informative linkage

Since it seems like half the people around me have gone on some kind of health kick since the beginning of the year, I thought I should pass along this link I just came across, to a post analyzing studies of weight-loss dieting.

Money shot: “the more you diet, the harder losing weight becomes over the long term, and the harder your body will fight to retain fat.”

Mind you, I have issues with that post. First and foremost is that the writer doesn’t define what s/he means by “weight-loss dieting” — which lack of clarity makes it easy to hit the end of that post and believe that there’s nothing we can ever do to significantly change our body weight over a long period of time, and even if we do succeed all we’ve accomplished is to increase our risk of mortality.

I doubt that.

I’m going to presume that, by “weight-loss dieting,” the writer means restricted-calorie diets, and/or diets focusing on eating very restricted sorts of foods. (Grapefruit diets, etc.) There’s some good stuff further down about the idea that fat people overeat, and skinny people eat “normally;” I’d love to see a proper statistical analysis on a cross-section of the American population, but the attempted weight-gain study (or rather, its failure) was interesting. Short form is, I’m willing to buy the idea that overweight people are not necessarily overweight because of overeating, and therefore that restricting their eating is not and never will be a successful strategy.

I’m also going to presume that the writer doesn’t mean this information to refer to what we might otherwise call “a healthy diet.” Whether or not reducing refined foods and eating more fruits and vegetables will induce substantial weight loss, I’ve got to believe it’s a good idea for health reasons. Otherwise, we might as well fire the entire medical and nutritional professions en masse, and all go out for ice cream.

My final presumption is that the data there does not apply to an exercise-based weight-loss program. Do you suffer increased risk of heart disease if you lost your twenty pounds by walking more and driving less, or going to the gym three times a week? It doesn’t make sense to me that you would, but even if that’s the case, I will bet that the statistics and charts and graphs would be different than the ones for simple dieting. Are you more likely to lose weight and keep it off if you do it via exercise? If not, then there really isn’t anything a person can do to successfully and healthily shift their weight downward. Again, we need different statistics for that. I don’t expect the diet stats to apply there.

Because if weight loss is actually that bad for you, regardless of whether you do it by calorie restriction or healthy eating or exercise, then we’re even more screwed than we knew.

Anyway, there’s been a million discussions in my social circle about dieting and the Bad Idea-ness thereof, so I wanted to link to something that cited actual studies, complete with a bibliography of peer-reviewed articles at the end. Short form is, I stand by what I’ve said all along: eat better food, not less food, and get thee to a gym.

If somebody knows a reason why that’s a bad idea, please share.

0 Responses to “informative linkage”

  1. d_c_m

    I stand by what I’ve said all along: eat better food, not less food, and get thee to a gym.
    As I have studied many diets this seems to be the whole point. If you eat fruit and veggies to fill you up, you lose weight. At least that has been what is happening to me since May. Lost 18 lbs. Oh yeah, and exercise helps in this a lot. 🙂 In short, you be right!

  2. stormywriting

    “I stand by what I’ve said all along: eat better food, not less food, and get thee to a gym.”

    Very much agree with that. I’ve tried dieting and found that, while I do loose weight at the time, as soon as I drop the diet, I start to gain weight faster than i originally would have. Besides, who wants to diet hungry? Yesm you’ll be thinner, but I imagine it’s rather hard to enjoy when it’s all you can do to keep from fainting.

    Loosing weight via exersize, OTOH… well, if you build up the muscle mass, you not only loose weight, but you KEEP the weight off, even if you ditch the gym. Something to do with the rate at which muscle burns calories vs the rate at whitch fat burns calories.

    All things considered.. are we approaching an answer to the conundrum of Americal Obesity? Or rather, is science approaching the solution. The rest of us know yo lay it at the feet of McDonalds and Playstation…

  3. elizawrites

    You might be interested in reading Gina Kolata’s new book Rethinking Thin. Her hypothesis is that fat people don’t, as a general rule, overeat relative to body mass.

  4. unquietsoul5

    Pardon my jumping in on this…

    I think the problem is that there are a lot of contradictory studies out there for all the various directions that have been tried clinically regarding diet and it’s effects on weight, metabolism, etc.

    It’s like the recent study that was snatched up by pundits on tv, radio and newspapers that came out and said “a person who has overweight/fat friends and co-workers is more likely to become fat themselves thus being overweight is contagious” which was then (within a couple of days) responded to by doctors and scientists as being a huge jump to conclusions and not taking in a wide enough field of information about the subject test group to determine it’s conclusions.

    Weight loss, if that is a goal, is more than just calorie reduction. Different foods are processed by the body in different ways, and some foods are more likely to cause an increase in body mass than others. Speed of digestion, interaction with other chemicals and drugs in the system, the metabolisim of the person, genetic adaptations and other health conditions all come into play.

    …And most people see their doctor only a few times a year, and said doctor studies their test results and examination data for less than an hour, and often has insufficient data and information about the patient to really determine a detailed plan with the patient that really takes all those factors into consideration.

    Our over-worked health care system is sure to be part of the problem, since we don’t have individualized medicine, and it is quite probable that a large number of folks seeking weight loss are given wrong information just like in many other medical situations.

    (I have an LJ friend who changed doctors this year and the doctor complained that the levels of B12 in her body were too low and that she needed to change her diet to correct this… she then had to tell the doctor to please re-examine her patient record… as she had had surgery 5 years before and had a section of her intestine removed… the section that absorbs B12 from foods. Thus diet would have done Nothing for her. And all that info was in her record and ignored by the doctor).

    I think you’re right about Eating Better food, not less, for most people. But, many people don’t have the money to eat better, which is why we have so many poor people who are both malnurished and overweight at the same time.

    As for exercise… I want someone somewhere to do a study of professional athletes over a long period of time and exactly how many injuries they sustain compared to a group of deskjockeys…. and how long their lifespans are in general. Seems to me a lot of athletes die younger than people who don’t strain their systems on a regular basis. I think there are points where one can get too much exercise.

  5. daobear

    I agree completely. I think the problem is quite fundamental to our culture. While there are a good number of people who realize that to have a healthy weight, you need a healthy lifestyle, the mainstream attitude is to just look for a quick fix. The whole diet industry is all about money. Anyone who actually pays attention to nutrition will tell you that short term diets don’t help in the long term, and may be unhealthy, and that you need to make permanent lifestyle changes if you want to be healthy.

    My motto is “eat less, and enjoy it more.” I eat very well, but I stop eating when I’m full. That way, I feel much better after I eat, because I’m not all bloated with food. I think a lot of people just put food in their mouth without really being aware of what they are doing, and continue to eat way past the point that they need to because food is addictive. The mindlessness of the whole eating chips while watching TV thing horrifies me. I’m also always schocked at the portion sizes in restaurants. Usually, I either just have an appetizer, or I share an entree with someone. I never leave a restaurant feeling unsatisfied because I didn’t get enough food, and it’s much easier on the wallet. Also, if you are really paying attention to what you are eating, then unhealthy food is gross. The great thing about it is that once you start eating healthy, after a while, you just want to eat healthy food. McDonalds doesn’t really register as food to me any more.

    On a completely unrelated note, I just finished reading Doppleganger. I loved it! In fact, I couldn’t wait and started Warrior and Witch last night.

    • novalis

      My motto is “eat less, and enjoy it more.” I eat very well, but I stop eating when I’m full. That way, I feel much better after I eat, because I’m not all bloated with food

      Yes, because fat people are just gluttons who don’t know when to stop. They frequently eat until they feel bloated because they like feeling bloated.

      Wait. That doesn’t make sense. Surely the diets that were tried in the studies linked above involved eating less food. And yet, they didn’t work.

      • daobear

        That isn’t what I meant. Clearly, the psychology of over-eating is much more complicated than that, and different people overeat for different reasons. For some people, its a way of responding to stress or depression. And I don’t think that people like feeling bloated.

        However, I know that there are many times where I ate to the point of feeling bloated, usually because I was at a restaurant that served very yummy food in large portions. This happens to me a lot with Indian food, which is often deceptively filling, and one of my favorite types of food. While I enjoy the eating, afterward I don’t feel so good. The reason is that I’m just shoveling the food in because it tastes good, instead of paying attention to how much I’m eating and how full I feel. If I slow down and pay more attention to what I’m doing, then I realize when I reach the point at which I should stop eating.

        If I do this, I know that I’m not alone in doing it. Lots of other people do this too. Then, when they want to lose weight, the go on a “diet” by trying to drastically cut back on the amount of food that they eat. But it’s hard to suddenly deprive yourself of food when you are used to having a large appetite. Also, once they lose the weight, they usually go back to their old eating habits and gain it back. Instead, they would be better off by trying to gradually eat less food, and then they would train their appetites to be smaller. I wouldn’t claim this is true for everyone who overeats, but many people do have this problem.

        Some of my tendency to overeat also partially comes from the whole “clean your plate” ethic that many of us learn as children. Now, I approve wholeheartedly of not wasting food. But just because someone puts food in front of you doesn’t mean you have to eat it, and that can be a hard lesson to learn if you’ve been indoctrinated to clean your plate.

        • novalis

          But the article points out that fat people don’t eat more than thin people.

          • daobear

            Good point. Maybe it has more to do with quality than quantity. I’m quite willing to believe that different people have different healthy weights, and that people who’s healthy weights are on the high end should not starve themselves to get to a lower weight due to a pressure to conform to the weight norms. On the other hand, regardless of your weight, over-eating is not a healthy thing to do. I think an approach to dieting and exercise has to have overall health as a goal, rather than weight loss. If you eat moderately and get some exercise, your body should hopefully go to its natural, healthy weight.

          • daobear

            I feel the need to clarify further, since I think what I said before may be open to misinterpretation. I agree with the article, and the various comments here. I’m also making a point about over-eating, which is basically a tangent to the weight-loss discussion. Apparently there is not a correlation between how much you eat and how much you weigh, which is very interesting.

            My first point is that we shouldn’t take that to mean that it is okay to overeat. Whatever your weight, overeating is not healthy. But we should also keep in mind that what is a healthy amount of food varies from person to person, so if a person is eating more than you, they are not necessarily overeating, and if they are eating less, they are not necessarily undereating.

            My second point, and the more important one, is that if you do have a tendency to overeat (which I do myself occasionally), you aren’t making a sacrifice if you eat less, because you can still enjoy the food that you do eat, and you will feel better. I’m not advocating excessive self-denial.

            I just came across a great quote from Chris Dodd (which is actually about energy use) that I feel makes this point quite nicely. “When you consume less, your lifestyle improves. This is not going to be a hair shirt you’ve got to wear. The hair shirt is the one you’re wearing today.”

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