Remember the movie “Jerry Maguire” where everyone kept yelling SHOW ME THE MONEY!!!!!! It’s inspiring me to a similar reaction.
If you want to make recommendations about my health and weight, you’re going to have to SHOW ME THE RESEARCH. I want to see a statistically significant sample size, properly controlled variables, and peer reviewed proof of long-term efficacy before anyone gets to discuss my body or my health with me again. I’m tired of my side of the conversation being well researched just to be met with an eye roll and an “everybody knows” response.
There was a time when “everybody knew” the Sun revolved around the Earth. Since “everybody knew” that, there was no need to prove or defend it with hard facts, and any attempts to disprove it through science were met with scorn – or worse- just ask Galileo.
Recently the Nutrition Journal published a review of studies used to prove that dieting works called “Validity of claims made in weight management research: a narrative review of dietetic articles”. Here are some of the findings:
- [studies included] claims of non-specific ‘health benefits’ which are not substantiated
- It appears that beliefs about weight and health acquire a truth status so that they circulate as intuitively appealing ‘facts’, immune from scrutiny and become used, and accepted by editors, without supporting references
- Dietetic literature on weight management fails to meet the standards of evidence based medicine.
- Research in the field is characterized by speculative claims that fail to accurately represent the available data.
It is amazing to me how many studies cite an extremely low success rate (between .17% and 5%) but then assert in their conclusions that it’s still a good idea to set a weight loss goal and use the method that they just proved does not work.
This leads to a situation in which everyone from doctors to personal trainers to random strangers feel free to tell us fat people that we need to lose weight. “Everybody knows” that we are not healthy. “Everybody knows” that if we would just eat less and exercise more we would lose weight. “Everybody knows” it’s just a matter of willpower.
In truth, study after study has found that those things are not true. Yet doctors keep prescribing the same things and blaming 99.83% of people for not trying hard enough. Can you imagine if Viagra only worked 5% of the time and we blamed 95% of the guys for just not trying? It’s completely ridiculous. But when I point this out people roll their eyes and say “everybody knows” that you can lose weight if you really try.
The best research that I am seeing says that making your goal healthy behaviors (instead of weight loss) has the best chance of producing a healthy body. Unbelievably to me, the phrase “a goal of healthy behaviors have the best chance of producing a healthy body ” is controversial. What the hell?
Instead we are sold the idea that eating reconstituted soy protein shakes, pudding, and bars 5 times a day will lead to a healthy body; or that restricting calories to a level that is consistent with someone suffering from Anorexia will create a healthy body. (For more about the insanity of doing unhealthy things to get “healthy” check out “That Does Not Make Sense“).
So if you want to talk to me about my health and weight, either show me your research or shut up. There are a lot of things in this blog that are just my opinion. There are some things that aren’t. This is one of those. I went to school for this. I read full studies, not just the abstracts. I look for factors including sample size, variables, controls, and drop-out rates. I compare the “conclusions” section with the actual data that was collected.
That’s why when someone sees a study that concludes “Weight loss was achieved by all compliant participants” they can be mislead into believing that the diet was successful. What I know is that 84% of participants dropped out, and while the other 16% did lose weight, the average weight loss was less than 2 pounds over two months and all but .17% of them gained it back by the end of the study.
If someone wants to let poorly conducted research with unsupported conclusions dictate how they live life that’s entirely within their rights. They’re going to have to do a lot better to convince me.
So let me channel my inner Galileo for a paragraph for two:
Based on the science, long-term weight loss is not reliably achievable by any means tested and therefore recommending it is unethical. At best doctors should be saying, “there’s a chance you might be healthier if you were thinner but we can’t prove that, and we have no idea how you can get thinner anyway since nothing we’ve tried so far works.”
Based on the science, weight loss is nothing more than a possible (improbable, nearly impossible in the long term) side effect of healthy behaviors. Of all options, healthy behaviors seem to have the best chance of leading to a healthy body, whether or not they lead to a thin body.
Since nobody knows what behaviors (if any) could reliably lead to a thin body it would be nice if people stopped lying to us and saying that they do. I doubt that they will (because it’s quite lucrative) so we might want to consider no longer believing them until they show us to properly controlled, statistically significant, peer reviewed proof of long-term success. “Everybody” can “know” whatever they want but at the end of the day the Earth revolves around the Sun and there is no changing that by rolling your eyes and claiming otherwise.
Read the full nutrition review at http://www.nutritionj.com/content/9/1/30