Weight loss diets succeed for the first 4 to 6 months. After that, any diet will fail.
Contrary to what doctors, food companies and the media say, it is not your fault.
It has nothing to do with a lack of willpower or any other kind of failure. We feel hungry, cold, tired, and depressed. These are all real measurable physical effects of calorie restriction.
There are mainly two categories of calorie restriction:
15% Moderate Calorie Restriction – This is where we slightly reduce our daily food intake. There are studies showing the benefits of how eating what we need is better than overeating. In a well-balanced meal, 15% calorie restriction basically means not overeating. Most of us eat more food than we need.
It takes some time to get used to this but 15% calorie restriction provides your body with all the calories it needs and eliminates the excess that would otherwise cause weight gain. More about this in our article “Eat less Live Longer”
50% Severe Calorie Restriction – This is a huge restriction which results in quick weight loss but makes us feel cold, tired, depressed, and unfocused. These are the most popular diets and the biggest failures in terms of weight loss.
This kind of diet works very well in terms of weight loss, but only for the first few months. Then weight loss hits a plateau, and those lousy, cold and tiring sensations continue. Eventually, anyone following this type of diet will give up, gaining back all the weight they lost in just a month or two.
2000 calories – This is the standard recommendation for how many calories a normal adult should eat. It’s kind of a magic number. This number cannot be the same for all of us, but it’s only a reference of what an average adult needs per day. Some of us need fewer calories, and some of need more.
Another quick note: Not all calories are equal and the calories from a bunch of fruit doesn’t have the same effect on our body as a Wendy’s burger and fries, or a bowl of Special K granola loaded with refined sugar.
Why Calorie Restriction Diets Don’t work
I’ve found a very good analogy in the book “The Obesity Code” to explain how our body manages energy expenditure.
Imagine that you work in a power station that produces all the energy for a city. To produce all the energy the city needs, the power station must burn 2000 tons of coal.
Every day a truck carrying 2000 tons of coal arrives, sometimes a little more.
The most intelligent thing to do is to store the extra coal in case one day there’s a problem with the coal distribution. You slowly build a coal savings stash.
Then, one day, you only get 1500 tons. If you continue to burn 2000 tons you would quickly burn all the extra stash that took you so much time to create, using all your savings. Without these savings, you could run out of coal and the city would go on a total blackout, and you’d be fired.
A smarter choice would be to use only the 1500 tons. Sure, some parts of the city might experience some energy shortages but, in general, the city would be all powered up and functioning properly. You would keep your job and keep your coal savings intact.
Once you start getting the 2000 coal again, you would probably build up more savings and burn more coal.
Slowly you would start burning the 2000 tons.
This illustrates how our body works. We use the energy we consume, while we try to store energy to be on the safe side. Once we reduce our calorie intake, our body adapts to use less energy.
We feel tired, cold, and depressed because our body reduces some activities in order to use less energy. It adapts to the available energy without using our stored energy (fat).
Studies have shown that this works both ways – calorie restriction AND calorie surplus.
When you increase the number of calories consumed, people gain more weight during the first few months but, once the body adapts, it starts to burn the energy available and the body slowly bodyweight stabilizes.
Besides the increase or decrease of body functions to balance energy usage, our body also uses hormonal signals to amplify or reduce hunger signals.
When we drastically reduce calorie intake (50%) our hunger hormones signals are amplified and we’re constantly thinking about food. When we eat more than we need (50% more) our hunger hormones are so silent that we hardly think about taking another bite of food.
These’s not just common sense. The effects of calorie restriction have been widely studied. The biggest starvation experiment was ever done on humans, The Minnesota Starvation Experiment, revealed exactly how this happens.
But why do we lose weight during the few first months of a diet?
Say we have 2000 calories per day (the magic number of calories that every adult should have per day).
Your body probably burns all 2000 of those calories.
One day you reduce your intake to 1000 calories. It takes time for your body to adapt, so in the beginning, it continues to use 2000 calories per day. It makes up this calorie shortfall by burning fat, and you lose weight.
As you continue your diet, your body starts to slowly reduce some activities to reduce the energy expenditure. Less heat, so you feel cold, less brain activity, so you feel unfocused, less energy for metabolism, so you feel tired, lousy and depressed.
You’ve lost some weight but, one day, your body weight hits a plateau. As you feel tired, lousy and depressed, you continue your diet with huge sacrifices but no rewards. Your weight is stuck because you are burning the same amount of energy you’re eating.
This has been proven by one of the biggest starvation experiments ever done on humans, The Minnesota Starvation Experiment. 36 young people were given too much food (3200 calories) and others got too few (800 calories).
In short, what happened was that in the beginning, one group gained weight and the other lost weight as expected, but not as much as you might think.
After the experiment, once the diet finished, both groups went back to the exact same weight as before the experiment. This is what happens to all of us when we start any calorie restriction diet. You can read more details of the experiment in my other article “The Minnesota Starvation Experiment.”
Why is it so hard to burn fat?
Contrary to popular belief, when we reduce our calorie intake our body adapts to use less energy. This means it burns less fat, and not more when we eat less.
Food and air are critical for us. When we reduce the amount of food we eat, our body cleverly adapts to use the same amount of energy we consume.
We have energy stores, glycogen in the liver and fat under the skin, but our body always prefers to leave those stores untouched. Why? Because we can never predict how much food we will have tomorrow.
In the past: Food was not always so abundant, and there were times of feasting and famine. The body stored as much energy as possible during feasting times and used the stored energy whenever food was short.
Today: Food is abundant. In fact, we are constantly being bombarded with food advertising and you can pretty much eat everywhere 24/7. There are no famines, but our body doesn’t know that. It continues to store as much energy as possible, just in case that one day there is no food and it will still have energy to use.
Scientifically: Every time we eat, insulin is produced by the pancreas to remove the excess sugar from our blood. Insulin removes the excess of sugar and it stores it as glycogen in the liver and muscles. Once that storage is full (there is a very limited capacity) it starts to generate fat and stores it under the skin.
As we continue to eat, more fat is generated and stored. Once we stop eating, a few hours are needed for insulin levels to drop. Only then will we start to use our stored genergy; first glycogen is used and once depleted (12h with exercise activity or 24h with no intense activity) the body starts to burn stored fat.
This is why avoiding snacks allow insulin levels to drop so the body can burn glycogen. Intense exercise or Fasting are the only ways to burn stored fat.
Our body always finds a balance between calories in and calories out, so it can avoid burning fat as it’s our emergency energy store.
Why are other diets doomed to fail?
There are other diets besides Calorie Restriction. We have the Ketogenic diet, the Low-Fat diet, the High-Fat Low Carb diet, the Portion Control diet, etc.
All these diets have two things in common – they severely reduce your food intake, and they only work for a month or two.
Most of us start a diet to lose weight, but we don’t plan to follow that diet for the rest of our lives. Mostly, it’s only to lose that extra weight and then continue to eat healthily, maintaining tour goal weight thereafter. But it never works out like that, and we, and everybody around us tend to blame ourselves for the failure.
It’s not a failure, it’s natural.
All these different types of diet have the same things in common: calorie or food restriction. We are constantly restricted in what we can eat and how much we can eat. We continue the sacrifice while we see the results, but all the while are going against our will. We are only driven by the results.
Once the results are not what want, we lose hope, we don’t see the point of continuing, and all the sacrifices leave us feeling miserable, and so we give up.
Then, when we go back to our previously unhealthy diets or eating too many calories, we regain the weight we have just worked so hard to lose.
Why is Hard to Lose Weight?
Losing weight triggers two important responses:
-Total energy expenditure, as we have seen earlier
-Hormonal signals to amplify hunger and motivate us to get more food
As we start to lose weight our hunger hormones amplify their signals to get more food, we feel hungrier and more obsessed with food.
What is the solution? No More Diets!
We are all different. We have different food habits, different daily routines, and live in different parts of the world. Because of this, there can be no “one size fits all” diet for successful weight loss.
Because of this, I have found the best way to lose weight and keep it off is to avoid diets and instead experiment with different approaches to find the best sustainable solution for weight loss for you. Habits that last a lifetime are better than any unsustainable, short-term diet.
Good habits that work include:
No More Sodas
Sodas and other high sugar beverages are loaded with refined fructose, added sugar, or artificial sweeteners.
Refined fructose is the cause of fatty non-alcoholic liver disease because fructose, just like alcohol, is only processed by the liver.
High consumption of added sugar is converted into fat in our body, making us fatter and sicker. You can learn more in my video explaining this process in detail.
Artificial sweeteners do not contain calories, and diet drinks like diet soda are popular because they don’t contain added sugar or refined fructose, and they are very low in calories.
What most people don’t know is that artificial sweeteners are highly addictive, just like sugar, and they can raise insulin levels, causing insulin resistance and fat gain. Some artificial sweeteners, like aspartame, are even linked with cancer.
Avoid Added Sugar
Sugar is the source of energy of every cell in our body, but we need very little sugar in our diet. Too much sugar in our blood makes us sick, so our body must quickly remove the excess sugar from our blood. That’s insulin’s job.
Fruit provides all the sugar we need, but fruit contains fiber to make sugar absorption slower and avoid raising blood sugar too high or too fast. This means insulin can do its job slowly and steadily.
Refined carbs like bread, breakfast cereals, sodas, chocolates, candy, processed food, junk food, and most of the food available in supermarkets contain refined sugar without any fiber.
As we eat junk food without any fiber, our blood sugar levels spike so high that our body must produce ha a large amount of insulin to remove all the sugar from our blood.
As we continually eat loads of sugar every day, our pancreas continually produces more and more insulin. This can cause insulin resistance and we start to develop type 2diabetes. Watch my video Why Added Sugar is Everywhere and learn who’s profiting from it.
Added sugar is the number one cause of obesity and overweight in the world. Avoiding added-sugars is the most simple and efficient step to lose weight. Simply avoiding added sugar or artificial sweeteners will help you lose weight easily. You can check out the 20 No-Sugar Days Challenge to get motivated and ditch sugar from your diet today.
I’m not saying you should dramatically reduce the amount of food you eat. Instead, I’m talking about eating only what you need. We all know when we are full, and when we want more food just for the taste of it.
Eating what we need is what we have been doing for centuries, but during the last 40 years, we have been binging on food like never before.
We use food to suppress emotions, we use food to reduce anxiety, we use food to deal with frustration, we use food to celebrate, we use food to deal with isolation. After all, food has a big impact on our brain and our emotions.
We all know this and yet we continually eat more than we need. The result: we get fatter, sicker, and we don’t feel any better. We just feel worst and perpetuate these unhealthy eating habits every single day.
We need food every day, we depend on food to live every day, but that doesn’t mean we need to eat all day.
Enjoy your meals, eat as much as you need, but using food to deal with our emotions only makes us feel worse than before.
Eating more is not the solution. In fact, that’s exactly the problem. Eat less to enjoy a better, longer life.
Instead of a severe food reduction to lose weight, I prefer to skip my breakfast and extend my nighttime fast until noon. I’ve been doing this for a year and I’ve lost weight. More importantly, I’ve maintained my weight loss without having to make any food sacrifices.
We all fast during the night, but, after we wake up, if we extend our fasting period it allows our body to continue burning that extra energy we have stored in our liver in the form of glycogen.
If we extend our fast for 24 hours we start burning fat without doing any kind of exercise. It may sound crazy, but it’s all natural, healthy and proven by different studies from today and from centuries ago. Fasting is a well-known medicine, not only for weight loss but for healing too. You can learn more about fasting in my article here.
The food companies introduced snacking to sell us more food.
40 years ago, there was no such thing as snacks between meals.
Today: some doctors recommend two snacks a day. How can having three meals and two snacks a day will help you to lose weight or feel better? Most people are already eating too much!
The solution to weight loss is not eating more.
We must take time between meals for our bodies to use the calories we have just consumed in the previous meal. This gives us time to burn the excess before we start eating again.
Feasting then fasting. After lunch, leave it at least 4- 5 hours before your next meal. Snacking will not help you to eat less in the next meal. it will only make your body store more energy and generate more fat.
This is scientifically explained by insulin levels. When we eat, insulin is produced. Insulin removes the excess of sugar from our blood and stores it as fat under our skin. We can only burn stored fat when our insulin levels drop, and no more insulin is running through our veins. It’s only then that we start to burn the stored energy.
If we snack and continue to eat, our insulin levels are always high and new fat is always being generated and stored under our skin. In short: we continue to gain weight.
We need to give our digestion a break to allow our bodies to burn the excess energy and stop producing even more fat.
Beer and spiritsl are especially high in sugar, making us feel bloated.
A glass of wine occasionally is not really a problem. The problem is continued and daily drinking.
Give it a try: avoid or reduce alcohol for seven days to see how it effects on your mood, energy, and that bloated sensation.
Walking is very underrated by many people. I suppose a lot of people only look at how many calories this type of exercise burns. Walking might not burn many calories, but you can do it every day.
That’s much better than one hard workout a week – even if that workout burns a lot more calories. And walking is definitely better than no workout at all!
Daily walking is so simple, cheap and very effective for burning extra energy accumulated in our liver (glycogen) and for burning fat.
One of the best things about walking is that you can do it every day without getting too tired or spending too much time. A pair of good walking shoes and you’re ready for some walking.
The Obesity Codebook, available at Amazon.com
“The Minnesota Starvation experiment source here
Video – Why Added Sugar Is Everywhere
Video – Why Added Sugar Makes You Fat
Video – Leptin & Insulin Resistance Balancing Tips w/ Jason Fung, MD Dr. Fung