Monday, January 24, 2011

How dieting makes you fat

Millions of people go on diets every once in a while in order to lose weight. Unfortunately, going on and off weight-loss diets usually makes you gain a lot more weight in the long term.

Dieting to lose weight is like treating a knife wound with morphine. Yes, getting stabbed in the arm hurts. But pain is a symptom of the core problem, which is the knife in your arm. The right course of action is to first remove the knife, then stop the bleeding, then protect the wound against infection. But simply taking a pain killer without the rest will only temporarily appear to solve what you think is the problem. Oh, and it’s important to not stick the knife back into your arm after the wound has healed. Yet this is precisely how yo-yo dieting works.

Excess body fat is like pain from a knife wound. It’s not the cause of your troubles, but merely the one symptom you cannot ignore.

Yo-yo dieting not only fails to address the root cause of excess wight, it adds to the problem by reprogramming the brain, metabolism and gut for sustained weight gain. Here's how.


Short-term dieting changes the brain's response to stress. If you have a history of going on weight-loss diets, you're more likely to seek out more and fattier foods during times of stress in the future.

The genes that govern the brain's stress response are actually re-programmed to make you load up on fat and calories as part of how your body deals with stressful situations. 

Unfortunately, weight loss causes stress, and gaining it back is stressful, too. And you deal with all this stress by craving more and more fattier foods.


"Going on a diet" is by definition temporary -- at some point, dieters go off the diet. It's common for people to binge either as a self-reward for dieting, or based on the knowledge that a diet tomorrow will compensate for pigging out today.

Unfortunately, it turns out, a short-term binge leaves you with long-term consequences. One study found that four weeks of slacking on both diet and exercise -- the kind of lifestyle many people live during the holidays each year -- can cause unnatural extra weight gain for more than two years after the binge. Binging changes metabolism to favor weight gain, an effect found to last for at least 30 months.


As we detailed in a November post, what and how you eat affects the populations of bacteria, fungi and other microbes that live in your digestive tract. These micro-organisms are necessary for health. They make up approximately 75% of your immune system, break down toxins, transform food into nutrients, protect your body from infection and other essential functions. They also help you regulate weight.

Sterile food (all packaged processed food is essentially sterile), as well as junk food high in fat and sugar, can all alter gut flora in a way that predisposes your body to weight gain. So can drugs or stress. Damage to gut populations has been found to last for up to four years.

That means if you've compromised your gut microbes with junk food, drugs -- especially antibiotics -- toxins or stress, weight loss dieting is working against the environment of your digestive system. Worse, many fad diets actively contribute to unhealthy gut microbiota by providing inadequate nutrition and placing stress on the body.

"Going on a diet" is by definition a short-term fix that reprograms your brain, metabolism and gut for long-term weight gain.

Instead of "going on a diet," the far better strategy is to change your diet. Instead of rapid weight loss, it's better to never lose weight quickly.

The Spartan Diet transforms your diet and lifestyle to re-program your brain, metabolism and gut for optimal weight. Over time, it eliminates the intense food cravings caused by yo-yo dieting, and gets you on a life-long path of total health and fitness.

(Picture shows Peachy Walnut Scones, a Spartan Diet recipe that will be published later this year.)