The Way of the Turtle - The Slow and Steady Path to Better
Do We Yo-Yo?
Expectations, or How the Diet Industry has Misled us
The diet industry
in the U.S. rakes in 40 billion dollars per year. Expensive specialized
"diet foods" are big sellers as well. As the editors of
every "women's magazine" at your grocery store checkout
know, promises of weight loss on the cover lead to more sales. And
yet...we just seem to be getting fatter. Is there a connection?
Well, think on
this: They wouldn't be raking in all those bucks if their methods
really worked! To the contrary, promoting false expectations brings
in more customers! Lest you doubt my interpretation of all this,
let's take a peek at a little "insider information".
In 1997, a group
of government agencies* sponsored a conference getting together
people from a broad range of points of view concerning weight loss
programs. These included scientists, public health officials, and
representatives of the weight loss industry. The conference title
was Commercial Weight Loss Products and Programs -- What Consumers
Stand to Gain and Lose. Its purpose was to explore how to
improve the quality of the information consumers get about obesity,
weight loss, and weight loss programs. Some of the main points coming
out the conference:
- Long-term weight
loss maintenance rates are ghastly.
- Rates improve
when people are encouraged to lose weight slowly and learn to maintain
modest weight gains.
- Consumers aren't
told the usual outcomes of the weight loss programs which are capturing
so much of their time, energy, money, and emotional investment.
- Members of the
weight loss industry stated that giving the public accurate information
about weight loss outcomes would be discouraging to them, and would
take away "the dream" of achieving their "ideal"
weight through their programs.
Let's take a look
at some of the common unrealistic expectations about weight loss
promoted by the weight loss industry. These ideas are so commonplace
now they are often assumed to be the truth.
Term Focus - Usually the main idea is to focus on losing
the weight. This is assumed to be the "hard part", and
best to get it over as quickly as possible. People who lose weight
quickly are applauded. Plateaus and "stalls" are the enemy
to getting to the goal.
I believe this
is totally backward.
people would do much better to make a realistic long-term plan from
the very beginning - something that can work for the rest of their
lives. The lure of quick weight loss programs is strong, and there
is a temptation to "just get the weight off, and then figure
it out from there". I feel strongly that long-term planning
MUST be part of the initial weight loss process.
Weight - Many people have an unrealistic expectation
of a proper goal weight, which is reinforced by many diet programs.
To begin with,
body fat percentage makes much more sense as a goal than weight.
In the best case, when weight is lost, as much muscle is preserved
as possible, as increased muscle mass is very helpful in maintaining
weight loss. Especially for people with more muscle mass than average,
paying attention to body fat percentage is more meaningful than
weight. The BMI, which is becoming the standard measure, tends to
be less accurate for people who are more fit (have a lower body
many people who are seriously overweight need intermediate goals,
and may need to take "weight loss breaks" in order not
to trigger the body's biological defenses against weight loss.
weight goal should not be obtained from a chart, but by determining
each person's Lowest Sustainable Weight (LSW). Genetics has a hand
in determining what this is for each person. It takes time and experimenting
to determine what number (or range) is.
of Weight Loss - It's clear that as a group, dieters
want to take weight off as fast as possible. Figures quoted by the
weight loss industry reinforce the idea that rapid weight loss can
be healthy, when in fact it makes it more likely that weight lost
will be regained. Scientific reviews of the literature suggest that
a 10% reduction in weight taking approximately 6 months should be
the maximum rate of initial weight loss. After 6 months, a serious
reevaluation should take place. This means that for anyone who has
a starting weight under 260, a goal of losing one pound per week
is too fast (more details on this in other sections).
In general, slow
weight loss, including plateaus and stalls, help the body adjust
to the change and lessen the chances of triggering counter-reactions.
- Most weight loss programs hold out maintenance as a sort of magic
land where the dieter will be able to go back to eating "more
normally". In fact, especially after a substantial weight loss,
this is not often the case. As a minister friend once said, "how
you OBtain something is how you must MAINtain it". Realistically,
maintaining a weight loss requires the same effort (or more), with
a similar diet and exercise program as weight loss. In fact, most
people need MORE exercise to maintain the weight loss than they
did to lose it. This is why concentrating on finding a "diet
for life" is crucial.
is the Same - It seems that almost every diet out there
is touted as working for everyone. Even the ones that assure you
that they are "individualized" or "personalized"
are usually only different within very narrow parameters. Perhaps
the one most successful thing I have done with my current approach
is to prove to myself that this is what works for me. This gives
me lots of motivation to commit to it for the rest of my life.
I believe our
primary goal should be health. We should try to find a way of life
(including diet, exercise, and other factors) that help us feel
our best. Weight loss will happen for many people secondary to this,
but it must be managed in a way that is likely to be permanent.
* The sponsoring
-The Bureau of
Consumer Protection of the Federal Trade Commission
-The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention
- The American
Society for Clinical Nutrition
- The National
Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases
The material on this page and Web site is for informational and educational
purposes only, and should not substitute for medical advice. Anyone having questions
about the application of information appearing here to a specific person or
situation should obtain advice from a qualified health care professional.