Do Diets Really Work?

I think I’m pretty open with the fact that I don’t like the “fat acceptance” movement. In my opinion, it’s going to get people killed in the long run, but they don’t care about that.

However, I’m actually OK with people who simply want to be fat. They have a right to live whatever lifestyle they want, whether I personally approve or not, and they also have a right to be treated as a worthwhile human being regardless of whether they’re thin or fat.

What I’m not OK with is when fat acceptance people just make up crap.

Recently, over at Vice, a post dropped of “51 Ways to Make the World Less Hostile to Fat People.” In it, the author makes a lot of comments that need to be slapped down, but debunking BS takes an order of magnitude more work than writing said BS in the first place, so I’m going to start with just one particular tidbit.

4. Understand that diets don’t work and are the evil child of capitalism and body-shaming culture. Over 95 percent of people who lose weight through dieting put the weight back on within five years. If diets worked, the diet industry would be financially unsustainable.

So, technically, there are two bits of BS to debunk in one.

Look, I’m going to tell you a little something about me. I’m one of those 95 percent who lost weight and put it back on. Lost to the tune of almost 40 lbs. However, we need to get into the discussion of just why so many people who lose weight put it back on.

But first things first.

To start with, we need to understand what a “diet” really is. A diet is nothing more than the collection of foods an individual consumes on a regular basis. If you only consume Big Macs, then that’s your diet.

No, that has nothing to do with weight loss, but the term “diet” isn’t inherently about weight loss.

Yet in the popular culture, the term “diet” is evocative of caloric restriction, forbidden foods, and weight loss.

That’s because when people talk about “going on a diet,” what they mean is they’re going to attempt to alter their diet in a way meant to cause weight loss.

And yes, they can work.

In fact, while trying to bash capitalism, the author essentially also acknowledges that diets work. After all, money doesn’t typically get made for long on something that doesn’t work at all.

That tends to result in lawsuits, actually.

In fact, she acknowledges that people lose weight. The problem, apparently, is that they don’t lead to permanent weight loss. And, as such, they supposedly don’t work.

Male bovine excrement.

While Buzzfeed was able to scrape together some supposed experts to claim diets don’t work, the truth is that nutritionists use diets all the time to promote weight loss in obese patients. And many others use diets on their own to lose weight.

As someone who fell into that 95 percent who failed to keep it off, let me explain why it didn’t stay off.

You see, several years ago, I decided I didn’t like being obese. I was in the local public eye and I didn’t like the image I projected, so I started watching what I ate. I started counting my calories and keep a pretty low-calorie diet.

Over time, I lost a good bit of weight. Not only that, but my appetite shrunk as I was no longer craving massive amounts of food. My body seemed to be fine with the portions I was giving it.

And the weight dropped down. It was a reasonable weight loss, but it still dropped.

Before long, I was down almost 40 lbs.

But I was also broke. Eating low-calories can be pricey, especially since I’d got paleo by that point and was focused only on those foods. Inexpensive foods tend to not be paleo and so I kind of quit bothering. Especially since I was stalled out at the moment.

As a result, I started gaining weight again, eventually topping out recently at 252.4 lbs.

That gets us to the reasons that so many people lose weight on “diets” but fail to keep it off.

You see, the body uses calories as fuel. Protein, carbs, and fats are simply different types of fuel the body uses, but it ultimately needs at least so many calories in order to maintain a given body weight. The higher the weight, the higher the calorie count.

It’s the reason a 400 lbs guy doesn’t keep gaining weight. His body weight and his caloric intake have a balance that’s being maintained.

The trick for weight loss is to drop the calories below that maintenance level. The more you go below that level, the more weight you drop. It’s that simple.

Now, where that level is may vary. We typically use the basil metabolic rate, but that doesn’t really work for me. I cut below that level in a sufficient rate to promote weight loss, and nothing happens. I have to drop it even more. Apparently, my metabolism is crap.

Regardless, though, we have to drop below that level. It’s the reason an incredibly obese person can drop weight by making a simple change such as not drinking sugary sodas any longer.

What actually happens is they’ve cut out the calories from the drinks and not replaced them with anything else. As such, they take in too few calories to maintain their current body weight, so their body starts to adjust to this new reality.

However, at some point, homeostasis is reached and weight loss stops. That means additional changes are needed.

In other cases, someone makes a total change and starts losing weight in an effort to make a drastic transformation.

The same principles apply, though. Calories in have to be lower than calories out in order to lose weight.

Still with me?

In the case of a diet, as people think of the term, the foods and calories are adjusted to help promote this. Calorie-dense foods like sweets are basically eliminated while nutrient-dense but low-calorie foods like vegetables are promoted.

Every year, numerous people make major transformations using this basic principle. So why do they fail to keep it off?

The problem is that we’re a goal-driven society. That’s not a bad thing, but when it comes time to talk weight loss, it can be.

You see, having a weight loss goal is great and all. I mean, I have one. But where so many fail is that they fail to understand something very basic. Once you’ve been overweight, you are going to have to spend the rest of your life watching everything.

We talk about lifestyle changes, but we often fail to understand that it’s a lifetime change. It’s something you’re going to do for your entire life.

Instead, what happens is people reach their goal, then start going back to what they did before. As a result, they get precisely what they had before, only worse in some cases. That’s because their metabolism has apparently been damaged slightly and they run at a much lower basil metabolic rate than they did before.

So, as a result, they put on a bit more weight than they had.

But the thing is, the diet actually worked. It did precisely what it was supposed to do.

The failure lies in the person on the diet. They stopped doing what caused them to lose weight and, as a result, not only stopped losing weight but gained it all back.

The problem here isn’t that diets don’t work. Most of them will cause weight loss, especially some of the more sane ones. If you use your brain, you’ll lose weight.

The problem is that people want someone or something to blame for their failings. In fact, look at the Buzzfeed article for a moment. Any time you can find the term “thin privilege,” you know you’re not dealing with sanity anymore. Instead, they cherry-picked “experts” to promote their pro-fat acceptance ideology. There’s remarkably little science bandied about because science says something different.

Instead, they want to blame “diets” for not losing weight. Well, guess what? Some people need to diet to lose weight. Ages ago, I wasn’t one of them. I was lean with no effort. Now, I’m different. I have to work at it.

Which is fine. I don’t mind.

What I do mind is someone sitting there and saying that it’s pointless. I mind someone claiming that diets are a waste of time. I mind someone basically trying to imply that I’m doomed to maintain a body that I don’t like and don’t want.

Look, if the writer over at Vice is fine being fat, so be it. I’m not, and I damn sure don’t appreciate her pretending that she has any business speaking to me or about me.

I’m going to lose still more weight and I plan on keeping it off, too, and screw anyone who thinks they have a say in the matter.


Author: Tom

Tom is a husband, father, novelist, opinion writer, and former Navy Corpsman currently living in Georgia. He's also someone who has lost almost 60 pounds in a safe, sustainable way, so he knows what he's talking about.

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