Diets Don’t Work, Lifestyle Changes Do You have heard this time and time again, you may have even repeated it to yourself or your friend: “I am on a diet and I am not losing any weight”; “I have tried the Atkins diet for a month and it was great, but I gained it all back”; “I am so tired of being on a diet”; and the all time favorite “I just can’t lose any weight on a diet”. If a diet is the mindset of an individual trying to lose weight, they are setting themselves up for failure. Diets just don’t work, but change your lifestyle and the pounds will come off once and for all.
Merriam-Webster defines the word diet as “a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly so as to reduce one’s weight ”, and the word lifestyle as “the typical way of life of an individual, group, or culture (Merriam-Webster). An individual cannot sustain themselves on something that has them eating and drinking sparingly, but an individual can embrace a healthy lifestyle which can easily become a way of life. According to Betty Kovacs, MS, RD, “Americans spend an estimated $42 billion annual on weight loss foods, products, and services” (Kovacs).
Scarier than these numbers, I found that “According to a 2006 study reported in The New England Journal of Medicine, most people who participate in weight-loss programs regain about one-third of the weight lost during the next year and are typically back to baseline in three to five years” (Reisner, The Diet Industry: A Big Fat Lie). Given the amount of dollars spent and the failure rate of the sustained weight loss, it is not surprising that the Center for Disease Control and Prevention stated that “In 2009, 9 states had obesity rates of 30% or more compared with no states in 2000” (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
So what’s the problem? So much money is being spent, but so little weight is being lost. Could it be that we are dieting? We are a nation of instant gratification; we want quick results with minimal efforts. The diet industry is full of these promises, diets, magic pills or drinks that will melt away fat and we are willing to shell out the money for these empty promises. So why aren’t dieters seeing results? In an effort to find out more, I have researched 3 of the more common fad or crash diets to ask the questions of why don’t diets work, and why dieters do not see the results they hope for.
I have outlined each diet’s menu for a typical day, the promise the diet makes, and the duration someone should be on the diet are. I also include an explanation as to why the diet fails and why the dieter does not see the results over the long term: 3 Day Diet (Matus and Howard). This diet may also be referred to (mistakenly) as the Cleveland Clinic Diet and is said to have a unique metabolic reaction. The promise of this diet is to quickly lose pounds, which is achieved by the low calories that are taken in.
The menu for a typical day includes Grapefruit, 1 slice of toast with 1 tablespoon of peanut butter for breakfast; tuna on toast for lunch, and; 3 oz. of lean meat with 1 cup each of beans and carrots, 1 apple and one-half cup of ice cream for dinner. The promise of this diet, as noted above, is the rapid weight loss. However, with the minimal amount of food that is offered on this diet, the lost pounds will most likely be in the way of fluid or lean muscle, not fat loss. Although the foods that are permitted on this diet are healthy, the individual has not learned how to incorporate these foods into their everyday life.
The 3 Day Diet does not promote exercise, and recommends that it be followed for only 3 days, followed by a minimum of 4 – 5 days undefined ‘normal’ eating. In the long term, the dieter will see 5lbs that they have lost reappear when they return to their ‘normal’ eating patterns. Again, this is a diet – a regimen of eating and drinking sparingly – and cannot be a lifestyle – a typical way of life. Metabolism Diet (The Diet Channel). This diet is similar to the 3 Day Diet in that it has the dieter eating specific foods in certain quantities and is said to increase the dieter’s metabolism.
As with the 3 Day Diet, this diet is only recommended for a specific period of time. The menu for a typical day includes coffee or tea (using artificial sweetener if desired) for breakfast; 2 hard-boiled eggs and cooked spinach for lunch and; 6 oz. of meat with a lettuce and celery salad for dinner. Only after day 1 does the individual add a water cracker with their coffee or tea in the morning. The written promise of this diet is to rev up the individual’s metabolism by eating certain foods in certain quantities and at certain times (but while skipping breakfast??? ).
However, in reality it is rapid weight loss due to the minimal caloric intake, and will most likely be due to fluid loss, not fat loss. With this type of calorie restriction and skipped meals, the individual will most likely slow down their metabolism, instead of rev it up as the diet promises. When thinking about metabolism, think of a bon fire. In order to keep the fire going strong, we must provide fuel (in this case, wood) consistently. If there is a lapse in supplying wood to the bon fire, the fire will die down and eventually burn out. The same holds true with our metabolism.
In order to keep ourselves going strong, we must provide fuel (in this case, healthy food) consistently. When there is a lapse in supplying food, our metabolism will slow down and we may become shaky, weak or tired. This slow down occurs so that our bodies can sustain the minimal needs to function, this includes brain functions! A slower metabolism burns FEWER calories, which leads to weight gain. Keeping our metabolism operating at its peak is accomplished by a healthy lifestyle of balanced nutrition and exercise. The Cabbage Soup Diet (Matus and Howard).
This diet is said to have its origins from Sacred Hearts Hospital where patients were to follow this regiment to obtain weight loss before surgery. For all meals, the dieter is able to eat as much of the homemade cabbage soup (they provide the recipe) as they wish. The menu for this diet is different than the other 2 mentioned above, as each day is different, but again, all the soup the dieter desire to eat. Day one includes as much fruit as the dieter wishes to consume, but no bananas, and unlimited soup. Day two has all the fresh veggies the dieter wants, but no corn, and unlimited soup. Day two also allows a baked potato with butter.
Day 3 mixes the previous 2 days together, with unlimited soup and Day 4 is up to 8 bananas, 2 glasses of milk and unlimited soup. It is not until day 5 that protein is introduced and not until day 7 when a complex carbohydrate is included in the form of brown rice. My first reaction to this diet when I read it was the inability to obtain all of the necessary nutrients that a body needs by one main food group (vegetables). The lack of protein prior to day 5 impacts the body’s ability to repair cells and puts undue strain on our kidneys. Again, this diet fails as it cannot be used for a long period of time – – it is not sustainable.
The weight will come back quickly upon returning to normal eating pattern as the dieter has not learned how to eat. All 3 of these diets have some commonalities: Calorie restriction, no exercise, specific foods or removal of specific foods or food groups, and a time frame in which the individual is on the diet. These all equal an inability to be a way of life. It is important to note the dangers that these diets present which include dehydration, headaches, kidney infections, constipation, Ketosis, fatigue and a slowdown of metabolism. Also, what happens when the ‘diet’ ends? The dieter has lost a few pounds but will they keep it off?
I can’t imagine that anyone would keep the weight off after following one of these. The weight that has been lost is not miraculously gone forever; the few pounds didn’t disappear with the promise to never return. Why? Because the eating habits didn’t change. Shortly after the dieter returns to their normal patterns, the weight will be back and studies have shown, will be back in spades!!! Dieting is another word for insanity: We keep trying to lose weight over and over again and continue to get the same result – the pounds return quickly! How do we break this insanity cycle of dieting and regaining?
The Mayo Clinic says “Successful weight loss requires making permanent changes in your eating and exercise habits” (Mayo Clinic). They explain the “importance of flexibility, balanced nutrition, enjoyment, availability, physical activity and a steady approach to weight loss”. Additionally, the Mayo Clinic states “Most people who keep weight off for the long term are those who adopt healthy-eating habits as part of their normal lifestyle and who also get regular exercise” (Mayo Clinic). If we now understand that we must make permanent changes, where can a dieter go to learn how to make these changes?
I have researched 3 organizations that provide flexibility, balanced nutrition, enjoyment, availability, stress the importance of physical activity, have a steady approach to weight loss, and support the permanent lifestyle changes. I have also provided the average weight lost per week and the estimated costs. Interesting also was to see that each of these organizations provides support for their individuals, have healthy weight loss goals (no more than 2 lbs per week) and not one of them use the word DIET. Weight Watchers was the first to recognize the need for counseling sessions with others.
Having been around for over 40 years, Weight Watchers’ continued success secret is speaking with others for encouragement and touting drug free weight loss. The New England Journal of Medicine recommends this type of encouragement to increase the individual’s success (WeightWatchers). Weight Watchers supports long term success by continuously teaching and promoting healthy eating habits and exercise. With the flexibility that this program provides, it truly fits into different lifestyles and situations. As an example, men are less likely to go to face to face meetings, but by using Weight Watcher’s online tool, they can still eceive the necessary support. Additionally, diabetic individuals are able to successfully utilize this plan as it has food and programs specifically designed for diabetics. Individuals can expect to lose approximately 2 lbs. per week, with a cost of about $160 per 20 lbs. lost. Weight Watchers provides menus and recipes for those who wish to cook for themselves, and also provides an entire host of foods that can be purchased at the local grocery store for those who wish not to cook for every meal, or have healthy desserts handy so that they stay on plan.
Jenny Craig was the first program to combine nutrition and fitness education. Ms. Craig was also instrumental in having health insurance providers classify weight loss programs as valid medical reimbursement. This program is noted for teaching how not to diet, but how to eat properly for life. Jenny Craig supports long term success (Jenny Craig) by teaching balance in nutrition, exercise and promoting moderation. Prepackaged foods are offered in the beginning as a teaching tool for healthy meals and portion control. Jenny Craig offers several avenues to pursue when an individual gets started.
These include setting up a weight loss plan based on individual needs and expectations which is done either face to face, via phone or on the internet, and as with Weight Watchers, also provides 24 by 7 support. Individuals can expect to lose approximately 1 – 2 lbs. per week, with a cost of about $1,900 per 20 lbs. lost. It is expected that this will take 13 weeks, and the cost DOES include food. NutriSystem has an approach which emphasizes food with a low glycemic index. The company provides a 12-week self guided “mindset makeover” behavioral guide, a community of peers for support and counselors (Nutrisystem ).
Similar to Weight Watchers and Jenny Craig, NutriSystem recommends exercise, and provides online fitness plans and support. NutriSystem also provides take along meal planners which assists the individual with eating at a restaurant or other places outside of their home or comfort level. An individual can expect to lose 1 – 2 lbs. per week with a cost of $1,200 to lose 20 lbs. which includes the cost of food. Each of these organizations provides a solid foundation for long term success. They promote making healthy lifestyle changes, provide the necessary tools to help the individual along the way and are proven successful in their techniques.
They work! What is it about these organizations that make them successful? When comparing the 3 Day Diet, the Metabolism Diet and the Cabbage Soup Diet to Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig and NutriSystem, and recalling what the Mayo Clinic says about successful weight loss, we see that success comes when there is a whole life approach to lifestyle changes. A lifestyle promotes many more things that a diet cannot. Lifestyles are sustainable; an individual is not drooling for the next meal and a lifestyle promotes a regular eating pattern that keeps the fire going all the time.
With lifestyle changes the individual realizes that they are all human; it’s all about moderation, even with a healthy lifestyle. If the dieter should slip up they can get back on track quickly and easily. Without ‘restrictions’ they are less likely to continue down the road of poor eating habits. When embracing a healthy lifestyle, the individual will add more exercise or activity to their day; a healthy lifestyle includes exercise not only to increase the output of calorie intake, but also to strengthen the heart, increase circulation and to get those endorphins flowing.
Healthy lifestyles provide enough calories; too few calories will actually slow down a metabolism (fight or flight) and causes dieters to NOT lose weight. Remember – feed the fire! Many organizations and studies continue to show that long term weight management success is achieved through lifestyle changes which include healthy eating habits and staying active. The Mayo Clinic (detailed above) is just one. The United States Department of Agriculture also expresses the need to “Learn what to eat from each food group.
Focus on how much to eat. Watch your portion sizes! Choose “nutrient-dense” forms of foods. Get moving! Physical activity can help you reach and keep a healthier weight. . . ” (Steps to a Healthier Weight). So, why don’t diets work? Because they are a short term fix and do not teach proper habits and cannot be sustained. What does work? Lifestyle changes which provide the tools necessary for continued success in weight management and the enrichment of an individual’s mind, body and soul, allowing them to lead a healthy and happy long life.
Diets don’t work, but lifestyle changes do!? Bibliography Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “Vital Signs. ” 3 August 2010. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Web site. 9 February 2011 . Jenny Craig. Jenny Craig. October 2008. 11 February 2011 . Kovacs, Betty MS, RD. “Diet Plans & Programs Comparing Popular Weight Loss Diets. ” n. d. Medicinenet Web Site. 10 February 2011 . Matus, Mizpah and Mike Howard. Every Diet. 11 November 2009. 10 February 2011 . Mayo Clinic. “Weight loss. ” 24 June 2010. Mayo Clinic Web site. 09 February 2011 .
Merriam-Webster. “Diet; Lifestyle. ” n. d. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. 9 February 2011 . Nutrisystem . Nutrisystem. October 2007. 11 February 2011 . Reisner, Rebecca. Business Week Debate Room. Jany 2008. 10 February 2011 . —. “The Diet Industry: A Big Fat Lie. ” January 2008. Business Week Web Site. 9 February 2011 . “Steps to a Healthier Weight. ” 10 February 2011. www. mypyramid. gov. 20 February 2011 . The Diet Channel. The Diet Channel: Metabolism Diet. n. d. 10 February 2011 . WeightWatchers. Weight Watchers. n. d. 10 February 2011 .