At any given time 1 in 3 people are on a specific eating regime, with weight loss as a leading reason. Most people are going to be disappointed, because even when successful, lost weight is frequently regained within a few months.
While most weight-loss diets can help you lose weight, they are mostly unsuccessful over the long run for a number of reasons:
- Some people don’t follow their diets carefully and don’t lose much weight even from the start.
- Others may start off strong but go off the diet entirely after a short time, because it’s too restrictive or the foods aren’t appealing.
- Some may engage in less physical activity as they consume fewer calories.
- You might be someone doing everything right and still losing minimal weight, or regaining lost weight over time?
- Even when research studies confine people to a research setting with carefully-controlled calories, food types, and physical activity, and with intensive counseling, teaching, and monitoring — the lost weight and other health benefits (such as improved cholesterol and reduced blood pressure) tend to disappear soon after the study ends.
You can’t pick the right diet if none of them work
According to a new study, popular diets simply don’t work for the vast majority of people. Or more accurately, they are modestly effective for a while, but after a year or so the benefits are largely gone.
In a large systematic review and meta-analysis, recently published in the medical journal The BMJ, researchers analyzed 121 trials that enrolled nearly 22,000 overweight or obese adults who followed one of 14 popular diets, including the Atkins diet, Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, DASH, and the Mediterranean diet, for an average of six months. The diets were grouped into one of three categories: low-carbohydrate, low-fat, and moderate-macro-nutrient (diets in this group were similar to those in the low-fat group, but with slightly more fat and slightly less carbohydrate). Loss of excess weight and cardiovascular measures (including cholesterol and blood pressure) while on one of these diets were compared with other diets or usual diets (one in which the person continued to eat as they usually do).
While weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol measures generally improved at the six-month mark, results at the 12-month mark were disappointing, to say the least. There were also no major differences in other health benefits between the various diet programs.
All is not lost
Based on this new report, you might be tempted to throw up your hands and give up on weight-loss diets altogether. But there’s another way of looking at this: it probably matters less which plan you pick than whether you stick with it.
The average duration of the studies included in this analysis was six months. What if they’d lasted 12 months, or two years, or a lifetime? The benefit would likely have been greater and more long-lasting.
There is a secret to success
- The 1st Small Step is to pick a diet with foods you actually like so that it’s not so hard to stick with it. (don’t roll your eyes – it sounds obvious but it’s the MOST overlooked step).
- In addition, there are factors other than diet that can have a big impact on weight loss. For example, everyday physical activity, mood, movement, and sleep are important in helping to maintain a healthy weight.
- The Mediterranean diet is endorsed by the author. It’s among the best studied, performs well when compared with other diets, and was the only diet in this analysis to have long-lasting effects on LDL cholesterol levels.
- But remember we’re going with healthy foods you most enjoy, so there’s no hard-and-fast rules.
The bottom line
Losing weight is not easy.
An accountability partner can help you to keep your head in the game.
Working through the steps with a non-judgemental same-sex friend, or better yet with a Functional Medicine certified health coach in your corner, your odds of succeeding are greatly increased.
I weighed 88kgs at the start of my journey; 24kgs and 8 years later, I’m still at goal weight. That’s how I know I am equipped as a health coach to see you through your journey.
Together we will decide on dietary and other lifestyle changes that appeal to you. Together we’ll work on strategies that ensure you stick with it. Remember, you’re most likely to stick with lifestyle changes you actually like.
Robert H. Shmerling, MD
Senior Faculty Editor, Harvard Health Publishing