Why We Don’t Resist Fad Diets (8/21/12)
Resistance is Futile?
People often ask me why folks – particularly women – are so prone to fad diets.
I tell them there are lots of reasons. One big one – lying is in. If national leaders lie about wars, extramarital affairs and criminal acts, why can’t hucksters ply new heights of health hype?
And they do. The successful ones develop close relationships with their bankers and investment advisers. Food faddism is very, very big business. Yet people know in their bones – and researchers really know – that those diets don’t work. So why are fad diets so wildly popular?
A Few Explanations
1. What really is a fad diet?
One that cuts out one or many food groups. Most fad diets will not maintain people’s weight for very long. But as marketers know well, they can produce quick results. One trick – there’s 20 pounds of fluid in the gut that can be rapidly pulled out to make you think you’re losing weight fast (ask weight lifters and wrestlers for the details.) Your health? In most fad diets, overall health, physical, mental, social and spiritual wellbeing does not rank as an afterthought. The Atkins diet sold itself as healthy – and spent much money trying to prove it (Atkins did okay financially – he died with an estate of $600 million.) Most researchers now think Atkins is truly bad news for people’s overall health.
2. Why are women so overwhelmingly attracted to fad diets?
A. Superthinness. Most Americans still think being thin is a necessity for major attractiveness. The vast majority of Americans will never be six foot one and 112 pounds, but that does not stop them from trying to look like the bizarrely elongated models seemingly inhabiting fashion shoots.
B. Times are crazy. We can’t control politics, economics, jobs. We can’t even predict the weather – but we can control our own bodies.
C. With so much going wrong in daily life people want to feel good about something. Losing weight can make you feel better – even if you know you’ll gain it all back.
D. The media never stops talking about the next “quick fix.” Maybe this one will work for me. And it won’t cost that much.
E. Controlling weight provides the illusion of control. People want to control something about themselves – now.
G. Doing fad diets let’s many of us avoid personal problems – at least for a while. You’re doing something that “works” – and you and others can see the results.
H. When focused on losing weight, you can stop thinking about your accountability for others parts of your life. And you’re “doing something for me.”
I.Obvious results – the baby shower is coming and I want to get into my old clothes. Then I do it. That proves I can control my body – even if I can’t control the economy or my job.
Why Are Fad Diets a Health Disaster?
1. They soon fail.
2. People end up fatter than ever. Yo-yo diets put you at greater risk of later weight gain and death – and some people become addicted to going up and down, up and down.
3. Weight is controlled by many, many different variables – biological, social, environmental, and psychological. It’s really complex. Complex questions rarely have simple answers. Thinking they do often makes you ignore useful, real answers.
4. Fad diets see the body as machine. It’s not. Your body is a superorganism that continuously remakes and reinvents itself.
5. Fad diets make people consider weight a surrogate of health. If I’m thin, I’m healthy. Wrong.
6. Health comes from a sense of well-being. You don’t want your well-being attached to your weight. In the “Six Weeks to OMG” diet wellbeing is attached to being thinner than your friends – a very bad test.
7. Fad diets give the body the wrong information. They teach it that short-term tricks – like bingeing – can be used again and again. And those tricks often will end up making you ill.
1. Most of the body is new in 3-4 weeks. That gives you enormous opportunities for real health – not just weight loss.
2. Real weight loss comes when people see their body as a system. Systems approaches work better, as the body is itself an enormous series of interlocking information systems.
3. Weight loss becomes more possible when people make weight part of systematic programs to stay healthy – and feel good. Feeling good will also make you look good.
4. People can get healthy and lose weight if they do basic regenerative things as a daily program: walk; eat whole foods, especially breakfast; get enough rest; socialize regularly, especially with people who are healthy. In concept it’s really not complicated.
5. Your real wealth is your health. Weight follows healthiness – not the other way around.
6. Gimmicks fail, but lifestyles succeed. Put together your ordinary activities into a program – eating, moving, resting, socializing – and most people can feel really good – and control weight.
So forget fruitarianism, paleo, Atkins, fat-flush. The trick is to get healthy – to do what the body is built to do.
Weight loss may then follow. One patient I saw yesterday told me she was shocked when her doctor told her she lost thirty pounds since her last visit. She had not done “that much.”
All she did was walk, rest, eat whole foods.
Simple things can work – well.
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