THE TRUTH ABOUT DIET TRENDS

Even when it didn’t seem possible, the world of dieting has grown more contentious. Social media feeds are riddled with quips about the latest articles, “must-see” Netflix documentaries, new books to buy that promise weight loss, supplements that claim to burn fat fast, and even arguments between friends and family about which diet is superior.

The conversations and selling points are emotionally, politically, financially, and personally motivated. And often, rely on very little–if any–scientific evidence. Statistics are cherry-picked and hard data is understood by very few. Opinions are formed before a new study is even read, so the opportunity for an open discussion is lost prior to the first breath of a conversation.

So what’s at the heart of some of these contentious topics?

In my coaching practice and in my life of science, several culprits of these issues have become clear:

  1. Our food climate is so gluttonous and overwhelming that nearly any dietary boundary has benefits. This creates diet camps.

  2. Diet camps trigger a human’s desire to be right, which initiates a cascade of belief systems and arguments.

  3. Genetics have a profound and still little understood impact on what diets work best for which people.

  4. The desire to help others is genuine in many people, but a lack of formal education, understanding, and time spent with research and in-depth science creates large blind spots in reasoning. Some of the loudest voices know the least.

  5. A truly tactful clinician and/or scientist will look at the totality of the research to make sense of patterns, data, and correlations. And then use those in the context of an individual. This is a tremendous amount of work and most people can’t/won’t put themselves through that!

Together, these factors generate a lot of arguments, confusion, and personal opinion. But surely there must be a way to find a system to function in this disarray.

How could the average American possibly navigate this tumultuous landscape?

Thankfully, there are some items at the heart of weight loss, health, and fitness that we can absolutely rely on.

What’s Really Going On In the Diet World

First, let’s reframe the picture.

It feels like everyone is on a different diet and screeching about how good it is and how bad everyone else’s is. But what’s actually happening is that our modern food environment is literally unnavigable and they found a little tool to navigate, so they’re hooked! They’re believers! And they want everyone to try it!

Our restaurant menus are saddled with fried food, oils, sugar, and serving sizes bigger than biology textbooks. Checkout lines are bordered by candy, kettle corn, hot cocoa, and cookies. Coffee shop counters are lined with muffins, croissants, and doughnuts. Lattes are pumped with flavored sugar syrups. Bread is served first, alcohol is bottomless, and dessert is offered before we can ask for a check. Fast-food is on every corner, and sneaky marketing gimmicks create more times to eat per day, with more opportunities and buying options. It’s all the honey and no bees. All the meat and no hunt. All the fruit and no climb.

And what are diets? They’re bees around the honey hive. We can’t dive face first into a peanut butter pie when we’re keto, vegan, carnivore, Whole 30, Zone, or paleo. It gives limits in a limitless world. And when that works–because it inevitably will because it reduces our total energy intake and tends to increase consumption of whole foods–a person gets excited and wants to get everyone else on the plan, too. They become passionate, especially if moral reasoning behind the food decisions speaks to their personal values (like meat consumption).

But these are what we call case studies. One person experiencing an outcome after starting one type of diet. This is by no means meaningful data. This is also what’s used by documentaries, celebrity-endorsed products, or many books to help sell the product.

But really what happened in many instances is that someone subscribed to a diet that they believed in for some mixture of reasons, whether moral, social, or even taste-related, and then that diet was sustainable because they believed in its values. It’s great that they had success with it, but this is not evidence for anything other than behavior change.

The Key to Weight Loss and Health Isn’t One Diet

But the key isn’t which diet is the best thing ever. The key is: what are you willing to do for the rest of your life?

Because America doesn’t have a weight loss problem. It has a weight regain problem.

In a meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half of those who lost weight had regained it within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained. Similarly, in the 1999–2006 NHANES surveillance followed the prevalence and correlates of long-term weight loss maintenance (defined as weight loss maintained for at least 1 year) in 14,306 US adults. The study found that only one out of every six US adults who had ever been overweight or obese had accomplished long-term weight loss maintenance of at least 10% (I). The reason that data like this is so essential to consider is that health biomarkers, such as cholesterol, fasting insulin, and measurements of inflammation, quickly trend in a negative direction as soon as weight begins to be regained. In other words, the body can’t regain a lot of fat and stay healthy. The benefits of the weight loss are quickly lost, and baseline cardiovascular and metabolic disease risks return.

Weight regain can be attributed to many variables, including psychosocial factors and emotional regulation, but it is important to consider hormones, lean mass, exercise, and sleep as essential drivers of behavior and metabolism. One of the issues with weight loss is that muscle is often lost in a hypocaloric state, which can contribute to a lower metabolic rate that dieters often suffer from.

In previous articles I’ve examined different types of diets, citing interventions on low-fat vs low-carb protocols and total weight lost. Both have shown to be effective so long as the energy consumption is controlled. Knowing that high-protein diets are highly effective at promoting weight loss, and crucially contribute to the development of lean mass or the sparing of it in low-energy states, we must consider protein to be an essential piece to the metabolic puzzle.

Knowing that low-fat vs low-carb interventions have no differing effects on weight loss, and that lean mass and exercise can keep metabolic rate higher and build muscle, then the long-term health solution can consist of these key points. The goals for lifelong success thus include building muscle and exercising, eat plenty of protein, and balance the remainders of your macronutrients depending on taste preferences to control energy. There is no fancy name for this diet. There is no book, pill, class, or celebrity to put at the front of it. It’s a simple short list of low-hanging fruit. But, it must be executed tirelessly for the rest of your life. So really, you don’t have to pick a diet. Nor should you. You should pick a lifestyle that you can thrive in for decades.

When my clients are picking their homework for each session I often ask them: is this something you can do on your best day and your absolute worst day? Because that’s what these lifestyles really have to build: a new way of living.

And that’s what we all have to ask ourselves when making health decisions. Because losing weight and building muscle is inherently protective. Gaining many pounds, losing them, and regaining them is inherently dangerous. So the diet camp I belong to is: eat enough and train enough to build muscle and do NOT regain the weight!

Health Decisions Are A Value System

Everything comes at a cost. We can eat whatever we want, and pay the price metabolically. We can control our food down to the macronutrient grams and isolate ourselves. We have to use our values to determine which boundaries feel worth it to us. And thankfully–even though the diet world would never want us to know it–there’s valuable space in between the extremes that allow for healthy body weight, exercise, delicious food, and positive mental health. But at the core of it lies the need to end the extremism and yo-yo diets, to avoid the weight loss followed by regain, and instead find a lifestyle that we can enjoy for decades to come.

So the next time a new trend comes along, remember to note why these things often appear, and then go enjoy the healthy lifestyle that you’ve built for yourself.

I. Kraschnewski, J. L., Boan, J., Esposito, J., Sherwood, N. E., Lehman, E. B., Kephart, D. K., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2010). Long-term weight loss maintenance in the United States. International journal of obesity (2005), 34(11), 1644–1654. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.94

THE TRUTH ABOUT DIET TRENDS

Even when it didn’t seem possible, the world of dieting has grown more contentious. Social media feeds are riddled with quips about the latest articles, “must-see” Netflix documentaries, new books to buy that promise weight loss, supplements that claim to burn fat fast, and even arguments between friends and family about which diet is superior.

The conversations and selling points are emotionally, politically, financially, and personally motivated. And often, rely on very little–if any–scientific evidence. Statistics are cherry-picked and hard data is understood by very few. Opinions are formed before a new study is even read, so the opportunity for an open discussion is lost prior to the first breath of a conversation.

So what’s at the heart of some of these contentious topics?

In my coaching practice and in my life of science, several culprits of these issues have become clear:

  1. Our food climate is so gluttonous and overwhelming that nearly any dietary boundary has benefits. This creates diet camps.

  2. Diet camps trigger a human’s desire to be right, which initiates a cascade of belief systems and arguments.

  3. Genetics have a profound and still little understood impact on what diets work best for which people.

  4. The desire to help others is genuine in many people, but a lack of formal education, understanding, and time spent with research and in-depth science creates large blind spots in reasoning. Some of the loudest voices know the least.

  5. A truly tactful clinician and/or scientist will look at the totality of the research to make sense of patterns, data, and correlations. And then use those in the context of an individual. This is a tremendous amount of work and most people can’t/won’t put themselves through that!

Together, these factors generate a lot of arguments, confusion, and personal opinion. But surely there must be a way to find a system to function in this disarray.

How could the average American possibly navigate this tumultuous landscape?

Thankfully, there are some items at the heart of weight loss, health, and fitness that we can absolutely rely on.

What’s Really Going On In the Diet World

First, let’s reframe the picture.

It feels like everyone is on a different diet and screeching about how good it is and how bad everyone else’s is. But what’s actually happening is that our modern food environment is literally unnavigable and they found a little tool to navigate, so they’re hooked! They’re believers! And they want everyone to try it!

Our restaurant menus are saddled with fried food, oils, sugar, and serving sizes bigger than biology textbooks. Checkout lines are bordered by candy, kettle corn, hot cocoa, and cookies. Coffee shop counters are lined with muffins, croissants, and doughnuts. Lattes are pumped with flavored sugar syrups. Bread is served first, alcohol is bottomless, and dessert is offered before we can ask for a check. Fast-food is on every corner, and sneaky marketing gimmicks create more times to eat per day, with more opportunities and buying options. It’s all the honey and no bees. All the meat and no hunt. All the fruit and no climb.

And what are diets? They’re bees around the honey hive. We can’t dive face first into a peanut butter pie when we’re keto, vegan, carnivore, Whole 30, Zone, or paleo. It gives limits in a limitless world. And when that works–because it inevitably will because it reduces our total energy intake and tends to increase consumption of whole foods–a person gets excited and wants to get everyone else on the plan, too. They become passionate, especially if moral reasoning behind the food decisions speaks to their personal values (like meat consumption).

But these are what we call case studies. One person experiencing an outcome after starting one type of diet. This is by no means meaningful data. This is also what’s used by documentaries, celebrity-endorsed products, or many books to help sell the product.

But really what happened in many instances is that someone subscribed to a diet that they believed in for some mixture of reasons, whether moral, social, or even taste-related, and then that diet was sustainable because they believed in its values. It’s great that they had success with it, but this is not evidence for anything other than behavior change.

The Key to Weight Loss and Health Isn’t One Diet

But the key isn’t which diet is the best thing ever. The key is: what are you willing to do for the rest of your life?

Because America doesn’t have a weight loss problem. It has a weight regain problem.

In a meta-analysis of 29 long-term weight loss studies, more than half of those who lost weight had regained it within two years, and by five years more than 80% of lost weight was regained. Similarly, in the 1999–2006 NHANES surveillance followed the prevalence and correlates of long-term weight loss maintenance (defined as weight loss maintained for at least 1 year) in 14,306 US adults. The study found that only one out of every six US adults who had ever been overweight or obese had accomplished long-term weight loss maintenance of at least 10% (I). The reason that data like this is so essential to consider is that health biomarkers, such as cholesterol, fasting insulin, and measurements of inflammation, quickly trend in a negative direction as soon as weight begins to be regained. In other words, the body can’t regain a lot of fat and stay healthy. The benefits of the weight loss are quickly lost, and baseline cardiovascular and metabolic disease risks return.

Weight regain can be attributed to many variables, including psychosocial factors and emotional regulation, but it is important to consider hormones, lean mass, exercise, and sleep as essential drivers of behavior and metabolism. One of the issues with weight loss is that muscle is often lost in a hypocaloric state, which can contribute to a lower metabolic rate that dieters often suffer from.

In previous articles I’ve examined different types of diets, citing interventions on low-fat vs low-carb protocols and total weight lost. Both have shown to be effective so long as the energy consumption is controlled. Knowing that high-protein diets are highly effective at promoting weight loss, and crucially contribute to the development of lean mass or the sparing of it in low-energy states, we must consider protein to be an essential piece to the metabolic puzzle.

Knowing that low-fat vs low-carb interventions have no differing effects on weight loss, and that lean mass and exercise can keep metabolic rate higher and build muscle, then the long-term health solution can consist of these key points. The goals for lifelong success thus include building muscle and exercising, eat plenty of protein, and balance the remainders of your macronutrients depending on taste preferences to control energy. There is no fancy name for this diet. There is no book, pill, class, or celebrity to put at the front of it. It’s a simple short list of low-hanging fruit. But, it must be executed tirelessly for the rest of your life. So really, you don’t have to pick a diet. Nor should you. You should pick a lifestyle that you can thrive in for decades.

When my clients are picking their homework for each session I often ask them: is this something you can do on your best day and your absolute worst day? Because that’s what these lifestyles really have to build: a new way of living.

And that’s what we all have to ask ourselves when making health decisions. Because losing weight and building muscle is inherently protective. Gaining many pounds, losing them, and regaining them is inherently dangerous. So the diet camp I belong to is: eat enough and train enough to build muscle and do NOT regain the weight!

Health Decisions Are A Value System

Everything comes at a cost. We can eat whatever we want, and pay the price metabolically. We can control our food down to the macronutrient grams and isolate ourselves. We have to use our values to determine which boundaries feel worth it to us. And thankfully–even though the diet world would never want us to know it–there’s valuable space in between the extremes that allow for healthy body weight, exercise, delicious food, and positive mental health. But at the core of it lies the need to end the extremism and yo-yo diets, to avoid the weight loss followed by regain, and instead find a lifestyle that we can enjoy for decades to come.

So the next time a new trend comes along, remember to note why these things often appear, and then go enjoy the healthy lifestyle that you’ve built for yourself.

I. Kraschnewski, J. L., Boan, J., Esposito, J., Sherwood, N. E., Lehman, E. B., Kephart, D. K., & Sciamanna, C. N. (2010). Long-term weight loss maintenance in the United States. International journal of obesity (2005), 34(11), 1644–1654. doi:10.1038/ijo.2010.94