Dieting Makes You Fatter

In previous posts I’ve covered lots of evidence that there’s not much you can do to change your weight. In the midst of all that, it turns out that there is one reliable way to make yourself fatter.

It’s called “dieting”.

I wrote before about Traci Mann and the analysis of 31 long-term dieting studies. Mann and the other researchers found that the majority of dieters regained their lost pounds and then some. She said:

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… Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people.

Janet Tomiyama, a co-author of the study, said:

Several studies indicate that dieting is actually a consistent predictor of future weight gain.


A couple of years back, headlines everywhere reported on a new study that showed that all diets work about the same, and if you just keep eating fewer calories, you’ll do okay. It turns out what the study actually says is that while all diets work about the same, they all suck about the same, which is what every other study says, too. Want to know happened this time that the articles don’t report on? All participants started regaining weight after a year. At two years, about half weighed more than their starting weight. On average, at the two year mark, participants were eating fewer calories than they had been eating at the 6 month mark when they were still losing weight.

Let me repeat that.

They were eating FEWER calories yet weighing MORE than when they had started.

In a different three year study of almost 15,000 preteens and teens, the ones who dieted gained more weight than the ones who didn’t diet. The differences in their weight gain did not relate to initial weight or differences in calorie consumption. Other studies show the same causal relationship between dieting and weight gain.

I ran across a great phrase while researching this: “physiological defense of body weight”. When you try to go messing around with your weight, your body fights back. In The Last Supper Syndrome, Michelle talks about that big meal you inexplicably eat as soon as you promise yourself you’ll eat “better” next week. She points out that by telling yourself that you’re going to eat less, you are threatening yourself. And your body has your back! Your body responds to that threat with protective measures. Various physiological processes kick in to help you eat more and make the most of what you eat.

Some studies suggest that the metabolic changes caused by dieting stick around for a long time.  Dieting may alter the body’s metabolism in order to reset its set point in preparation for future restrictions. If you’re hungry now, there might be more hunger later, and your body is getting you ready for that.

The body is so good at what it does that for most people dieting CAUSES weight gain.

Diets. Don’t. Work.

And just for the record, when we’re talking about diets and weight loss, what are we talking about? Here’s another great phrase I ran across: “cognitively regulated eating style”. If you’re plotting and planning and thinking and calculating what to eat, how much to eat, or when to eat it, it’s a “cognitively regulated eating style”, also known as a diet:

Weight Watchers. Jenny Craig. Crash diets in bestselling books. Programs at commercial diet centers. Doctor-led plans. Meal substitutes. Fat-free processed foods. Restricting calories. Cutting carbs. Eating only whole foods. Reducing fat intake. “Portion control.” ‘Eating right and exercising.” SlimFast. South Beach. Nutrisystem. Paleo.

If you’re doing it to lose weight, it’s a diet, and it won’t work.

Kate Harding worded it well in Diets Don’t Work, But…:

Diets do not lead to permanent weight loss for the vast majority of people.

Not even if you call them “a whole new way of eating”. Or a “lifestyle change”. If your if your lifestyle change involves putting restrictions on your food intake, you will almost certainly be fat again in five years.


{Edited 4/17/13 to add: Please note that this post contains some creepy fat-hate in the comments that I didn’t go very far in smacking down or rebutting. Proceed with caution.}

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