A recent article in the WaPo sent shivers down the spines of many dieters as it used valid, peer-reviewed research to back up its headline that yo-yo diets are counterproductive. But it only told part of the story.
Essentially, referring to a few articles, the author noted that yo-yo diets often lead to a cycle of weight loss – usually inclusive of muscle mass- and weight re-gain – usually more fat than muscle. While this tale has long been accepted as fact, and more current studies may indeed support it, there are other factors to consider. Some were addressed in the article, such as the dieting habits of lean or low-BMI people for looks or body image concerns.
But others, or at least one other, was overlooked: the hazards of being consistently or continuously overweight or obese (OO).
I have attended several lectures at professional annual conventions where OO was the primary story. The data has not been very favorable when it comes to dieting and weight loss. But it has been pretty conclusive on the need to lose weight for those who carry too much and have or are at risk for several weight-related diseases. Shall I list them all? Or are you, by the fact that you are reading this, already aware that type 2 diabetes, hypertension, hypercholesteremia, fatty liver disease, coronary heart disease, some cancers and very likely osteoarthritis are more prevalent in those who are OO? And at earlier ages!?
Oops, sorry I listed many OO-related diseases but for those new to this blog, it kind of helps to read it again: being overweight/obese takes a toll on one’s health.
Now, don’t get me wrong. We are discussing health, not looks, not social circumstances, friendships or marital relationships. In other words, statistically speaking having a BMI in excess of 25 (- 29 makes you overweight) but especially over 30 (- 35 makes you obese; then categories of obesity are added on every 5 units) put you at risk for the diseases named above. Your genetics and other lifestyle behaviors can reduce your risk from there but a life-long state of excess body weight will eventually lead to one or more of these diseases, especially for post-menopausal women who lose the protection of estrogen.
Again, let me reiterate: your genetics may be able to hold back the adverse affects of being OO but eventually you will succumb with a greater likelihood than someone who has similar genes but is not OO.
So how does this impact the yo-you dieting condemnation? Simple: if you are struggling to control weight, some – read again: SOME – dieting and weight re-gain is better than none, i.e. NONE.
What has not been determined, largely because this kind of study would be difficult to perform, is how much weight loss/gain and how often this yo-yo takes place is bad for you. Does a 10# fluctuation every year have as dire a consequence as the article suggests or do you have to shift the scale by 15 or more pounds before you have totally screwed up your metabolism and your body? We just don’t know. I suspect we can never know. With rats, maybe, but that does not portray the varied effects and impacts that humans experience over a lifetime.
So back to the article: yes, you risk screwing up your metabolism by doing weight cycling via dieting (or drastic additions or subtractions of physical activity) over a lifetime. But you definitely risk screwing up your health by disregarding it and allowing it to stay in the higher ranges of the BMI chart.
Again, don’t get me wrong here. I’m not arguing for people to diet just to lose weight for looks or because their body image, and the one society puts on them, at the expense of their metabolism. I’m arguing that OO is potentially dangerous to one’s health yet the chronic and abundant availability of food and calories makes controlling weight very challenging, especially once you’ve gained too much. From our neuroendocrine systems to our psychobiological ones, we are compelled to eat or to absorb more calories once we’ve gained more weight; our bodies scream for more food…now….or else.
But if you are concerned about your health, if you are OO, if you have been advised because of unhealthy vital signs to lose weight, then dieting is your most effective means of doing so. I have written before on the challenges of trying to exercise weight off and how dieting is about the only effective way to lose weight.
So, that being the case, and it also being the case that OO people have many impediments to sticking close to a healthy diet, I can sit here and with all good conscience support you in cutting calories, losing some weight, knowing you will most likely gain it back unless or until you become fully committed to eating right, eating less and moving more while sitting less.
In other words, by adopting a healthy and healthful lifestyle, for life. L’chaim!!!!