Weight-loss diets likely to be recipes for failure


April 13, 1993|By Colleen Pierre, R.D. | Colleen Pierre, R.D.,Contributing Writer

The Federal Trade Commission is about to challenge the weight-loss industry over its advertising guarantees of permanent weight loss.

This comes one year after the National Institutes of Health held a technology-assessment conference to evaluate the research on voluntary weight loss.

Researchers found that even dieting methods we think of as safe have a very limited long-term effect. Well-balanced diets, exercise, behavior modification and combinations of these three do increase the likelihood of success, but not very much.

All strategies are effective only while you use them.

In fact, most people regain a third to two-thirds of their lost weight within one year after ending the program. Almost all weight is regained within five years.

When they talked about "most people," they didn't mean 51 percent. They meant 90 percent to 95 percent.

When I tell this to people, they tell me they understand. But they'd like to try it just one more time.

Maybe that's because we don't see any risks connected with failing one more time. But there are some.

First, failing over and over again is hard on your self-esteem. It takes the focus off all your good qualities and achievements and hangs your self-worth on your body weight.

Second, losing weight won't necessarily solve all your life problems,help you find the love of your life and make all your dreams come true. You'll just be a thinner version of the same person.

And finally, losing weight might not bestow the permanent health benefits we expect.

Research clearly shows that overweight people have more chronic diseases and die earlier than people of lower body weights. We have always assumed that overweight people would improve their chances by losing weight.

But this might not be true.

At the NIH conference, researchers reported that no matter how they massaged the data, they continued to find that overweight people who lose weight die younger than overweight people who maintain a stable weight.

They told us that, then asked us not to talk about it.

They had reservations because they can't tell from the data who lost weight by dieting and who lost weight because they were sick.

Last month's issue of Health magazine reports on a study of 11,703 Harvard alumni weighed in the 1960s, the '70s and late '80s.

Those who lost weight were more likely to have died than those who gained a little. Men who gained more than 11 pounds were 36 percent more likely to die than those who remained stable. The men who lost more than 11 pounds, however, had a 57 percent chance of dying.

It turns out that those who had lost more than 11 pounds over the decade had actually gained and lost an average of 100 pounds over their lifetimes. It may be that stress of yo-yo dieting is really destructive.

Maybe you should eat healthfully, exercise regularly and aim to maintain your current weight. Your prospects are brighter that way.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant to the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center in Baltimore.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.