Sunday, 22 March 2020

The “I Dieted Successfully, So You Can Too” Mistake

Dieting and SuccessI was recently part of a discussion about weight loss online. I was pointing out the research about intentional weight loss methods – and the fact that what the research shows is that most people can lose weight short term, but almost everyone gains it back long-term with most gaining back more than they lost. Someone immediately jumped in and said “I lost weight and kept it off, so what about that. Anyone can do it if they try hard enough.”

I see this a lot in these types of discussions. Hell, the National Weight Control Registry is literally built on this mistake (by people who should know better, but there seems to be more profit in acting like they don’t.)

The careful reader will note that in the original conversation I said “almost everyone” gains the weight back. The term here is “outlier,” someone whose experience/outcome is far different than what is typical.  The existence of outliers cannot be used to prove that the outcome they experienced could have/can be achieved by others.

So the fact that a tiny percentage of people don’t regain all their weight does not indicate that everyone can have the same outcome. There are people whose parachutes don’t open but they survive. That doesn’t make it reasonable for them to insist that their experience proves that anyone can survive their chute not opening if they just try hard enough.

That’s ludicrous. And yet every time we state the facts about the failure rates of intentional weight loss attempts, here comes someone who wants to talk about how their aunt’s best friend’s babysitter’s mom did it, like that cancels out a mountain of evidence.

When it comes to maintaining significant weight loss there are a number of factors that may contribute. A couple common examples:

It’s possible that they haven’t gained their weight back…yet. Most people gain their weight back in 2-5 years (which is why so many of the people you see on diet commercials are within that time frame.) This is the one I see most often. When challenged, I find that many of these people think that saying “I’m definitely not gaining it back” is someone evidence of their future purported success. Spoiler alert – it is not.

It’s possible that they developed disordered eating/an eating disorder (which wouldn’t be surprising since many diets encourage the exact same behaviors that people dealing with eating disorders struggle to stop.) This is a worst-case scenario since they are likely to be congratulated and supported for their dangerous eating disorder behaviors, and terrified to regain their weight because of the positive reaction they are receiving.

Regardless, if “trying hard” to be thin would make us thin, every fat person I know would be thin. The truth is that almost everyone who attempts weight loss will lose weight short term but gain it all back longterm, with many gaining back more than they lost. This means that the vast majority of people who commit to dieting will waste time, money, and energy in a futile – sometimes dangerous – pursuit.  Alternately, we could get off the diet roller coaster and never, ever get back on.

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