The first and most obvious issue is that, while most people can lose some weight on almost any diet, almost everyone gains it back in the long term. We have no idea how to make people permanently thin. But we get fooled into believing that if temporary weight loss is possible then permanent long term weight loss must also be possible by just doing the same things for longer, or forever. There’s absolutely no reason to believe that. In fact, the evidence shows the opposite.
The evidence we have says that nearly everyone regains the weight within 5 years no matter how they lost it. So a lot of studies stop follow up after a few months or a year and say “See, look – it worked!” I’ve actually seen studies where the researchers said “we assume that if the weight stays off for a year then it will stay off permanently.” That’s a completely ridiculous thing to say in general for a researcher, but especially when the data we DO have says that weight is regained in 2-5 years. The diet industry has refused to study long-term efficacy of dieting because it would be “too depressing for their clients”. That’s like giving women thalidomide for morning sickness but not tracking the incidence of birth defects because it’s “too depressing for future moms.” How is this defensible? If you can’t get funding for a study with 5 year follow up then any study that you do on weight loss at this point is a waste of money.
The next faulty logic they employ is the belief that losing weight will make people healthier. This weight loss = health idea is based on the assumption that becoming “normal weight” is the same thing as having always been “normal weight”. There’s no proof that’s true – that assumption has never been tested. People come in lots of different sizes for lots of different reasons. In some cases illness causes weight gain, or medication, the person’s natural body size, or something else. Not to mention that the weight loss/ weight cycling process itself could cause health issues, weight loss causes a host of physiological reactions that change the body’s metabolism and athletic potential, sometimes permanently.
By far the most common outcome of weight loss attempts is weight gain, that much is clear. Weight loss attempts have the exact opposite of the intended effect a staggering percentage of the time. It’s possible that fat people have shorter life spans than thin people, or have more illness than thin people (though I think the evidence shows that is mitigated by healthy habits, and we don’t know what the numbers would look like if fat people didn’t have to deal with so much shame and so many barriers to getting good evidence based healthcare) but if being fat is bad for us then dieting is the absolutely LAST thing anyone should be recommending since the most likely outcome is that we’ll be fatter. It’s like saying that the only way we know how to help joint pain is for people to fly, so everyone with some knee pain should grab a sheet and jump off their roof. If they don’t want people to be bigger than they are now, then recommending weight loss is the worst idea.
Based on the weight loss industry’s numbers, the more dieting we’ve done the bigger we’ve become (since they tell us that obesity has increased at the same as their profits) Yet the recommendation that we keep hearing is that we should keep trying to lose weight. This is just nuts! Anyone can see that it’s not going to work. Putting bunches of people on diets sets us up for years and years of “obesity epidemic” rhetoric since dieting will reliably create bigger people. The only people who benefit from this are the ones selling the diets…hey, wait a minute – you don’t suppose that’s what this is about do you? They have over 50 years of data to say that their product will work in the short term, fail in the long term, but that people will just keep coming back from more. Plus they get to use the money we paid them for the product that didn’t work to sell it to us again (including celebrity endorsers who get paid more than 30,000 a POUND to lose weight) to sell the product back to us. What the hell?
I wonder how much encouragement of weight loss there would be if we all stopped giving money to the weight loss industry. No weekly Weight Watchers fees, no $20,000 stomach amputation surgeries. If we de-funded the diet industry there wouldn’t be anyone left to spend millions of dollars (to make billions of dollars) selling us magic beans that, in billions of tries over half a century, have never reliably produced beanstalks.
If you’re looking for some inspiration, a slideshow that a number of us have been working on for a while is finally up on NBCs iVillage! Thirty Three women who said “I quit” to dieting and are happier and healthier for it!
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