1.1 The Problem with Diets

There are many books that teach us how to lose weight. Ex­am­ples are the Atkins Diet, the South Beach Diet, the Zone Diet, the Cab­bage Soup Diet and the Drink­ing Man’s Diet. All of these di­ets work. If you do as the book in­structs you will lose weight.

The prob­lem is that your goal is not mere­ly to lose weight, but to keep it off af­ter the diet is over. Keep­ing the weight off is the hard part. Most peo­ple who lose weight re­gain some or all of it with­in a few years. There’s a sim­ple rea­son why this hap­pens.

In this book we will meet sev­er­al peo­ple, all of them fic­tion­al. One of them is Kay, a mid­dle aged wom­an who has just crossed the line from over­weight to obese.

When Kay goes on a diet, she adopts an eat­ing pat­tern that is quite dif­fer­ent to her nor­mal one. Typ­i­cal­ly the diet book urges her to re­strict her calo­ries. Most di­ets want her to re­duce her calo­rie in­take by 500 a day, or even 1,000. This means that she has to pay at­ten­tion to what she eats; al­ter the way she cooks to re­duce por­tions; give up or strict­ly lim­it cer­tain kinds of foods; and she has to count calo­ries, ei­ther di­rect­ly or in­di­rect­ly. While di­et­ing, she is hun­gry most of the time and she fre­quent­ly thinks about food.

The re­sult of this change is that Kay los­es, on av­er­age, one to two pounds a week. On a con­ven­tion­al diet fat makes up about 75% of this loss. The re­main­ing 25% is mus­cle. PMC 3648712.

After Kay has achieved the de­sired weight she re­sumes her usu­al eat­ing pat­tern. But it was this eat­ing pat­tern that caused her to be over­weight in the first place. Re­turn­ing to it means that she will grad­u­al­ly re­turn to her for­mer weight un­less she con­tin­ues to re­strict calo­ries. Most peo­ple don’t like be­ing hun­gry all the time, and so the weight comes back.

So Kay en­dured hunger for months and the end re­sult is she is just as heavy as be­fore.

But the sit­u­a­tion is even worse. This is due to changes the diet caus­es in her rest­ing metabol­ic rate (RMR).

RMR is a mea­sure of how much en­er­gy is need­ed to keep the vi­tal func­tions go­ing. This in­cludes the ac­tions of the heart, brains, lungs and liv­er, and the en­er­gy need­ed to main­tain all oth­er tis­sue. For an av­er­age per­son, the RMR burns about 70% of the calo­ries con­sumed.

The hu­man body has mar­velous adap­tive ca­pa­bil­i­ties. When food is re­strict­ed, it sens­es a star­va­tion sit­u­a­tion and it slows down its metabolism to con­serve en­er­gy. This ef­fect is ex­ac­er­bat­ed by the loss of mus­cle mass that the diet caus­es. Mus­cle is metabol­i­cal­ly ac­tive. Also, los­ing mus­cle re­sults in a low­er­ing of phys­i­cal ac­tiv­i­ty.

If the sit­u­a­tion oc­curs again, as in so-called yo-yo di­et­ing, the slow metabolism be­comes en­trenched.

Once the metabolism is per­ma­nent­ly slowed, less calo­ries are need­ed than be­fore. If Kay re­turns to her orig­i­nal eat­ing pat­tern this will cause her to end up heav­ier than be­fore she start­ed di­et­ing.

If di­et­ing is not the so­lu­tion, then what is? This book fo­cus­es on lifestyle. By adopt­ing a spe­cif­ic lifestyle you can grad­u­al­ly lose weight, with lit­tle or no hunger, and keep the weight off for the rest of your life.

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