We have all heard the title of this post in conversations about weight loss. It’s a pervasive topic because yo-yo dieting is the norm. I don’t think I have ever met a single overweight person who has not lost and regained the same 10 or 20 lbs at least once in their lifetime. But then again, I’m a trainer and I see people when they need help.
As I’ve postulated before, maybe it’s all just a perspective problem. Maybe we have been educated by people who aren’t looking at things from the right angle. Maybe the advice we have been given is simply causing our bodies to respond in exactly the manner that they should. Maybe, just maybe, we have done this to ourselves and, when we see things for what they really are, we can undo them once and for all.
A couple of years ago, this study (and this resulting article in the New York Times) looked at the physiology behind weight regain after dieting. In a nut shell, people diet, their body compensates, weight is regained, everyone acts shocked. This basic concept isn’t new. There are plenty of other studies that have measured similar data points and proposed theories and/or solutions. And, in my opinion, that’s where things tend to get really ridiculous.
I’m not sure how it came to this, but it’s nearly impossible to find the word “diet” in published research without it’s automatically defined as caloric restriction unless it is used to describe a specific type of diet, usually a macronutrient profile (low fat diet, high protein diet, etc.). This is the part that drives me to madness because it’s so unique to our view of ourselves as humans. As I argued in my book, when we use the word “diet” in discussions about animals in nature, we mean the list of things this animal eats. For example, rabbits can be found on the list of things eaten by the bobcats that live in the woods around my house. Therefore, if I were to ask a zoologist about the diet of our local bobcats, I would be told about rabbits and other things bobcats eat to survive. That zoologist would never look at me with a funny expression on his/her face and ask, “Why would a bobcat need to go on a diet? Do you have fat bobcats around your home?” I’m being a bit facetious here, but my point is that, as far as the research goes, “diet” means one thing for humans (cutting calories) and something entirely different for everything else on the planet that eats anything ever (a natural list of foods). Call me crazy, but examining the human diet seems like time well spent.
Thus, the problem is considered solved, no further discussion is warranted, and we are all told to eat less because nothing else is even a valid consideration in the minds of most experts. And we do eat less. And studies like the one I linked above continuously prove that it isn’t working. Why? Because our bodies are good at surviving and they do their best to adapt to the crazy stressors we throw at them in the name of smaller jeans. When a body is denied enough calories to function properly, it will down-regulate its metabolism and up-regulate its various mechanisms of fat storage. Basically, you end up with less energy and efficient fat storage. Add irresponsible exercise (maybe even exercise of any kind) to this equation and things get much worse.
Rather than trying to outsmart a body that is only doing what it’s told, maybe we can do better. Maybe we can stop using those same old methods and acting like they are the only option. Instead (incoming radical notion), maybe fat loss could be about getting REALLY FREAKING HEALTHY.
People who are not overweight are not always healthy, but people in peak health are never overweight.
Go forth and be awesome.