Why Most Diets Don't Work

A prominant news agency (that I shall not name) ran an article recently that got some attention, describing exercise as far less important than diet when attempting to lose weight. They cited a variety of studies that showed exercise without dietary restrictions failed to produce worthwhile weight loss.

What they neglected to point out, is that while dieting without exercise can produce reductions in weight, it is neither sustainable nor healthy. In fact, weight loss through diet alone followed by gaining it back again, can have positively devastating health consequences. Especially if you chase after celebrity fad diets, weight loss pills, herbal cleanses or other "magic bullets" that promise fast, easy results. 

If you're one of the many intrigued by the idea of shedding fat without ever getting out of your easy chair, here are some cold hard realities of why these kinds of diets almost always fail - and how they actually harm your health in the process.

Step #1 - Muscle Loss

When the body expends more energy than it takes in, it converts tissue to energy. Muscle is easier to convert into calories than fat, so if you have any unused muscle your body will immediately begin to consume it. Body fat may take a hit as well, depending on the degree of calorie depravation - but at best you'll be losing equal portions of each.

Step #2 - Slowed Metabolism

Muscle requires more calories to sustain than fat. This means that not only is muscle easier to burn for energy, but it is also more expensive to keep. This also means that as you reduce muscle mass, your body will be burning fewer and fewer calories in order to function. On top of this, the body goes into "starvation mode" and tries to gather and store as much energy from the food you do eat as possible while simultaneously slowing metabolism to conserve fuel.

Step #3 - Malnutrition

Many fad diets focus on - or omit - whole food groups. This can often result in an unbalanced diet lacking in key vitamins or minerals the body needs. Combined with a drastic reduction in over-all intake, this can cause dangerous nutritional deficiencies.

Step #4 - Increased Appetite

Your body responds to inadequate food intake with hunger. Further, lacking crucial nutritional elements will cause frequent cravings. This combination typically wears down the dieter until they break.

In The Long Term

Riding the weight loss roller-coaster can be catastrophic to your health. Each time you lose weight through restrictive dieting, you burn equal portions of muscle and fat. Then when the weight is gained back, often more of this weight is fat. Since fat is less dense than muscle, you may way the same as you did a year ago - yet look significantly larger. Further, losing weight the next time will be harder because with reduced muscle mass you aren't capable of burning as many calories as quickly. 

Extended cycles of loss and gain can ultimately result in loss of basic mobility.

Dangerous Products and Tactics

Some of the biggest lies in the weight loss industry can be easily avoided by watching for these tell-tail signs:

Promises of Extreme Weight Loss Fast

As a rule of thumb, 1 to 2lbs per week is the maximum rate at which you can safely and sustainably lose weight. While it may be possible to lose more than this in short bursts, any diet that claims faster results is likely relying on temporary shortcuts (like water loss) or potentially dangerous nutritional and lifestyle choices that will even more aggressively destroy lean muscle. 

Super Foods and Diet Pills

It is true that some fruits and vegetables may contain more vitamins or other elements that are beneficial to the body. However none of these is an instant weight loss fix - merely a good source of nutrition that you might consider adding to your diet.

Likewise, there is no magic pill that will melt the fat away. Every year a new diet pill turns up on the market (often with "lipo" in the name) claiming to be the revolutionary fat burning miracle cure. The most you can expect from diet pills is some nutrients and perhaps a jolt of caffeine to temporarily boost your metabolism. At best, they're no more useful than a cup of coffee. At worst, the side effects of these pills can be outright dangerous.

Detoxes, Cleanses and Extreme Diets

It may be possible to  lose some weight rather quickly by trying a highly restrictive fad diet, a 3-day juice cleanse or some herbal detox program. However these approaches are not sustainable, and the results are almost always temporary. When attempted for longer timeframes these diets can have all of the results noted above.

The Key To Burning Fat

To truly burn off belly fat, thigh fat and other unwanted body fat in general, the secret is building lean muscle while expending more calories than you take in. It's really just that simple. The more muscle you have, the more calories you can burn - both while exercising and while at rest. Furthermore, building and maintaining muscle prevents your body from consuming it - thus the weight you lose is primarily from body fat.

Here's how you lose weight the healthy way:

#1 - Eat Balanced Meals

  • Eat 3 meals per day, roughly 4 to 5 hours apart.
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits and vegetables - at least 50% of your food intake should be from these groups.
  • Avoid high-sugar foods and artificially sweetened foods. 
  • Keep your portion sizes reasonable. 

#2 - Stick to a Schedule

  • Designate set times for meals and for sleep.
  • Get your body used to a routine, and you'll have a much easier time staying on track.
  • Make sure you get at least 7 hours of sleep per night.

#3 - Exercise Every Day

  • The only way to retain muscle while losing fat is to exercise. There is no alternative.
  • You don't have to become an olympian - just starting a simple but well balanced training program is usually sufficient.

In Summary

The bottom line: There is no shortcut around eating right and exercising regularly. Anyone who tells you different is trying to send you on a wild goose chase - one that will probably hurt your health more than it will help.