At any given time in America, there are more than 200 million people on a diet. Each one of these people averages 4-5 formal attempts to lose weight each year, and more than 95% of them fail. (1-4) The explanations for this phenomenon? Laziness. Weakness. Lack of Willpower.
Science has shown us, though, that these perpetuated myths are not the cause of diet failures. Weight loss programs are abandoned in a predictable fashion because of known changes that occur in response to calorie restriction and new exercise, including hunger hormone reactions, basal metabolism alterations, and brain signaling modifications. (5-13)
So why does anyone think that “willpower” is the culprit? Because the lean folks do not feel what the overweight dieter feels when faced with the same stressors. As a result, a powerful misconception has been created and sustained over time: Overweight and obese individuals cannot change their positions in life because they are unable to endure exercise and calorie restriction due to the absence of willpower. Conversely, the lean population (including most authors of mainstream diet and exercise programs) have been blessed with strength, perseverance, and excellence – which is why they can follow these same schedules without quitting. False!
The physical cascade responsible for the exhaustion, discomfort, and hopelessness that overweight people feel during the early days of every new diet has been defined, and it has been clearly shown that the idea of making a change is a completely different project than maintaining one’s physique.
So no, your struggles with diet have absolutely nothing to do with “willpower,” or mental fortitude, or perseverance, or inner strength. It has to do with hormone changes, metabolism stubbornness, gut microbiota, and stress rebound – and it is all based in survival. No amount of willpower or mental fortitude can overcome these systems, which is why the failure rate remains at 95%. Your struggle is real, and those with normal or near normal body composition don’t feel it, so they paste you with negative labels.
Don’t lose hope though, the obesity medicine research community has identified ways to mitigate the response you feel. We’ll get you there. And God loves you. So in the meantime please just smile, relax, and know that the help is on the way.
Happy New Year!
- Staff AN. 100 Million dieters, $20 Billion: The Weight Loss Industry by the Numbers ABC News2012 [Available from: http://abcnews.go.com/Health/100-million-dieters-20-billion-weight-loss-industry/story?id=16297197.
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- Dulloo AG, Jacquet J, Montani JP, Schutz Y. How dieting makes the lean fatter: from a perspective of body composition autoregulation through adipostats and proteinstats awaiting discovery. Obesity reviews : an official journal of the International Association for the Study of Obesity. 2015;16 Suppl 1:25-35.
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