Does Dieting Work for Weight Loss?
Humans have long been infatuated with weight loss, continuously searching for “the magic weight loss pill”. New diets are always surfacing, promising unrealistically quick results. Most people seeking to lose weight prefer to drastically decrease their caloric intake rather than exercise more.
While eating less seems to be a good idea, a large caloric deficit can lead to malnutrition especially when it comes to micronutrients such as vitamins and minerals. Malnutrition will lead to a loss in lean muscle mass and an increase in metabolic disorders.
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Losing weight does not always mean eating less but it also means taking on specific mainstream diets. One of the most highly debated diets is intermittent fasting which comes in many forms, one being a caloric restriction. Caloric restriction is undertaken by not just overweight individuals, but also by healthy-weight individuals seeking to increase their longevity and quality of life.
Keep in mind that being on a certain diet is very different than “dieting”. For many, certain diets (ketogenic, paleo, vegan, etc.) are a lifestyle and are not always intended for weight loss.
Obesity: Projections and Consequences
Obesity is a worldwide epidemic and almost two-thirds of American adults are already overweight and the prevalence is likely to rise in the future.1 Projections indicate that 86.3% of the American adults will be overweight and 51.1% will even have to be classified as obese by the year 2030.2
Caloric surplus and weight gain are consistently linked to illness, disability, and mortality.3 Randomized trials demonstrate that intentional weight loss reduces type 2 diabetes, all-cause mortality, and increases cognitive and physical function.4,5,6,7
Considering the benefits that result from weight loss, many healthy weight individuals seek to lose some weight without malnutrition to increase their quality of life and longevity.
Obesity: Social and Cultural Impacts
Obesity is mostly due to a caloric surplus combined with limited physical exercise but there are also genetic predispositions and cultural and social impacts. Many of us do not eat because we are hungry but because it is mealtime and everyone around us is eating. We consume portions determined by those serving them which include restaurants and food manufacturers. We consume refined carbohydrates and sugars because of their abundance and affordability.
We think less about the quality and quantity of our food because we are too busy at work. Due to this, the opportunity to have a balanced diet is limited or difficult for some.
To avoid having to deal with all these weight gain factors, humans seek “the magic weight loss pill” rather than focusing on how to avoid becoming overweight in the first place. Despite the focus on mainstream diets, is dieting the best approach to lose unwanted weight?
Is Dieting an Effective Weight Loss Strategy?
Theoretically dieting should lead to weight loss but in reality, many people struggle to achieve this despite how little they eat. An extreme caloric deficit seems crazy and unhealthy but our bodies have evolved biological adaptations that enable us to survive periods of food scarcity.8 Our ancestors were not surrounded by an abundance of food as we are now, forcing the human body to survive and function during food deprivation.
We have organs such as the liver and adipose tissue which function as fat stores that give us the energy we need. Our endocrine and nervous systems evolved in ways that enabled high levels of physical and mental performance when in a prolonged caloric deficit. 8
Despite all the adaptations of the human body, why do many people still struggle to lose weight?
The Science Behind Weight Loss
Some studies have shown that even after a year of dieting, hormonal mechanisms that stimulate appetite are raised.9 Our bodies can compensate for a caloric deficit by slowing down our metabolisms. This change causes people to regain most of the weight they lost.10 During a caloric deficit, the body begins to run on fewer calories and becomes so efficient that it favors storing the unused calories as fat.11 While this always happens in a caloric surplus, our bodies have found a way to store fat even in a deficit.
A review concluded that “diet-induced weight loss results in long-term changes in appetite gut hormones, postulated to favor increased appetite and weight regain”.12 Prolonged dieting is not sustainable and one study found that between one-third and two-thirds of dieters regained more weight than they initially lost.11 There are also neurological mechanisms that cause dieters to become overly responsive to food, increasing temptations. Food has increased reward value and it becomes harder to resist.13
How Can Someone Lose Weight?
If losing weight is actually harder than we thought, how can people actually lose weight if the standard dieting method does not work?
One very popular method for weight loss is intermittent fasting. Can a flexible calorically restrictive diet be the answer to a successful weight loss journey? To answer this, the next blog will dive into the science behind intermittent fasting, discussing its many forms and effects on weight loss and longevity.
- Bogers RP, Barte JCM, Schipper CMA, et al. Relationship between costs of lifestyle interventions and weight loss in overweight adults. Obes Rev. 2010;11(1):51-61
- Wang Y, Beydoun MA, Liang L, Caballero B, Kumanyika SK. Will all Americans become overweight or obese? Estimating the progression and cost of the US obesity epidemic. Obesity. 2008;16(10):2323-2330.
- Kosinski C, Jornayvaz FR. Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk Factors : Evidence from Animal and Human Studies. 2017:1-16.
- Veronese N, Facchini S, Stubbs B, et al. Weight loss is associated with improvements in cognitive function among overweight and obese people: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Neurosci Biobehav Rev. 2017;72:87-94.
- Kritchevsky SB, Beavers KM, Miller ME, et al. Intentional weight loss and all-cause mortality: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLoS One. 2015;10(3):1-12.
- Diabetes Prevention Program Research Group. 10-year follow-up of diabetes incidence and weight loss in the Diabetes Prevention Program Outcomes Study. Lancet. 2009;374(9702):1677-1686.
- MacMahon S, Baigent C, Duffy S, et al. Body-mass index and cause-specific mortality in 900 000 adults: Collaborative analyses of 57 prospective studies. Lancet. 2009;373(9669):1083-1096.
- Mattson MP, Longo VD, Harvie M. Impact of intermittent fasting on health and disease processes. Ageing Res Rev. 2019;39(2017):46-58.
- Benton D, Young HA. Reducing Calorie Intake May Not Help You Lose Body Weight. Perspect Psychol Sci. 2017;12(5):703-714.
- Dulloo AG, Jacquet J. Adaptive reduction in basal metabolic rate in response to food deprivation in humans: A role for feedback signals from fat stores. Am J Clin Nutr. 1998;68(3):599-606.
- Summermatter S, Handschin C. PGC-1α and exercise in the control of body weight. Int J Obes. 2012;36(11):1428-1435.
- Lean MEJ, Malkova D. Altered gut and adipose tissue hormones in overweight and obese individuals: Cause or consequence. Int J Obes. 2016;40(4):622-632.
- Alonso-Alonso M, Woods SC, Pelchat M, et al. Food reward system: Current perspectives and future research needs. Nutr Rev. 2015;73(5):296-307.