In my last post I noted that the idea of counting calories to maintain a balance between calories in and calories out is an unnatural state of being. Yet is it exactly what is promoted, has been promoted for decades, and increasingly is being promoted in what could be considered a 'cradle to grave' approach, where even children are being subjected to messages designed to make them ever aware of calories in, calories out - if they gain weight, it's obviously their fault that they didn't get it right.
As I said in my previous post, "For some reason we are stuck in this thinking that the problem isn't the concept, but the execution."
Some lively discussion in the comments followed, as well as a good number of emails - with most boiling down to four main themes - any type of restriction is difficult, counting carbohydrates is as unnatural as counting calories, most people won't eat just whole, natural foods and most people won't do what it takes anyway.
But I definitely understand the points made, and think at least opening a discussion on the issue has value for the future.
Afterall, we can safely say, based on the evidence available, almost every weight loss diet dreamed up in the last century works - data clearly shows that calorie restriction, dietary fat reduction, carbohydrate restriction, increasing protein, manipulating glycemic index or glycemic load, using shakes and meal replacements, fasting approaches, and even weight loss surgery all enable an individual to lose weight.
The diet or medical intervention one utilizes does not matter all that much - they all work for weight loss - so to say one approach is better than the other for weight loss truly has little value for long-term success to maintain weight loss.
Weight loss isn't the problem - keeping the weight off afterward is the really critical issue that we continue to fail to address in a meaningful way to actually see long-term results.
Oh, don't get me wrong, the diet industry, along with the medical and research communities talk a good story, point to data from those few who manage to maintain their weight loss in a national registry, and repeat again and again that failure comes down to lack of willpower in the individual. If only a person would continue, for the long-term, the dietary principles they utilized to lose the weight, they would not gain back the weight lost.
As Sandy Szwarc said in a Junkfood Science post early last year, "Only long-term results, after weights have stabilized, are relevant when evaluating any diet and, more importantly, any actual impact on health outcomes."
While I don't always agree with Sandy's take on things, or her conclusions, she is well known for taking an evidence-based approach in her writing and on this issue I agree 100% - not because everything she wrote in the above linked article was spot-on, but because she stated something so obviously ignored in the current urgency to do something about the "obesity epidemic" that seems to have no workable long-term solution.
The rising incidence of obesity in the United States is not new - for decades now we've watched as each year more and more of our population is classified as overweight or obese; and it does not appear to be reversing, despite the continuous messages to eat less and move more, be aware of calories in and calories out, just do it and stick to it.
Oddly it seems, the louder the messages get, the fatter the population grows.
Yet, while it's acknowledged that in the long-term dieting doesn't seem to result in long-term weight stabilization and maintenance, few are asking why.
Instead we're left with the idea that all these tens of millions of people who lose weight on a diet lack the willpower and resolve to maintain a healthy-balanced diet in the long-term.
It's the failure of the individual not the dietary principles they're told work - as I said before, the failure is not the concept, but the execution.
Every single year, tens of millions of people set out to lose weight and the vast majority do lose weight - they celebrate, buy new clothes, enjoy high self-esteem, are empowered by their success and feel great.....and then are just too damn weak, so they eat themselves back to where they started?
Is this not where the idea that it's a lack of willpower takes us?
If it's not willpower, then what does enable successful weight loss followed my maintenance and improved health outcomes in the long-term?
Before embarking on an exploration of this issue next week, I'd like to hear from readers about their experiences - success and failure - and what ultimately you've learned over the years? If you had to give advice on how to maintain weight loss for the long-term, what would you suggest based on your experiences?