Last week the New York Times wrote an article about the long term capability of “The Biggest Loser” participants to keep weight off (not a good track record) and how dieting doesn’t work. According to the Times, the diet industry ‘reacted defensively’ about the article. I considered the piece to be a bit shoddy on its claim and even wrote a blog post on where the claims were misleading.
Well on to part 2 of the anti-diet campaign “Never Diet Again” The problem isn’t willpower. It’s neuroscience. And you can’t fight back. By Sandra Aamodt.
If you haven’t read the article – here is the link.
Sandra Aamodt has been on TEDGlobal and also is the author of “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss”.
She raises some good points about how our metabolism and hunger are controlled by the brain. While that is technically correct – there are a number of feedback mechanisms in the body that regulate these body characteristics as well.
She discusses the body weight ‘set point’ where your body wants to go back to its preferred weight. Her basic premise is that dieting does not work and that it can actually cause more harm than good.
In the NYT article, she makes statements such as “People who are genetically prone to gain weight are more likely to diet”. I looked at the study that she referenced*. In the study they looked at identical and fraternal Finnish twins to see if weight loss diets increased the Body Mass Index (BMI) – and, the researchers also looked at other factors such as parental BMI, socioeconomic status, physical activity and so on.
Their findings suggest that a higher BMI at the age of 16 correlates to being overweight at the age of 25. The idea here is that children with higher BMI’s will generally diet more (which makes sense). But, what Aamodt doesn’t mention in her NYT article is that the parent’s BMI, lower socioeconomic status and daily smoking also correlated.
- So, while a genetic predisposition could be a reason – they could also be inheriting the parents’ poor eating style and cookbooks. The study can’t rule out the possibility that macronutrient content matters.
Her second study discussed the eBody Project which is an online program that helps young women feel better about their bodies and help fight eating disorders through non-dieting. According to Aamodt “Girls who participated in the program saw their weight remain stable over the next two years, while their peers, without the intervention, gained a few pounds”.
- Fair enough, but can you definitely say that dieting caused the weight gain – or, again – was it the nature of what the dieters ate?
- Remember – ‘correlation’ is not ‘cause’.
So, while I can see her point, and it does bear consideration – I have another possible theory – the quality of the diet has an important impact as well. Most weight reducing diets are higher in carbs and low fat. This leads to insulin spikes and having fat locked away in the fat cells where it cannot be used for energy. Plus low fat diets are incredibly poor in satiety – so, you generally each more. Under these circumstances – you DO actually exacerbate weight gain with continual weight loss attempts.
But, this likely has nothing to do with genetics!
So, should we all just give up and wolf down the Twinkies and Coke? I don’t buy that – but, when you read the article – it seems to be the most logical conclusion.
However, Aamodt has an approach to fight back. Wait – didn’t she state that you can’t fight back?
Yes – you can. Her approach to possible weight loss is ‘Mindful Eating’. What is mindful eating anyway? According to Aamodt it is “paying attention to your body – eat when you are hungry and work with your appetite”. Hey – I like that idea and wholeheartedly agree.
According to Aamodt “people who eat when they’re hungry, and stop when they’re full, are less likely to become overweight.” How many of us eat because society conditions us to do it at certain times – and, how many of us wolf down our food so fast that our body doesn’t know that it was past ‘Full’ a few forkfuls ago (aka ‘Mindless Eating’). Mindfulness means slowing down and enjoying your food.
So, for those of us who want to help others – but, are confused with the next article on diets and weight loss. Eat real food, slow down and enjoy your meal! Genetic or not – it is great advice!