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).
30 thoughts on “Why Diet?”
I’ve been maintaining a 50lb loss for over 5 years now, very interested to see what direction you go with this 🙂
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That’s great to hear, Sara – To what do you attribute your success? Did you use a weight loss program to lose weight? Or do it on your own?
I’ve maintained over 70lbs for nearly 10 years now. I think my success is getting away from Western foods, mostly fried food, white bread and sugary drinks/snacks. I have not counted calories in years but would estimate I eat 2000-3000 most days.
I think a major problem is that people get on a weight loss diet and lose weight, but never learn to eat properly, and then keep returning to the weight loss diet to get back on track. But usually when they return, they are just focusing on the eating part and don’t have the initial support or drive that they had when they first lost weight.
Tim, for my weight loss phase I did JUDDD, which is pretty much ADF (a very calorie restrictive IF protocol), along with a few rounds of the potato hack to shake things up. Within that I continued to eat a very SAD diet though. With the weight loss I also improved all my health markers, including normalizing pre-diabetic glucose numbers.
For maintenance I’ve don’t mostly 16:8IF along with daily weigh-ins and some mental calorie math here and there. I’ve also slowly moved towards a more whole foods, plant based diet after becoming interested in the Blue Zones, (though I did also experiment with primal eating for a bit too in there-my MDA days 🙂 ).
My health markers have been steady the past few years, which is a good thing, but this year I stopped doing IF, put my scale in the closet and gave myself permission to take a maintenance ‘break’. Annnnd I’m now up about 12lbs on the scale, my adult acne is acting up and my jeans don’t fit anymore (blood work done in October still shows everything is good though on the inside). So, starting this week I’m back at it with 16:8IF, daily weigh-ins and then a 3 day potato hack. Going to do 2-3 days a week of the hack until I get rid of the maintenance creep and then I think I’ll do it once a month, as part of my maintenance plan.
Looking forward to the whole book!
Just a comment tho I don’t know if it’s a typo or not. Determinate vs determinant. https://wikidiff.com/determinate/determinant First section heading “….of weight”
Yep, caught that! Thanks!
In 5-10 years they will be giving FMT or a certain probiotic that will help repopulate with the strains needed for taming obesity. The number of articles or studies coming out about obesity and the microbiome are increasing rapidly. But exercise will always be part of the solution.
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Hi Tim. The ‘meat’ of this first chapter shows you have something important to say, and I want to read more. But I am unusually interested in health, already own Potato Hack etc.
I really like where you are going with this. It may help get to a wider audience, though, if you cut the words (easy wins – cutting the number of book titles and limiting your lists/examples). You might also consider modifying the structure to give people something to hold onto – ie gut health fundamental to sustainable healthy weight/long-term healthy weight IS achievable – right at the beginning. In a sense it’s like designing the ‘hook’ in a hit song.
BTW in UK English the word is ‘determinant’, rather than determinate. Autocorrect or just different language?
“You might also consider modifying the structure to give people something to hold onto – ie gut health fundamental to sustainable healthy weight/long-term healthy weight IS achievable”
Thanks, that was a very helpful suggestion. I know sometimes I feel like I’m being too negative when it’s not my intention.
Tim–in order to keep readers reading, I think you should give a preview of what is to come in your book. You’re calling it The Diet Hack, but this first section focuses on some of the shortcomings of dieting. What will be your thesis in this book, and where do you plan to go from here? What benefits will readers get from reading the book? Will you present a new approach to dieting? Some indication of what you will cover would be good, and would increase reader interest. I look forward to seeing more.
I’m still working on the prologue to set the stage. I’ll put it up in a new post soon. The book will be divided into 4 sections: 1. Why we get fat, 2. How to lose weight, 3. How to maintain the weight loss, 4. Exercise fundamentals. I’m pretty much done with parts 1,3,and 4, and just got started on part 2. Already I’m at about 60,000 words. This should probably have been 2 or 3 shorter books, lol.
everyone can summons the willpower (paragraph just above “What’s the Trick”
Should read: everyone can summon the willpower. He summons, he can summon. They summon. they can summon.
I think it is a typo.
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Tim, have you come across Scott Abel and his Cycle Diet? He’s been helping people keep weight off for decades, bodybuilding champion and also has trained body building champions. The things he says resonate with what we have from John Grimek, the old pre-steroids bodybuilder. Also, congratulations on keeping 70 pounds off for 10 years. Wow!
Also, count me in, I’ll buy your book when it is ready.
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I had not. Just looked, his diet is probably great for some people. I think diets like this are great maintenance diets for people looking to really dial in their eating to support a certain goal, ie. bodybuilding, not that “regular” people can’t use it, too.
I’ve looked at so many diet plans over the past 6 months it would make your head spin, haha.
What I’m using for my weight loss recommendations are the tried-and-true standard boring old plans like Weight Watchers, Atkins, and about 6 others that offer the full range of support networks, apps, free content, forums, and personalized support. I want to show people how to work these diets to their full advantage, and then be done with them, and not get stuck in an endless loop. Dieting is good for weight loss, but terrible for long-term stability. Maintenance diets need to not be like dieting at all. But just good, real food, good gut health, and proper amounts of exercise, etc.
I’m very interested in this – for a relative. A male relative in his early sixties who was an athletic, skinny kid who didn’t care about food at all. He’s short, and I believe short people have a tougher time losing weight and maintaining; we can’t eat as many calories. He’s got a stomach and a chubby face now, and it breaks my heart, I worry about him! He’s not super obese; it’s hard to know how much he has to lose. Maybe 20 pounds – but it looks like more. He likes to eat out, he likes to drink… he’s just not motivated to really change. And I don’t think he’s alone.
Yes, you could say I’m writing this for those own people in my life, too. I don’t have any big surprises, no ‘secret pathways”. I hope I don’t disappoint you guys. If you’ve been following along with me for the last couple years, you know what I’m all about: Real food, gut health, science, common sense. The things mostly missing from the diet scene today.
Yes, I want to read more. I want to know why the Potato Hack worked so well at first, and then …. didn’t.
I actually hear that a lot. If you mean you did a couple rounds of potato hacking and lost considerable weight, then tried again later and found that you just couldn’t stick with it, it’s a pretty common problem. I think dieting is about 90% mental. The same thing happens with other diets as well. People do Weight Watchers, Atkins, Paleo, whatever, lose a ton of weight, then slowly regain it all thinking, “Hey, I’ll just do Weight Watchers again when I hit 200 pounds.” But when they try it again, the newness and excitement has worn off and they just can’t get their head in the game to do it again.
Or do you mean something different?
The first time (when I was 17) I went on a diet I lost weight it was easy peasy to lose it. My mother used to serve lots of potatoes and butter gravy. She used to slow cook all her meat in lots and lots of butter.
The second time (when I was 22) after I had put the weight back on, it was easy again. I managed to keep it off for the next decade. I gained a kilo here and a kilo there and didn’t make an effort to get it off again. When I had gained about 10 kilo’s I gave it another try to get it off, it became more difficult. I got a few kilos off, but did not get any where near to what my weight was as a teenager.
I think that all that chopping and changing my diet, dropping food groups and adding a lot of prepackaged foods has mucked up my metabolism and so I don’t seem to be able to drop the gained kilos. I feel that the first time you go on a diet you can lose the weight fairly easy. But when it is the 10th time in 50 years, it becomes a complete different ballgame.
I read recently that you should return to the diet of your ancesters (not your paleo ancestors) so I have increased my butter use and added potatoes back into my diet. Hopefully that will restore my metabolism. It seems to have cured the constipation that I have also suffered from for over 40 years.
I realise more and more, that we have to look at how our food has changed over the decades. Bread isn’t the bread of yesteryear. Supermarkets weren’t around when my mother was young. Food manufacturers hadn’t massively taken over food preparation yet.
I think these factors have to be taken into account when trying to lose weight.
Hi, Tim! It’s looking good! I, with my background, would quibble about the gut health/medical condition ordering. 🙂 I’d be thinking, “What if they have Cushing’s? Or they’ve never had their thyroid tested, and it’s beyond defunct?” Although, I am aware that by the time they’ve read your book, they’ve probably had good evaluations and that you do discuss medical conditions later.
I really like the tone of the book! Keep plugging! It’s exciting.
Thanks. Good point. At first I had gut health as the last thing since it “follows” the rest. I agree, medical conditions and diseases that cause obesity need to be ruled out before trying to do anything else.
The gut and its microbiome!
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“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.”
I do not like this paragraph at all. In fact, I strongly disagree
It might be easy to develop a therapeutic diet for celiac and peanut allergies.
But debates have raged on therapeutic diets for high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Chrohns, and more. Simply avoiding food items that aggravate them is far from easy. If people could easily avoid food that aggravates their condition of obesity, they would need your book! Is salt good or bad for hypertension? Books have been written pro and con. Do eggs and butter contribute to bad lipid profiles? You know the history on that.
Avoiding foods makes no sense to me (except for obvious conditions).
I only became successful in my diet when I gave up avoiding foods. Instead, I focused on adding foods that were obviously good for me. Vegetables in general, but also tailored to my health, body, and temperament. For example, instead of avoiding salt for hypertension, which did nothing for me, I relied on research showing that beets, celery, garlic, onions, maitake mushrooms, tomatoes, hibiscus, hawthorn, and many others do normalize blood pressure. I added those to my diet without worrying about subtracting. Lots of foods normalize lipids, like burdock root and various fibers.
Many studies show that adding certain foods helps even with a poor date. How many studies show “X reduces the negative consequence of a high fat diet in mice,” for instance.
I think the same is helpful for obesity. Instead of “don’t eat that, eat this instead,” make it “it’s ok to eat that, but be sure to eat this too.”
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That’s great, Wilbur…thanks! I’ll give this one some thought…I see what you are saying. The point I am trying to drive home throughout the book is that there is a huge disconnect between weight loss diets and weight maintenance diets. Weight loss diets need to be as carefully constructed as a diabetic or celiac diet, but people tend to just try to wing it in their own or follow a plan half-heartedly.
Then, if people manage to follow a weight loss diet and actually lose weight, they mess things up by not shifting over to a maintenance diet. People will try to use weight loss methods, ie. “Atkins Induction,” drastic calorie reductions, etc. to yo-yo their weight when they should be eating better and exercising instead. Dieting is used as a punishment for overeating and gaining weight.
Tim, I know you get my point, but I thought I’d add some more in case it helps others.
There was a fun paper I read a while back by a neuroscientist or philosopher or something. I’ll state its results in a personal context. Every day, I fill my dogs’ water bowls to the brim and carry them about 50 feet to where I put them. I have to open a couple of doors and climb a light of stairs. Nearly every day, I spill water, particularly near the doors where I have to concentrate on getting the door open.
That turns out to be a common phenomenon. People trying to avoid doing something actually do that something when they are distracted.
The theory put forth in the paper is that trying to avoid doing something involves two steps. The first is to imagine doing what you don’t want to do. The second is negating that in your mind. So, “do not think of a pink elephant” requires thinking of a pink elephant. Then negating it. Automatic fail.
But do not spill the water works until I get distracted by the door. The paper says that distraction causes the “do not” part to vanish, leaving me with the “spill the water on the floor,” which I then do. I don’t know if it’s valid, but it’s fun to think about.
So, in my opinion, if you don’t want to think of a pink elephant, you can’t say don’t think of a pink elephant. That’s just makes you think of one. Instead, think of a green giraffe. When you think of a green giraffe, it’s hard to think of a pink elephant. It doesn’t even come up naturally. Plus, the thinking of a pink elephant in a diet context begins the associated hormones, making it rewarding to think of a pink elephant.
I.e., don’t say ‘I’m not going to eat cake.” Say “I’m going to eat kale.” Maybe cake and kale, but be cool with that. It’s cool!
IMHO, the issue of initial diet and maintenance diet then becomes moot. As do cheat days. Haven’t had one in about five years.
It took me a while to find it, and the argument is slightly different from my memory. But the idea applied to diet is the same.
“How to think, say, or do precisely the worst thing for any occasion” by Dan Wegner. It’s a fun read.
Click to access Worst_Thing.pdf
Tim, I agree with Wilbur, I think the idea of weight loss diet followed by maintenance diet is self defeating. All people hear there is the word “diet”, and that’s one Very Loaded Word, emotionally.
You said something revealing there – “Dieting is used as a punishment for overeating and gaining weight.”
Exactly! So if you’re talking about a maintenance diet, that sounds (to the subconscious, at least) like lifelong punishment.
Maybe if you want your book to be a fresh look at an old problem, you need fresh terms. Instead of “diet and exercise” which both probably have pretty negative connotations to the people you’re trying to reach, what terms could you use?
When I was working in an elementary school if we told the kids “no running in the halls!” all they heard was “running!”. But if we said “walk please!” it worked like a charm.
If I find my jeans getting too tight and catch myself starting to think “oh no, better cut out the xyz,” I give my head a shake and tell myself “do not fear the food!”. Then I enjoy food more and end up making healthier choices because I want to, not because I have to.
I have been reading a lot of Tabitha Farrar’s blogs at the moment. She is a recovered anorexic and what she says makes so much sense. Some of it is sort of along similar lines of Wilbur and Wildcucumber – as well as so much other information. https://tabithafarrar.com/2017/10/dr-g-metabolism/ is very interesting – I may need to listen again to be sure but it seems that yoyo dieting is worse. The potato hack is the only one I can do and feel really energetic and not constantly think about food while. What Wildcucumber mentioned works for me also.
Wow, Fiona, thanks for introducing me to Tabitha Farrar’s work, she’s one smart cookie! Here, from this post on her blog:
“The message is either “trust your body” or it is “you will have to micro-manage your body for your whole life.” It can’t be both. Yet this muddled message of “it’s okay to eat, but only a certain amount” that colludes with the eating disorder and sets people up for a life of quasi-recovery is rife in treatment centres. And it stinks.”
Yes, I agree. Wow! I am so thankful to have been introduced to her work also.