I think this will be the first chapter of The Diet Hack. What do you think? Will it convince you to keep reading?
Chapter 1 – Why Diet?
You are most likely reading this because you need to lose weight, or you want to help someone else lose weight. Your mind went straight to “diet” as the solution. But consider:
“Diets do not lead to sustained weight loss or health benefits for the majority of people (Wolpert, 2007).”
It’s a well-known fact in the diet industry that diets don’t work. Pharmaceutical companies know it, your doctor knows it, insurance companies know it, and the food industry knows it. The only people who don’t seem to know this “inconvenient truth” are the billions of overweight people of the world who spend trillions to lose weight.
Numerous authors have tackled this issue in the past with works such as:
- The End of Dieting: How to Live for Life, by Joel Fuhrman
- The DASH Diet to End Obesity: The Best Plan to Prevent Hypertension and Type-2 Diabetes and Reduce Excess Weight, by William M. Manger MD PhD and Jennifer K. Nelson MS RD
- Mini Habits for Weight Loss: Stop Dieting. Form New Habits. Change Your Lifestyle Without Suffering, by Stephen Guise
- Eat Right for Your Archetype: To End Emotional Eating & Lose Weight Effortlessly, by Melissa Kathryn
- The Diet Trap: Feed Your Psychological Needs and End the Weight Loss Struggle Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, by Jason Lillis and JoAnne Dahl
- The Four-Day Win: End Your Diet War and Achieve Thinner Peace, by Martha Beck
- The Diet Cure: The 8-Step Program to Rebalance Your Body Chemistry and End Food Cravings, Weight Gain, and Mood Swings—Naturally, by Julia Ross
- Many, many others
The answer lies within all these books, but most of them miss the mark by focusing on just one or two big ticket items. Weight gain, weight loss, and weight stability are all heads of a many-headed beast.
Determinates of Weight
The same people who know that dieting doesn’t work also know what does, and it looks something like this:
There are many factors that decide a person’s weight. Genetics and certain diseases stand alone and have an impact on your weight completely outside of anything you do to try to lose weight. Your genes will mostly determine where you store fat and how much muscle you can ever hope to gain. Certain (somewhat rare) diseases will cause a person to become overweight or obese…these conditions are hard to diagnose and often lead to years of frustration as the person attempts in vain to lose weight. We’ll address genetics and disease, but I want to focus mainly on the determinates of weight that are within our control.
You’ll see from this diagram that “diet” is only a small piece of the puzzle, and overlaps considerably with exercise, sleep, and stress. To focus singularly on any one of these items is a waste of everyone’s time. Weight loss via dieting is a very short-sighted venture as “everyone” knows. 95% of dieters will regain the weight lost, with many regaining more than they lost.
Underlying everything is the gut. To lose weight, we oftentimes destroy our own gut. The gut, and by that, I mean your stomach, small intestine, large intestine, colon, and supporting structures, is vital to our overall health and weight maintenance. Keeping the gut happy is paramount to enjoying a long, healthy life. Medications and illnesses often impact the gut and will disrupt weight stability no matter how hard you try.
What is Dieting Good for?
Special diets are good for many things:
- Disease management, ie. celiac disease, diabetes.
- Medical conditions, ie. high blood pressure, high cholesterol.
- Weight gain, ie. for cancer patients, malnourishment.
- Weight loss, ie. for overweight people, obesity
We can easily devise a diet for therapeutic purposes. It’s just as easy to design a diet for weight loss as it is to manage high blood pressure or celiac disease. Simply avoid the food items that aggravate the condition.
Wait. What? Weight Loss Diets are Easy?
Yes! You can easily lose weight by following a weight loss protocol. Study after study show that overweight people, with an otherwise healthy metabolism, can lose weight on any diet they can follow for 6-12 months. Any diet. And this bears out in a real-world setting as well. The diet industry would not survive if most customers didn’t lose weight as promised. They lose weight and the industry thrives. But no one highlights the dismally low long-term success rates.
The evidence is clear…weight loss is highly probable when you adhere to a special diet designed to decrease food intake.
“…Recent reviews suggest that most diets are equally effective, a message very different from what the public hears in advertisements or expert pronouncements…This supports the practice of recommending any diet that a patient will adhere to in order to lose weight (Johnston, 2014).”
There is an endless array of weight loss diets. Something for everyone! Low-carb, high-carb, low-fat, low-calorie, high-protein, and diets that let you eat junk food.
What’s the Problem, then?
The problem is that weight loss is not the end-game. Once the weight comes off, it goes right back on unless all the determinates of weight gain are kept stable. Excessive dieting can impact gut health, aggravate underlying medical conditions, or create other imbalances that make keeping the weight off impossible.
As I’ll lay out in excruciating detail, weight loss is not the problem…keeping it off is. When researchers say, “95% of diets fail,” they are talking about meaningful, long-lasting weight loss.
Weight loss diets are very effective at causing weight loss, just like gluten-free diets can save the lives of those with celiac disease and high calorie diets cause malnourished children to gain weight. But a gluten-free diet does not cure celiac disease, nor will a weight loss diet cure obesity.
Just about everyone can summons the willpower to do what it takes to lose excess weight, but most of these attempts will be in vain because as soon as the dieting stops, the weight comes right back. Subsequent attempts to lose weight will be even harder.
What’s the Trick?
The trick is to lose weight safely and timely, then switch to a weight maintenance diet while simultaneously focusing on all the determinates of weight (in this order):
- Gut health
- Diseases causing obesity/Medical conditions/Medications
Some could argue the merits of my hierarchy here, but gut health needs to be the #1 focus, because without a healthy gut everything you do is futile.
“Emerging evidence suggests the human gut microbiota, a complex ecosystem residing in the gastrointestinal tract (GIT), may influence weight-gain through several inter-dependent pathways including energy harvesting, short-chain fatty-acids signaling, behavior modifications, controlling satiety and modulating inflammatory responses within the host (Bliss, 2018).”
Secondly, focus on underlying medical conditions or diseases that might be hampering your efforts. Your doctor and you should be able to come up with a plan of action that allows you to be healthy, even if you can never be at a normal weight. There is no shame in this!
Then start to dial in your diet, exercise, sleep, and stress levels all-the-while being mindful of your genes. If your Mom, Dad, Grandpa, or Grandma had big thighs or a big belly, chances are you will, too. Don’t fight it…manage it. We can’t all look like the people we see in weight loss ads, and quite frankly, we shouldn’t.
The rest of this book is devoted to hacking industry secrets to lead you to a diet that works for you. And not just to lose a couple pounds, but to keep it off forever. Weight loss diets work, if you can find one that suits you, and if you can stick to it for long enough. Factors that will influence your success are oftentimes outside your control and need to be addressed first. We must also learn to differentiate between “looking good” and “being healthy.” Good looks are mostly a dream sold by advertisers. Good health comes from within.
Bliss, Edward S., and Eliza Whiteside. “The gut-brain axis, the human gut microbiota and their integration in the development of obesity.” Frontiers in physiology 9 (2018).