admitted she’d put it all back on again. Is that the definition of success – you lose weight and put it back on again? Sadly, for the overwhelming majority of slimmers it is.
Losing weight permanently requires a lifestyle change and a new relationship with food and exercise so that you automatically make healthier choices and put an end to overeating without even having to think about it.