Throughout our lives, we change up the things we eat to adjust to certain lifestyles or needs. For some of us, that means going vegetarian or vegan at some point. For others, it involves cutting out other things like gluten or dairy. But a good number of people change their diet for one prevailing reason: to facilitate weight loss. If you want to lose weight, you do need to make changes. And changing what or how you eat is the first thing you should do.
But you’ve probably heard that dieting doesn’t work. Even programs like Weight Watchers have their flaws, as WebMD points out. And if other people are failing at reaching their weight-loss goals, it can be disheartening. Why even try to lose weight if it’s not going to work?
The problem is that most people who do use dieting as a method of weight control don’t do it correctly. Specifically, the biggest issue is they don’t stick to it. We usually gain weight due to a number of lifestyle factors. Eating too much, not sleeping enough, not exercising — these are three of the most common. And if you want to see a change in your body, you need to change your lifestyle. That’s what going on a diet is all about. Changing up how and what you eat.
So, why do diets fail? The simplest answer is because we don’t stick to them.
The problem with an on-again, off again diet
Discipline is the key to keeping the weight off. What happens to many people when they’re trying to lose weight is that they’ll change up their diet, and see some sort of result. Satisfied they’ve achieved something, they think it’s okay to revert back to old habits. Then, the weight comes back. That’s because changing your diet wasn’t really supposed to be a transitory thing. It’s a permanent decision — and if you eat better on a permanent basis, your body will reflect that. You can think of this as yo-yo dieting, or on-again, off-again dieting.
And researchers now have a better idea as to why this isn’t effective — and can even do more harm than good. A new study, published in the journal Evolution, Medicine and Public Health, studied weight gain in animals to try and figure out where people were going wrong. The Exeter University researchers found that when we diet, our bodies shift into a different energy-saving type of mode. We conserve more energy and store and burn calories differently.
Essentially, our bodies think we’re experiencing a food shortage. This makes our brains believe we need to store more energy, so we actually gain weight when we’re trying to lose it. And when food is more abundant or when we’re eating more? We store more of that as fat, too.
“Peoples’ attempts to lose weight by low-calorie diets often result in weight gain because of over-compensatory overeating during lapses,” the study reads. “Animals usually respond to a change in food availability by adjusting their foraging effort and altering how much energy reserves they store.”
Eating and weight loss
“Recurring attempts to diet, by signaling to the body that the food supply is often insufficient, will lead to a greater fat storage than if food was always abundant,” the study said.
If this study reveals anything, it’s that the secret to a successful diet is adherence. By going on and off diets, you’re sending signals to your body that you’re going through periods of shortages and abundance. This causes your body to react by storing energy, causing you to gain weight. Since that’s the opposite of what most people want when dieting, the easiest way to make sure your diet works is to fix it, and stick to it. Don’t abandon the changes as soon as you’ve hit a goal or seen progress. Change your diet for the better, and make it a permanent change.
“The brain could be functioning perfectly, but uncertainty about the food supply triggers the evolved response to gain weight,” Dr. Andrew Higginson, Senior Lecturer in psychology at the University of Exeter, said in a press release. He also added,“The best thing for weight loss is to take it steady. Our work suggests that eating only slightly less than you should, all the time, and doing physical exercise is much more likely to help you reach a healthy weight than going on low-calorie diets.”
If you’re serious about weight loss and want to make sure your attempts at dieting are effective, the secret is discipline and adherence. Make the changes, and stick to them.