New research is helping explain why dieting does not lead to long-term weight loss in the vast majority of people and may even lead to weight gain. A key reason for this, some researchers say, is that our bodies employ mechanisms to keep our weight within a certain range or “set point.” Forum discusses the effect of dieting on metabolism and the relationship between health and weight.

Research Affirms that Diets Don’t Lead to Weight Loss, Health Gains 10 May,2016carlosg

Sandra Aamodt, neuroscientist; author of "Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequence of Our Obsession with Weight Loss"

  • Marvin

    I went on a diet and permanently lost weight. I mainly attribute my not regaining the weight on again because I rarely eat addictive carbs, which cause me to not feel full even after I’ve overeaten. I happen to detest sodas, which are liquid candy, and I don’t eat solid candy much. I infrequently eat the hard-core fatty foods like chocolate and peanut butter.

  • jy36

    “”Why “Healthy and Overweight,” and the set-point theory of body weight, are both dangerous myths.”

  • geraldfnord

    Odd: my father was a P.W. in the Second World War, and lost eighty pounds in 2•5 years—which jibes with what I know about chemistry and thermodynamics. In post-war France, he gained-back fifty of those in about the same length-of-time, but it wasn’t until he learned to eat like an American that despite the hard physical work he performed he would meet and exceed his previous peak weight. I think his diet really did affect his weight; simple observation of Western Europeans, coastal Americans, and Midwest Americans bears this out.

    I think it more correct to say that ‘We don’t work diets correctly.’. … and to say that they can’t work is honey to the ears of people like the morbidly obese people I know who want to deny that the extent of their extra weight is bad for them, despite their joint problems, diabetes, and (in one case) aortic dissection. I’m very glad the friendly acquaintance who at 5’0″ went from 105 kilos to 50 kilos over the course of a year and has kept it off for decades never heard this defeatist talk: maybe dieting can’t work for the ninety percent of the populace without the will to maintain caloric restriction and physical work—for which I don’t fault them—but it were malpractice to eliminate that possibility for the rest of us.

    A personal note: after I became diabetic, I lost thirty-five pounds by not putting as mych food in my mouth. In the decade since I have kept-off thirty to forty of those, generally a slow oscillation whose mean and median has been around thirty-two pounds. My knees and back are in better shape, and my blood-sugar has not worsened. I’d love not ever to gain any of the damaging weight back, but I excuse myself by noting that drug addicts consider relapse a part of recovery….

    • Another Mike

      Being a chubby teenager enabled a friend’s mom to survive a concentration camp. The other factor is that Hungarian Jews were rounded up relatively late in the war, and she was liberated before wasting away entirely.

  • geraldfnord

    Please, in general: whenever an interview subject refers to ‘research’, please do cite on this web-page. There is research and there is good research; there are journals and there are respected journals.

  • Another Mike

    I was my thinnest when I was my most optimistic.
    Plenty of walking and avoiding simple carbs also helped.

  • Tamara Reus

    I have lost over 80 pounds on Weight Watchers and have kept it off for a year, and now you’re telling me I am doomed to gain it back? Say it isn’t so! Does the research show any distinction for people who have lost weight gradually on a weight loss program and have made a long-term change in what they eat and how much they eat?

    • Bob Mcdiarmid

      Here! Here! This program is infuriating to listen to – it’s so biased and the clear point of “excercise, learn a new relationship with food” – making it sound like we’re all in line for bariatric surgery.

  • Ben Rawner

    What do your guests think about intermittent fasting? Or 2-3 day fasts?

  • Darby Sager

    How can we reset the brain’s metabolism set point?!

  • Bill_Woods

    “Addicted to food”? Well, the withdrawal symptoms are pretty severe….

    • Bob Mcdiarmid

      i think it’s addicted to salt and fatty foods – addicted to the wrong kinds of foods.

  • George Halet

    Along with self-awareness and exercise, please mention adequate *sleep* as a key factor in health, including weight control.
    I’ve heard a lot of evidence that this is true and it agrees with my observations.

    My rules:
    I eat as much as I want and minimize “non-foods”: anything that can’t be grown on a plant or in a field.
    We evolved to move a lot. When I do this, I feel better. My activities change as I get older, but they don’t stop and they’re fun.
    I aim to go to bed early enough that I wake up naturally.

  • Robert Thomas

    The chief characteristic of the fellow who called in to make assertions extolling the effect of eating organic food and not eating GMO food, with respect to weight gain or loss, is that he is a stupid person.

    • Natasha

      I agree with you that that guy was totally wrong. But man oh man, calling people names is 100% unnecessary. It never changes minds. Plus, smart people are also wrong about things, too, sometimes.

      • Robert Thomas

        I don’t deny your point.

        Neither do I generally indulge in such stuff and I spent some time thinking about this. I typed in “silly” and “foolish” and a couple of other adjectives and thought about each alternative. I rewrote the sentence to change the object of the adjective to the man’s words rather than to his person. I settled on the words I used as being the most forthright.

        I believe we suffer when blatantly false assertions unsupportable by any facts or reasoning are made in venues such as this and aren’t identified as what they are, which is nonsensical and pernicious. At worst they are met with tacit approval by questionable “experts” (sometimes kooky axe grinders and often, know-nothing journalists) and at best – as here – they are ignored, leaving a lingering impression among many that some validity may attach. This reticence to denounce contributes to a dilution of thoughtful discourse that when applied to right-wing nonsense is correctly labeled “false balance” or “political framing”. I’ve become frustrated with the passive promotion of ridiculous bunk for the sake of comity.

  • eyasta

    Yes, I’m interested in that last question, too. I’ve heard a lot of health benefits–not just weight loss but that as well–from 5 days of normal (but healthy) eating and 2 days of limited calories (600-800 cals/per day).

  • Ehkzu

    Are all your guests Creationists? Because they certainly act as if we didn’t evolve. Yet considering how we evolved is a key to understanding why we’re so fat (collectively speaking).

    The human race settled into its present form around 200,000 years ago. We were hunter/gatherers. Our particular food desires, which haven’t changed to this day, reflected the supply and demand situation then: that is, we evolved to crave salt, suger, fat, and meat because it took powerful cravings for those things in order for us to get the small amounts of them that we actually need.

    Even the fruits and vegetables we eat today didn’t exist then. The wild versions were all less sweet and less tasty, with far fewer calories per pound. And as hunter/gatherers we walked and ran miles and miles nearly every day of our lives.

    Big Food employs food scientists to exploit evolution for their profit and our loss. Our evolved nature has no way of understandings how sedentary we can be, and what carb-intense food we can eat.

    Because evolution works by selective breeding, and sedentary overeaters have just as many kids as the leaner minority. So we haven’t changed.

    Understanding how our inner hunter-gatherer wants that Coke and those Twinkies–and why–can be a big help to resisting that Coke and those Twinkies.

    For example, I’m sure your guests will agree that it’s a lot easier to keep a good weight if your home isn’t full of the sights and smells of foods that exploit our evolved cravings.

    • djconnel

      Excellent comments.

  • Robert Thomas

    Good bread and rice and especially potatoes need not be processed very much more than by heat in order to be the source of a lot of avoirdupois.

    • Another Mike

      But relatively few Chinese or Japanese become obese on their rice-based diet.

      • Robert Thomas

        Like the Irish and potatoes, they could never get enough. There are plenty of obese Japanese and Chinese (and Irish) people, now.

  • Another Mike

    Noodle soup for lunch would reliably make me sleepy around 3 pm. Refined sugars are not the only foods that can make blood sugar crash after a spike.

    • Robert Thomas

      A phở lunch does this to me, too, and I associate this effect unsurprisingly with the rice flour used to make it. But all my life, I’ve noticed the same result from drinking any hot beverage (coffee or tea without sugar, which I prefer). Most people find that coffee or tea, whether hot or cold, has a stimulative effect presumably due to caffeine content. When drunk hot, they’re guaranteed to make me sleepy, and I wonder if this is part of the “soup effect”, as well.

  • abraham

    Lost 25Lb over2yr+ then kept it for 3+ years. less than 2Lbs a month was too little for my body/ brain notice to slow metabolism down. No particular exercise. Cut sugar out. Cut most meat out. I ate like what my ancestors (Korean) used to eat. They were vegetarians.

    Before the weight loss, I read Lustig, Yudkin, MacDougall, Wansink, Collin, Pollan.

    • Another Mike

      Korean vegetarians? Who ate the Jeju black pigs?

      • abraham

        My whole point is we need to try to figure out why our older generation did not have obesity and related diseases. I did not mean that the Koreans were the strict Vegetarian. Meat consisted of perhaps 1% of their food. When living in Korea, I ate Korean BBQ perhaps twice a year in very small portions. No such thing as all you can eat BBQ. This is only possible now because people became richer but it is absolutely disgusting.. Meat was used mostly as flavoring..

  • Ron Carino

    Would this mean that getting kids to stay at a healthy weight early is even more important so they don’t get to a high set point that they’ll have to struggle with for the rest of their lives? Or does every 50 pound kid have the potential to have anywhere from a 150 to 300 lb eventual set point depending on environment and what kinds of foods/stress they’re exposed to as the grow up?

    PS. I’m in the national weight loss registry. I lost 45 pounds over 5 years and have kept it off successfully by calorie tracking, portion control and exercise.

  • Michael Walsh

    My name is michael from san mateo. Since ive tuned in, i have heard little conversation about the difference between dieting and “eating right”. To my understanding dieting is the practice of voluntarily restricting calorie intake. Lower caloric intake compred to what one burns=less extra calories that get converted to fat. Eating right is simply eating foods that are nutriously dense, but calorically low. One doesnt diet by eating 4000 calories if they only burn 1000 through their daily activities. One can eat 4000 calories of broccoli and spinach, but still be overweight. I think this is an important detail that many dieters overlook.

  • Moira

    Your guests aren’t really addressing metabolism and the role it plays in weight management. What about the research that suggests you can readjust/alter your metabolism through interval training and specific adjustments to eating patterns?

  • Jess

    It seems to me that the public health focus should be on promoting an overall lifestyle that prevents weight gain, because once of you’ve gained weight, your set point gets reprogrammed and losing is incredibly hard. I try to raise my kids in the same healthy lifestyle that I grew up with and focus not on weight but on the functionality of the body: can you hike, run, bike, and play like you want to? I cook, bake, and garden with my kids and we eat family meals together, and I teach them to enjoy foods, and also that real enjoyment comes from balance and variety.

    FWIW, I’ve weighed the same healthy weight more or less since puberty, with the exception of my three pregnancies, during which I gained exactly the same amount of weight (44 lbs…weird number) each time and then lost it with a combo of exercise and breastfeeding. It seems to me I have a strong set point, but I’ve also exercised rigorously and consistently my whole adult life and I was raised eating balanced, healthy home cooking and I continue to eat that way (virtually no fast food, limited processed food, lots of fruit and veg, etc.). I feel like if I put one toe over the line (e.g. have a lazy week and eat a lot of junk food) my weight jumps 2-3 pounds overnight and it’s a signal to me to get back to my healthy habits.

    • Ron Carino

      This was my question too. I get that metabolism slows down as you age so you have to be more active or take in fewer calories, but does the set point ONLY go up? How long does it take to lower it?

  • abraham

    Fat Chance R Lustig, Pure White and Deadly J Yudkin, the China Study T C Campbell, John MacDougall, Mindless Eating B Wansink, In Defense of Food, Omnivore’s Dilemma Pollan

    • Robert Thomas

      Worlds in Collision, Immanuel Velikovsky; Chariots of the Gods? Erich von Däniken; The Bermuda Triangle, Charles Berlitz…

      • abraham

        Except Pollan, the authors I listed are Drs or scientists and their books are based on scientific research.

        • Robert Thomas

          “‘Inflammable’ means the same as ‘flamable’?! What a country!

          Dr. Nick

  • Rishi

    Excellent forum program, thanks to KQED & guests for bringing this to us!
    My today’s learning –
    -> be more mindful abt the food that I eat.. when, what and how much.
    -> eat food in its true /natural form (no processed food so no worries abt counting added sodium, sugars, preservatives etc)
    -> cook my own meal as and when possible (vl find a time! cooking is fun -) )
    -> exercise (feel the burn 😉 )

  • Helicase

    It’s simple: keep a log of what you eat and how much of it. Follow the Pollan Principle (real food. not too much. mostly plants.) Get off your ass and move around.

    • You had me until “mostly plants”. Eat plants if you’re trying to save the planet, but meat contains more of what you need than plants do. If you’re still scared of sat fat, you aren’t keeping up with the times.

  • Bob Mcdiarmid

    This kind of story is why I don’t call Weight Watchers a diet – it is learning to eat the right things. It’s learning to go to the table at Thanksgiving and have a single plate. WW teaches us to relearn our relationship with food. Mindful eating — and get out and get exercise. I am a bit upset that it was never mentioned as a model. WW is about getting active – it’s not pills, supplements and a quick fix.

    Meditation, exercise, and mindful eating are the keys. I don’t know anyone in my life that struggles with their weight that is stuck in bottle of pills or some quick fix. The tone of your program makes it sounds like we’re all fat because we want to take pills and spray on our tans.

    WW killed my sweet tooth – and my salt useage. It takes self discipline and WW creates a support group accomplish real change.

  • Ricki-Ellen Brooke

    The speaker says that fat cells just shrink when you lose weight, but that they also increase in number, as well as expand, when you gain weight.
    Is there any way to actually reduces the number of fat cells??

  • Tasha Bird

    If you’re not looking at a ketogenic diet, you’re missing a diet that works.

  • Lawrence Shorter

    This program has stayed with me for several days, as I was really frustrated at the core message: Diets don’t work. I have observed that diets do work for some people– albeit very few. Losing weight is a fundamental change to one’s life. Like other profound life changes, it is very difficult to succeed– but some people do. A more interesting question is: for the very few who do succeed, what do they do differently?

    My general frustration was that for people who don’t want to invest the hard work it takes to profoundly change their lives, this research and its simple message, “Diets don’t work” becomes another reason to not make an effort.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor