Friday, February 6, 2015

Any Diet: How does it work? What are the rules?

The first question a lot of people want to know about any given diet is "how does it work?" Or perhaps that's the second question. The very first one is likely to be "what foods are you allowed to eat?"

When people are trying to explain how a certain diet works either because they're selling it or because they want you to be their dieting buddy, usually there are only a few variations.

Variation one might be something like: "you cut out these here foods, which are bad. These are the foods that make you fat. When you stop eating those you lose weight".

Consider this though: whatever foods are on that this, I guarantee that you know some people who do eat them but are in quite good shape.

Similarly you have the "only eat these here foods which are good foods that help you burn fat" variations. Again though, you know some people who do eat those foods and aren't losing weight, and you know some people not eating those foods who are in good shape. Don't you?

Still, the people who sell these diets and their victims are always quite convinced, "this is the only way to lose weight. Anyone not doing this will be overweight". I'll say it once again though, you know any number of people who aren't doing that diet, who are eating some or all of those "banned" foods, and they're in perfectly normal or even quite athletic shape all the same.

So that isn't true. What else though? What about the "prove that you really want it and earn weight loss karma" type explanations? That's the only way I can think of to try to decipher the logic behind these explanations.

You know the ones I mean. A whole bunch of rules. What foods you're allowed to eat, what foods you're not allowed to eat. These things only at these times, those things only at those times. Never these things and those things at the same time. Nothing at all before this time or after that time. God knows what else. And if it doesn't work, it's because of that one single solitary time you broke one of the rules, meaning that you don't really deserve it or whatever. Right? You didn't do it hard enough and you should try again. Properly this time.

I've questioned a few people promoting these sort of approaches along the lines of "but why though?" and the response is usually something like "to show they have discipline, to prove they want it bad enough" and so on. What a load of nonsense. It's as if the Tooth Fairy has a cousin or something, who rewards all the good boys and girls if they can stick to all the rules for a month, but only if you're especially good and never break the rules.


Whatever diet it is, if the question is "why would I expect this to work?" the only real answer is "because it is the appropriate amount of total energy, and the appropriate balance of energy from the different macronutrient groups."

Some choices of foods certainly are more conducive to ending up at the appropriate amount and balance of energy sources, which means in theory at least that you can just eat those foods until you're satisfied without bothering with the maths. Which is great if you happen to like those foods, but regardless, if you do lose weight on a particular diet it is because at the end of the day your total energy intake has been less appropriate, not because of any magical properties of the foods you did ate or evil properties of the foods you avoided.

Now depending on how you look at things, that might lack a bit of the "wow I never thought of that" factor that inspires people to give something a try. Hopefully though, the wow factor is there because really... for a lot of people this is like awakening from illusion and walking into reality for the first time. Weight management comes down to maintaining an appropriate activity level and an appropriate energy balance.