Brain: How are we going to get the earth to lose weight?
Pinky: I know! We can get everyone to go on a diet!
Brain: Diets don’t work, Pinky.
Pinky: Not even if you call them “a whole new way of eating”?
Since it’s apparently Picking on My Heroes Week*, I’ll point you to the comments thread on this post at Feministing. The post itself, reporting on a recent study that (*cough* like a zillion others *cough*) concluded dieting does not lead to long-term weight loss or health gains, is great. And I probably shouldn’t even pick on the commenters, since at least when it’s a bunch of liberals, no one’s going down the “Obese people cost society money!” path. (Yet.) But still, it’s even more frustrating to see the usual shit here, not just on a liberal site but a feminist** site, than it is to see it, you know… everywhere else in the fucking world.
Said usual shit can be summed up thusly: “Diets don’t work, but…” Fill in the blank with any of the following–or make up your own!
- Diets don’t work, but Weight Watchers, which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but “lifestyle changes,” which are not diets, work.
- Diets don’t work, but restricting calories for the rest of your life, which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but cutting out carbs, which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but eating only whole foods, which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but reducing fat intake, which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but “portion control,” which is not a diet, works.
- Diets don’t work, but eating right and exercising, which is not a diet (and clearly not something anyone’s ever thought of before!), works.
Gosh, there’s so much conflicting information here! However to synthesize it? Do you suppose there’s, like, a single element common to all those statements?
Ooh! Ooh! I see it! DIETS DON’T WORK.
What do I win?
The thing that causes so much confusion (to put it charitably) here is that diets do work, actually–in the short term. All diets, from cabbage soup to Weight Watchers, will cause people to lose weight. At first. But after five years, all diets have the same result: the vast majority of people who lost weight at first gained it back.
This is what people mean when they say, “Diets don’t work,” without adding a “but…” Diets do not lead to permanent weight loss for the vast majority of people. A slightly more efficient way of saying that is, “Diets don’t work.” But boy, people come out in droves to argue that one.
When I posted the Mastiff/Pug before and after shots the other day, I totally slayed myself when I remembered to add “Results not typical” under the pug. If you’ve ever looked at a commercial weight loss program’s literature, you’ve seen that phrase under every picture of a triumphant former fatty showing off her new self. Translation: “Hi! To indemnify ourselves against the world’s largest class action suit, we want to make sure you’re aware that our product does not work for most people! Now look back up at that picture! Don’t you want to look like her? Buy our product!”
It’s easy to ignore that pesky little point about the product not working, because hey, I’m not typical, either! I’ve got the resolve! I’ll be the one in the ad.
Fun fact: I have been asked by Jenny Craig staff if they could send my before and after photos to Corporate to see about making me the one in the ad on two separate occasions, years apart. I’m actually not typical! Except… Two different befores, two different afters. I’ll leave you to sort out what that means.
Nobody from Weight Watchers ever asked me, because I just used their online tools and never spoke to a human being about my weight loss, but if I’d been interacting with WW staff, I strongly suspect I would have been approached about doing ads there, too. I was not typical three times on two programs! I am the fucking queen of not typical!
Five years after the latest after, I look very like the befores again. Huh.
And okay, can we talk about how “Weight Watchers is not a diet, but a lifestyle change”? (Which, my god, must be the most brilliant marketing meme in history). Can we talk about “lifestyle changes” in general?
Here’s the big secret, which I have absolutely no scientific evidence to support but would nevertheless bet every cent I have, both my dogs, and my firstborn on: at least 95% of people who insist that “lifestyle changes” work (and who are not in the business of selling weight-loss products) are less than five years out from the beginning of a “lifestyle change.”
Better known, as they will see by the end of five years, as a “diet.”
As anyone who knew me between 1995 and 2002ish, but especially my sisters, can attest, I was fucking insufferable with my endless proselytizing about “lifestyle changes.” If I’d been more internet-savvy at the time, I totally would have been polluting every conceivable message board with my endless rambling about how easy it is, really, once you get used to it–once you’ve made that lifestyle change! About how much better it feels to be thin! About how I’ve taken control of my eating, my life, my destiny! About how I’m never, ever, ever going back!
And boy, would I feel like an asshole now. Specifically, a fat asshole.
Diets do not lead to permanent weight loss for the vast majority of people. Not even if you call them “a whole new way of eating.” Or a “lifestyle change.” If your lifestyle change involves putting restrictions on your food intake, you will almost certainly be fat again in five years.
Every study that looks at dieters five years down the line results in this conclusion. That’s why most studies don’t. Huge kudos to the UCLA researchers both for following up and stating that conclusion in no uncertain terms.
Well, except for the one who the Reuters article reports is now “planning to study whether exercise is the key factor leading to sustained weight loss.” Should be an interesting study, seeing as it will necessarily involve finding a large number of people who have achieved sustained weight loss.
My prediction: that study will conclude their secret is a daily dose of powdered unicorn horn.
*I should note here that the Shakesville issue has been completely resolved for me via respectful discussion. What a friggin’ concept.
**Because feminism is so totally about telling groups of people, women in particular, that their decisions about their own bodies are both wrong and everybody else’s business.