Why Diets Fail - A Look At The Science

By this time of year many people are “wearing” their holiday indulgences in the all-too-familiar “bulge” around the middle! So what’s the usual remedy? Join the latest diet “craze” to lose a few pounds, which of course will find their way back by spring!

There is a way to stop the endless cycle of weight loss and gain, says Dr. David Levitsky, a professor in the nutritional-sciences division at Cornell University. Dr. Levitsky, who has researched the physiology of weight loss, contends that virtually every weight-loss prescription that requires low calorie eating for a very long time, dooms the dieter to defeat by lowering metabolism while increasing fat production and storage.

Most health professionals agree that adopting a low-calorie diet is not the best route to weight loss. In fact, a new report just released by the USDA states that any diet that limits calories to about 1500 per day produces only short-term weight loss at best.

Studies show that although dieting may shave off the pounds in the beginning, the metabolic decrease initiated by low-calorie fare literally guarantees increased weight problems. This is especially critical, not only for weight-conscious individuals but also for those who wish to improve or avoid health problems. For health as well as permanent weight loss, a normal metabolic rate is essential. A look at the science behind weight loss reveals the answer.

In simple terms, metabolism refers to all the biochemical processes involved in breaking down the food you eat for bodily functions and energy. The rate and efficiency of your metabolism is called the metabolic rate, or the rate at which your body burns calories for energy.

Your metabolism - by which food is converted to energy - is designed to protect you from starvation, as in times of famine. So when you go on a diet, the body reacts as if there were a famine and metabolic rate drops as fat-storing enzymes become highly activated.

Even a diet of 1,000 calories a day or less may not result in weight loss in chronic dieters whose metabolism has slowed down. Several research studies with people who have a history of repetitive dieting show that these people do not lose weight even on 800 calories a day!

To understand how metabolism works, think of the thermostat on your furnace. If you turn the thermostat up, more fuel is used. Turn it down and less fuel is used. Your body’s fuel is the calorie. A fast metabolism may be thought of as a “thermostat” set on “high” and uses more calories (fuel), while a slow metabolism, set on low, uses fewer calories. Calories that are not used for energy are stored as fat. If you have a slow metabolism, you use fewer calories for energy, which means more will be stored as fat.

If you are overweight, chances are you have a slower metabolism. Oddly enough, several research studies have shown that thin people eat an average of 600 calories more per day than overweight people. Therefore, an excess of body fat, in most cases, should be viewed as a symptom of a slower than normal metabolism.

To correct the problem, metabolism must be increased so that more calories will be burned for energy. This correction will result in permanent weight loss with an increase in energy and health.

A healthy lifestyle, which includes both nutrition and exercise, is required to correct the metabolism. Two bonuses! It incorporates sound dietary principles that will minimize or reverse most chronic diseases including cancer and heart disease while giving you more energy as you lose weight.

Losing weight through a healthy approach may not make you lose fast, but it could have you looking and feeling much better within just a week or two, without another crash diet, and without another “regain.” AND-come this spring, you’ll be more than happy to trade the bulky sweaters for shorts and tee shirts!

Jeanne Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Consultant, Author, and Director Of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.