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Why Diets Don’t Work

Listen to Why Diets Don’t Work

95% of all dieters gain their weight back again within a few months of having lost it. This is because there’s no magic formula, pill or secret plan for losing weight.

We all want quick results. Wherever you look, you’ll see adverts trying to sell diet books, and you most likely own a few yourself. Many of them have some merit, and some contain useful information, but nearly all of them try to convince you to follow a restrictive formula that you will never be able to maintain forever.

So why does dieting not work? A new study has found that our bodies have a mechanism that limits weight loss and works against us when we are trying to lose weight.

A team of researchers – led by Dr Clemence Blouet from the Metabolic Research Laboratories at the University of Cambridge – examined a group of neurons in the brain’s hypothalamus and their role in regulating appetite.

The study’s lead investigator found that:

“Weight loss strategies are often inefficient because the body works like a thermostat, and couples the amount of calories we burn to the amount of calories we eat. When we eat less, our body compensates and burns fewer calories, which makes losing weight harder.”

“Our findings suggest that a group of neurons in the brain coordinate appetite and energy expenditure, and can turn a switch on and off to burn or spare calories depending on what’s available in the environment. If food is available, they make us eat, and if food is scarce, they turn our body into saving mode and stop us from burning fat.”

“From an evolutionary perspective, such a mechanism may have evolved in order to help animals cope with famine. Evidently, in the case of dieting, the brain cannot tell that the person is intentionally trying to lose weight.”

The study’s first author, Dr Luke Burke, also explains what these findings mean to the person who is trying to lose weight:

“This study could help in the design of new or improved therapies in future to help reduce overeating and obesity. Until then, the best solution for people to lose weight – at least for those who are only moderately overweight – is a combination of exercise and a moderate reduction in caloric intake.”

Dieting and frequent and compulsive weighing can lead to eating disorders. According to research, people who diet are 8 times more likely to develop an eating disorder than people who don’t.

There is evidence that becoming overweight or obese and overweight may be the result of early life trauma. In one initial study of 286 obese people, half had been sexually abused as children. In these cases, “…overeating and obesity weren’t the central problems, but attempted solutions.”

For these people, therapy might be a prerequisite to healthy weight loss–it could help people identify the feelings and situations behind emotional over-eating and replace it with healthier forms of self-care.

The first step towards permanent healthy weight loss is to forget about the diet and lose the diet mindset. Instead, think about a ‘healthy eating program’ based on self-love and self-care, that you could live with and enjoy for the rest of your life — a lifelong program of everyday healthy, pleasurable eating coupled with regular exercise.

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