Firstly, let me be clear – Diets work.
Saying anything less is disingenuous.
They may not work as well as we would hope, but they absolutely work.
All those ‘Diets Don’t Work’ headlines are nothing more than clickbait.
However, there is a problem with diets… and that problem is what happens after the diet.
You see, at any given time, more than a third of Americans are on some sort of diet.
Sadly, most are going to be disappointed, because even when successful (which is rare), most of the weight they lose will be regained within a few months after the diet ends.
And this really shouldn’t be surprising.
After all, If you think about it, this is what most bodybuilders, movie stars and fitness influencers do. They lose weight, get in great shape, take a bunch of pictures, then gain some of the weight back while they live a somewhat normal life…. We just only focus on the ‘inshape pics,’ forgetting that they spend much of their time in shape, but not photo-level in shape.
Even when research studies confine study subjects to a highly controlled research setting — with carefully-controlled calories, exact food types, and measured amounts of physical activity, and even with intensive monitoring, any weight lost tends to reappear soon after the study ends.
And this isn’t a secret. Not by any means.
In a large systematic review recently published in the British Medical Journal, researchers analyzed 121 research studies that examined 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.
To be frank, the results were underwhelming.
While the diets, no matter if they were low-carbohydrate, low-fat, or low calorie, all resulted in weight loss of about 10 pounds after six months, most of the lost weight was regained within one year.
The question is why? Why does the weight come back?
Yet, it’s not just that the weight comes back, it’s that it comes back with a vengeance.
There is evidence showing that diets are actually making us fatter.
So yes, diets work in the short term, but if done improperly (more on this in a minute), then they may predispose you to gaining body fat.
Since the early 1990s, there have been more than 15 prospective studies, conducted over anywhere from 1 to 15 years, that have suggested that dieting to lose weight is associated with future weight gain and obesity.
It should be noted that in some of the above-mentioned studies where body composition was assessed, the amount of fat gained after dieting was greater than the amount of overall weight that was gained.
This suggests that fat-free mass (FFM) was still not fully recovered.
This may be our clue into not only why ‘diets’ don’t work, but why we gain more weight after we have dieted.
The problem is as you lose weight, you lose body fat, which is a major source of insulation, and you also lose lean body mass, a major source of heat production.
(You can think of your body fat as insulation and your lean body mass as your ‘furnace.’)
The end result of a diet then could be not only less insulation but also less heat production.
This is by no means ideal, especially if you do not alter your environment or behaviour to address this change in thermoregulation.
After all, you had the amount of body fat and lean body mass that you had because they were the optimal amount to keep you at the optimal temperature given your environment.
Then, without changing your environment, you forcefully overrode your body’s attempt to maintain these optimal levels in order to change the level of fat mass you have, and accidently your lean body mass.
This does not please your body… and it needs to be fixed. Quickly.
The problem is, we build lean body mass very slowly, and we can store fat much quicker and easier than we can rebuild lost lean body mass.
Furthermore, muscle mass doesn’t really increase in adults without some form of strength and conditioning, so if you lose muscle mass during a diet this loss can last for a long period of time if you are not regularly exercising.
So when we diet, we lose our insulation and some of our ‘furnace’ (our lean body mass), but we don’t really change our environment (temperature of our home) or our behaviours (how much clothes we wear), resulting in a massive drive to regain our equilibrium between our internal temperature and the external temperature.
The drives become a strong desire to eat and a strong metabolic drive to store.
Only since the furnace is now smaller, we have no choice but to add more insulation than we had before in order to reach our new optimal equilibrium.
And here is where the slippery slope begins.
If after dieting and then resuming normal eating, you become unhappy with the way your body looks, you might decide to diet again, losing fat and lean body mass, ultimately you will make the situation worse.
So what’s the solution?
Firstly and most importantly – IF you’re going to diet, you MUST do some form of resistance training.
This is essential.
It will help preserve your Lean Body Mass.
Secondly, you must alter your environment.
You absolutely must stay warm while giving your body a chance to build back its lost LBM.
Turn up the heat in your home slightly, wear an extra layer or two, sauna when you can. Stay active, generate heat, and eat (digesting creates heat) and of course continue to do resistance exercises to build back your internal furnace.
When in doubt, stay warm.