A question that I get asked pretty often is “If dieting doesn’t work, how is it possible that it’s such a popular recommendation even by doctors?” I’m glad that you asked!
For the last 50 years the research that has been conducted regarding long term weight loss has shown that weight loss almost never works long term. Yet we are constantly told by the media, the government, our doctors etc. that anybody who tries hard enough can lose weight and keep it off. Plenty of studies have shown that the body has a number of physiological reactions to weight loss that are designed to regain weight and then retain that weight. Yet we are told that those who regain their weight have just “gone back to their old habits.” But what really happens?
So a person begins one of a thousand intentional weight loss (also known as a “lifestyle change”) programs. They lose weight at first, then between 2 and 5 years after the loss they gain back all of the weight plus more, despite diligently maintaining their diet behaviors (aka “lifestyle changes”). They report these happenings to their doctor only to be told that they must not have been properly counting calories, they must have overestimated their movement. Their experience, they will be told, could not possibly have happened, it is impossible because…physics! Or they tell their doctor that they couldn’t mentally and physically continue their dieting behaviors (aka “lifestyle change”) and are told again that they just weren’t trying hard enough.
All this despite the fact that their experience is exactly what the research tells us to expect. When millions of credible first person accounts match up with what research has found, typically that’s a good time to jump out of your bathtub and run around naked yelling “Eureka, I’ve found it.”
So why is dieting such a popular recommendation? Those who are perpetuating this “weight loss works’ culture are doing a couple of things frighteningly well.
First, they are doing a great job of obfuscating the evidence. Remember when a study found that Weight Watchers participants lost around about 10 pounds in six months and kept off half of that for two years (giving them a 3 year efficacy buffer but who’s counting) and Karren Miller-Kovach, chief scientific officer of Weight Watchers International at the time won the “I Said It With a Straight Face Award” when she told the media: “It’s nice to see this validation of what we’ve been doing.” Five pounds in two years. Five pounds in two years. Five freaking pounds in two freaking years?!?!?!?!?!. But every time I say something about Weight Watchers people tell me how well it works (often, defying all logic, telling me that they’ve “done Weight Watchers 6 times and it worked every time“.)
Or the National Weight Control registry claiming to prove that weight loss works when the truth is that they would need 32,990,000 more success stories just to show a 5% success rate for dieting over the time they’ve been collecting data. They’ve only managed to gather about 10,000 success stories since 1994, so they just moved the goal post and claimed victory at the fact that their numbers indicate that dieting works .009% of the time which means that if you walk to your Weight Watchers meeting in the rain you are three times more likely to die from a lightning strike than lose weight long term.
The second thing that they do alarmingly well is to discredit what are actually completely credible first person accounts of dieting failure. Hundreds of thousands of people have diet failures every year. Some of them have been convinced that they suddenly lost the ability to accurately maintain their diet behaviors, like people are saying “that’s weird, last week I could totally measure a cup of pasta but this week I forgot what a measuring cup is or how it works, so I just ate the whole package of spaghetti.” They are told that they must be doing something wrong if they are regaining weight. They are excoriated and discredited as “trying to justify their fatness” (as if we need justification to exist in our bodies.)
But the diet industry and its cronies do it with shocking success. Millions of people saying “I had the exact experience that research said was most likely” and somehow the diet industry, the government, and the medical establishment are able to discredit all of us in the eyes of the greater culture, often while continuing to profit.
This is all by way of saying that if you’ve tried dieting and ended up regaining all of your weight, or all of your weight plus more, then welcome to The Almost Everyone Club, we aren’t exclusive and we don’t have jackets (yet!) but we do have evidence and experience. You have the right to claim and own the fact that you are indeed a credible witness to your experience, and you can refuse to allow someone else to substitute their completely fabricated (and highly lucrative) experiences for your actual ones, and you can insist that they stop the diet roller coaster because you want to get the hell off.
Like this blog? Here’s more cool stuff:
Join the The Brave Body Love Summit: 35+ speakers (including me) offering tools to support and improve your relationship with your body Check it out here!
Become a Member For ten bucks a month you can support size diversity activism, help keep the blog ad free, and get deals from size positive businesses as a thank you. Click here for details
Buy the book: Fat: The Owner’s Manual The E-Book is Name Your Own Price! Click here for details
Book Me! I’d love to speak to your organization. You can get more information on topics, previous engagements and reviews here or just e-mail me at ragen at danceswithfat dot org!
Dance Classes: Buy the Dance Class DVDs or download individual classes – Every Body Dance Now! Click here for details
I’m training for an IRONMAN! You can follow my journey at www.IronFat.com
A movie about my time as a dancer is in active development (casting, finding investors etc.). Follow the progress on Facebook!
If you are uncomfortable with my offering things for sale on this site, you are invited to check out this post.
23 thoughts on “Failed at Dieting? Welcome to the Almost Everyone Club!”
Lol…you must have read my poem in the comments of yesterday’s blog Ragen! When will these idiots learn that PHYSICS has NOTHING to do with BIOLOGY! I was a terrible student in science but even I know enough to how utterly stupid it is to think that an amazingly magical human body is subject to the first law of thermodynamics. My brother and sister were both science and engineering majors at the Naval Academy and love to tell me and our mother things like “if you are eating 800 calories a day and gaining wait, then you are violating the first law of thermodynamics and creating matter out of nothing which is impossible.” No, it’s not impossible because it’s happened to Me!
What I think is so sad about these idiots who show a strict devotion to science is they take some of the magic out of life by trying to explain everything. I know I have some very real psychic abilities (which sadly only allow me to think of the next song which will be on the radio or predict when mother will be calling me…not lottery numbers!) which my brother and sister would call bunk. I know my mother believes it was prayer that kept my brother and sister alive in Iraq and Afghanistan. I know science can’t explain why monarch butterflies always go back to Mexico or salmon swim upstream. So guess what my weight gain in supposed defiance of your laws of physics is just something science can’t explain, but that gives them no right to accuse me of lying because my experiences are real.
I just had a terrible night and didn’t get much sleep because of some serious back pain I’ve been having and my feet have been really bad lately. I had to get a special pass to go into the day room and get on my iPAd but I’m so glad I fought for the pass with the orderly because your blog really hit the spot and made me feel better. Maybe you have some psychic abilities to know what your fans need to hear Ragen! Thank you!
Actually science can explain most of what the human body does, why animals behave in certain ways, etc. There are different kinds of science; physics is only one of them. Biology can explain why human bodies (seem to) defy the first law of thermodynamics, why intentional weight loss backfires, etc. But the weight loss cult isn’t looking at biology, it’s making up whatever explanation works to keep everyone indoctrinated.
Also there’s no reason why being scientifically-minded, or science having the *potential* to (eventually) explain pretty much everything, should take the “magic” and wonder out of life. It’s just a matter of allowing oneself to be in the moment and experience it.
EVERY TIME your brother says that, remind him that the first law of thermodynamics applies only to closed systems and that the human body is not a closed system. If he gets the same scientific response every time he makes the comment, he might just stop.
I meant that as a suggestion, not an imperative. That whole underpants rule being in effect and all…
In addition to jackets, I would like to request a signature dance move (as in West Side Story or Grease).
I second the motion.
Maybe we should have our own signature underpants.
As long as they come in a wide variety of styles…
I was just starting to write a reply when a new Nutrisystem commercial came on that thoroughly pissed me off. Ragen, I’ll put it on RNT… I cannot talk about it without my punchy stabby reflex being triggered.
BTW, I want my almost everyone club jacket. I’m sure in our group we’d actually get jackets that FIT!
It’s the Big Lie principal. If you say something loudly enough, often enough, and with enough conviction, people will tend to believe it. We’ve all seen/heard it in action.
Fat people just lack the discipline to get thin and healthy. Black people are dirty and lazy. Gay people are out to rape and convert your children. There were WMDs in Iraq… and the list goes on and on and on.
Simple observation clearly disproves every one of these statements, but millions of people continue to believe them. Why? Because people with large (often monetary) stakes continue to shout them from the rooftops and people are gullible.
I think part of it is that people aren’t really built to think about time scales as long as five years, so that if dieting/exercise works for a year and fails after five years, people see that first year and don’t realize you can’t extrapolate it. Of course, status and moralizing play into it, too.
Exactly all people want is instant stuff. They’ll do anything to starve themselves for “bikini season” or whatever occasion the corporations think they can capitalize on. But no one seems to remember how unhealthy dieting is.
My aunt went on some diet where she lost over a hundred pounds. Then she fell down the steps and broke her hip. They said it was because she wasn’t eating enough calcium, but that diet that she followed wouldn’t let her get any nutritions. People need to do what is healthy for THEM and NOT what is going to line the pockets of some bigwig CEO politician with stock in some big pharma conglomerate.
Another issue is that people have very different bodies – and tend to extrapolate from themselves to everyone else. They think “If I eat this way and am thin, you can’t be eating this way since you are fat.” And since having a thin body is considered Proof that you’re doing it right, they know that a) they are healthy (even if they are not) and b) if we did what they did we’d get the results they do.
My late husband was very tall and thin as a rail. And did his best to live on sugar. Every so often he’d put on a little weight, which always showed as a little tummy (not as distributed body weight or muscle.) He would “go on a diet” which consisted of cutting back on (not eliminating) his coffee break donuts, and the tummy would be gone in a week or two. Really. Then he’d go back to eating all the donuts. And he seriously recommended this to me. Since I wasn’t eating any donuts to begin with, it didn’t work…
My current partner is not as downright skinny, but is lightly built and slim. When he started eating my good cooking, he lost the 10 pounds he’d gained over the previous 30 years of convenience foods, and then stabilized at just a few pounds more than he weighed in college. We currently eat the same. According to all the charts, with what we are eating now, I should be losing 1-2 pounds a week, and he should be gaining. In fact, he’s stable, I gained through menopause and now seem to be stabilizing.
He isn’t doing something “right” that I’m not. I’m not doing something “wrong” that he’s not. We have very different bodies and biochemistry – and we both eat well. But until he lived with me, he assumed that people like me must be eating much more than he did – it just made sense…
And that’s a big part of what we are dealing with. “It just makes sense” that what works for Person A (who, our culture knows, is Doing It Right) should clearly work for everyone else – so if it doesn’t, we’re Wrong. But bodies don’t just make sense and work by the laws of pure logic… or our species would have been wiped out in the first bad drought. There’s a lot more flexibility built in there – and it leans toward surviving bad years…
Wonder if it ever occurs to folks that their body is the way it is IN SPITE OF and not because of what they consume, their exercise program, etc.
Orrrrr maybe I could NOT miss the link where you totally talked about that. Never mind.
I just read an article where a bunch of doctors admit that weight loss is not in our biology and that there is no point in telling obese people to eat less and exercise more. They recommend weight loss surgery, but in the second last paragraph claim that even though it’s not likely to work “it is always best to begin weight loss interventions with diet and exercise”. I almost fell off my unicorn!
So, diet and exercise don’t work, but don’t stop trying! Because, you know, we don’t have anything else to offer you except stomach amputation which, even if I had wanted to do, I couldn’t afford in a million years (our medical aid rarely pays for this, and even if they will, you still have to pay upfront and claim back afterward).
It never crosses the minds of these people that there is a third option – staying fat and not being crucified for it. That is just heresy!
I wonder… is it really that it never crosses their minds… or are they forced to edit the article to repeat the weight loss propaganda because guess who’s probably funding them…
I also want my Almost Everyone jacket. In red. With bright yellow or blue letters.
This guy is a tiny voice of sanity in the wilderness … why isn’t this a mainstream view?
I often wonder if at least some of our culture’s weight “problems” have been CAUSED by weight-loss dieting. If almost every larger person has been on some kind of weight reduction program, often at an early age, couldn’t that cause their metabolisms to be messed up and end up with their gaining more weight? Plus the stress of it all contributing to other health problems?
I have seen otherwise sane people use as proof that weight loss is possible the example of people starving in concentration camps. Maybe that’s where they think we should be …
I too have wondered if my current weight was directly caused by all the diets I was put on as a child and then put myself on as an adult. From what I’ve read, my gallstones and subsequent removal of gallbladder was most likely caused by the weight cycling. I was only 24 when it was taken out. The cure is worse than the problem in my opinion.
Physics sets some limits on what’s possible– for example, how much output a motor can produce from a given amount of fuel or how hot an environment a motor can work in, but it isn’t going to tell you why two cars of the same model get different mileage unless you know a lot about the individual engines.
I’ve not heard the specific number of six times, but I’ve heard the same sentiment. “You should try this diet because it totally worked all three times!”. I don’t know what to say to that, though, other than a “no thanks”.
I’m taking some of these article references in to show my doctor today for my physical. Enough is enough.