The Weight Loss Trap: Why Your Diet Isn’t Working

time weight loss trapOn May 25, 2017, TIME Health ran a cover story on the difficulties of losing weight and keeping it off. The article tells the story of Kevin Hall, a scientist at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) who, like many of us, thought that the solution for obesity was simple, just eat less and exercise more. He decided to study 14 contestants of The Biggest Loser for a scientific paper to see how their enormous weight loss was achieved. Over the course of the season, the contestants lost an average of 127 lb. each and about 64% of their body fat. However, over time, 13 of the 14 contestants Hall studied gained, on average, 66% of the weight they’d lost on the show, and four were heavier than they were before the competition.

Finding answers to the weight-loss puzzle has never been more critical. The vast majority of American adults are overweight and nearly 40% are clinically obese. Last year the NIH provided an estimated $931 million in funding for obesity research, including Hall’s, and that research is giving scientists a new understanding of why dieting is so hard, why keeping the weight off over time is even harder and why the prevailing wisdom about weight loss seems to work only sometimes–for some people.

What scientists are uncovering should bring fresh hope to the 155 million Americans who are overweight, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Leading researchers finally agree, for instance, that exercise, while critical to good health, is not an especially reliable way to keep off body fat over the long term. And the overly simplistic equation of calories in vs. calories out has given way to the more intricate understanding that it’s what makes up a person’s diet–rather than how much of it they can burn off working out–that sustains weight loss.

The low-fat craze, for example, that kicked off in the late 1970s was based on the notion that eating fat will make you fat and depended on the calorie-counting model of weight loss. That’s not what happened when people went low fat, though. The diet trend coincided with weight gain. In 1990, adults with obesity made up less than 15% of the U.S. population. By 2010, most states were reporting obesity in 25% or more of their populations. Today that has swelled to 40% of the adult population. For kids and teens, it’s 17%.

They also know that the best diet for you is very likely not the best diet for your next-door neighbor. Individual responses to different diets–from low fat and vegan to low carb and paleo–vary enormously.

The Personalized Approach

Scientists are showing that the key to weight loss appears to be highly personalized rather than trendy diets. And while weight loss will never be easy for anyone, the evidence is mounting that it’s possible for anyone to reach a healthy weight–people just need to find their best way there.

Weight-loss science experts are getting closer to understanding what it is about a given diet that works for a given person . The one commonality is that they had to make changes in their everyday behaviors. In a group of 10,000 real-life biggest losers, no two people lost the weight in quite the same way but they are encouraged to diverge from the program, with the help of a physician, whenever they want, in order to figure out what works best for them. The program takes a whole-person approach to weight loss, which means that behavior, psychology and budget–not just biology–inform each person’s plan.

Learning what variables are most important for each person–be they psychological, logistical, food-based–matters more than identifying one diet that works for everyone.

Another important factor of the obesity epidemic is chemical exposures. Dr. Leonardo Trasande, an associate professor of pediatrics, environmental medicine and population health at New York University’s School of Medicine says, “Chemicals can disrupt hormones and metabolism, which can contribute to disease and disability.”

In addition, scientists are exploring how the microbiome–the trillions of bacteria that live inside and on the surface of the human body–may be influencing how the body metabolizes certain foods. Dr. Eran Elinav and Eran Segal, researchers for the Personalized Nutrition Project at the Weizmann Institute of Science in Israel, believe the variation in diet success may lie in the way people’s microbiomes react to different foods.

In conclusion, the key to understanding individuals and their relationship with weight gain/weight loss is personalization. Dr. Yoni Freedhoff, an obesity expert and the medical director of The Bariatric Medical Institute in Ottawa says, “so long as we continue to pigeonhole people into certain diets without considering the individuals, the more likely we are to run into problems. The amount of effort needed to understand your patients is more than many doctors put in.”

 If you’d like an individualized approach to weight loss that considers your own personal situation and makeup, schedule a free 20 minute strategy session and start working on your weight loss goals now.

How a Low Fat Diet Can Harm your Weight and Overall Health

Fats are an essential nutrient and one of the primary energy sources for the body. They also play a big role in weight management, absorbing nutrients, maintaining healthy skin and hair, supporting immune function, and hormonal balance.

While a balanced diet that includes plenty of plant foods is key for long-term health, fats are actually needed to properly absorb the fat-soluble vitamins found in many plants — including vitamin A, D, E and K.

Most healthy sources of fat are also fat-burning foods. Their ability to make our food taste good, turn off hunger and stop overeating by making us feel satisfied, has a lot to do with zerofatweight management.

Fats Get a Bad Rap

For decades, we’ve been told to avoid fatty foods like coconuts, eggs, fatty cuts of meat and full-fat dairy. Since the government’s 1980 Dietary Guidelines were established over 30 years ago, dietary policy has focused on reducing total fat in the American diet to no more than 30 percent of a person’s daily calories. And many of the most popular “diet plans” over the years have reduced fat to much lower levels than this.

Not all fats are created equally and not all affect the body in the same way. While processed and refined fats found in boxed foods and most restaurant fare can be harmful, other types of natural fats have beneficial, life-extending properties. When we miss out on fats in our diets, we can quickly find ourselves feeling tired, moody, constantly hungry, unable to kick cravings and resentful over our restrictive diets.

Low Fat Diet Risks That May Surprise You

We hear much more about healthy fats in the mainstream media today but low-fat, diet and light products of all sorts continue to pack grocery store shelves — what are the real risks of consuming these foods over the full-fat varieties?

1. Poor Brain Function

The brain is largely made up of fat and requires a steady stream of fatty acids to perform optimally. Cholesterol has an important role as a critical brain nutrient, so despite what most people think, low cholesterol levels can be worse than high. This means that a major low-fat diet risk includes poor job performance, low energy, changes in your mood, “brain fog” and so on.

2. Compromised Heart Health

While we’ve been led to believe the opposite for many years, research continues to confirm that heart disease (including coronary artery disease, the leading cause of heart attacks) likely has much more do with inflammation — which is at the root of most diseases — than from high fat or cholesterol intake. This means that an inflammatory diet including lots of sugar, refined carbs, low-quality proteins and processed vegetable oils is actually more threatening to your heart that a diet high in fat — even saturated fat.

3. Weight Gain and Overeating

Recent research involving weight gain (or loss) and fat intake points to an established relationship between fat intake, your hormones and weight fluctuations. We know that many people who go on “diets” tend to gain back all of the weight shortly after. Why does this happen?

One explanation is that weight loss elicits biological adaptations that result in a decline in energy expenditure (adaptive thermogenesis) and an increase in hunger, both of which promote weight regain. But certain studies have found that a higher-fat diet with lower carbs can help prevent this from happening. In addition, most people find that diets higher in fat are more satiating and turn off hunger signals and appetite much more so than lower-fat diets do. This is because fats turn on your fat-burning switch by impacting ghrelin hormone levels.

4. Higher Risk of Insulin Resistance and Diabetes

Clinical studies have shown us that excess weight gain and insulin (or blood sugar control) are highly connected.  Lower-fat, higher-carb diets might pose a higher risk for insulin resistance (and weight gain). But we know that eating plenty of healthy fats is one of the keys to controlling insulin. We also know that diets that are higher in fat tend to be lower in carbohydrates and sugar, which is beneficial for diabetes prevention.

5. Hormone Imbalances (Including Sex Hormones Testosterone and Estrogen)

Eating enough fats is one of the most important things you can do to balance hormones naturally. Cholesterol and other fats play a fundamental part in building cellular membranes and hormones. Certain kinds of fats, including cholesterol, also act like antioxidants and precursors to some important brain-supporting molecules and neurotransmitters. These include vitamin D (which actually acts more like a hormone in the body more so than a vitamin) along with other hormones like testosterone and estrogen.

One low-fat diet risk is an increased risk for infertility and other hormonal issues in women. Some studies have found that low-fat diets raise the risk of menstrual problems and difficulty getting pregnant. For example, a 2007 study conducted by the Department of Nutrition and Harvard School of Public Health found that high intake of low-fat dairy foods may increase the risk of infertility whereas intake of high-fat dairy foods may decrease this risk.

 

If you’d like to incorporate healthy fats and nutrition into your weight loss plan, schedule a free 20 minute strategy session and start working on your weight loss goals now.