Editorial: Diets simply don’t work!


Weight loss requires a lifelong change.  

Feet on scale
Feet on scale

Before you start talking about how much weight you have lost and how I am wrong, give me time to explain what I mean by this statement.  As a military physician, I spend a good portion of my life trying to lose weight or helping others do the same.  Almost all of them regain their weight.  My pessimism eventually made me think that all my work to maintain my own weight and help others was futile.  There must be a better way to lose weight and keep it off.  I had tried every weight loss diet and exercise program and failed, so maybe I was destined to be overweight.  Each time, I slowly drifted back to 40-44 inch waist and felt terrible about it.  

Then, a few years ago, I found a study on the National Weight Control Registry (NWCR)​[1]​.  I saw the light at the end of the tunnel to successful weight loss.  The National Weight Control Registry was established in 1994 to perform a prospective investigation of long-term successful weight loss maintenance. They used questionnaires to gain data that could be used to find out what successful losers have in common.  These characteristics or habits were collected to see if they might find patterns that might help others lose weight and keep it off.  The NWCR has data from over 10,000 individuals who have lost significant amounts of weight and kept it off for long periods of time.  Unlike contestants on the TV show the Biggest Loser, these dieters have lost and maintained their weight loss for longer periods of time.  

The researchers at the NWCR found the following:

  1. Registry members have lost an average of 66 lbs and kept it off for 5.5 years.
  2. 45% of registry participants lost weight on their own, and the other 55% lost weight with the help of some type of program.
  3. 98% of Registry participants report that they modified their food intake to lose weight.
  4. 94% increased their physical activity, with the most frequently reported form of activity being walking.
  5. 78% eat breakfast every day.
  6. 75% weigh themselves at least once a week.
  7. 62% watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
  8. 90% exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
Medical Scale
Medical Scale

So what does this data mean?  You must change what you are doing to lose weight, and you must maintain the change to keep it off.  Wait, how did I fail in the past?  I drifted back to the old habits.  I binged and splurged too much, and the weight came back on.  If you return to the old habits, you will gain the weight back, so you must maintain the exercise and dietary habits that made you successful.  This is exactly why the contestants on the biggest loser gained the weight back, and in fact, they gained it back with a vengeance because they suffered some muscle mass loss and now had a lower metabolism.  This metabolic suppression caused them to not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones, and thus they were hungry more often.  The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200, as the “Biggest Loser” participants discovered.

As you lose weight, you will develop a new set point for your weight.  The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you.  If you lose weight, you will become hungry as you drift away from your set point.   I can see from your face that you are feeling discouraged and think that it is futile and there is no use trying anymore.  So is it futile?  The answer is no.  

So is it futile?  The answer is no.  Look at steps 1-8, and you will quickly know that it is not true.  Ten thousand successful stories are included in the NWCR, so the fact is there to show that you can lose weight and keep it off.  Diet infers that it is a temporary change.  Like I said above, the key is to avoid thinking of a diet as a thing, a temporary change.  Instead of making a quick fix like you have tried in the past that just led to more of a yo-yo effect on your weight, make a permanent change that will be lifelong.  Focus more on making healthy choices and portion sizes, and the rest will happen without trying.  I did this nearly 2 years ago, and I am still down 40 pounds.  I have gained a little back, but I feel great and will continue to strive to keep the rest off.    

The bottom line: Give up dieting.  Two years ago, I stopped using the term: “to lose weight” and focused more on eating healthy.  I have finally been successful at losing and keeping the weight loss.  I still use the term diet, but for me, it is a permanent change to how I eat food instead of a temporary fix to lose weight.  I suggest you develop your own path to health and start walking off the pounds.  


  1. [1]
    “National Weight Control Registry,” National Weight Control Registry, 29-Jan-2018. [Online]. Available: http://www.nwcr.ws. [Accessed: 29-Jan-2018].
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About the Author

I am a family physician who has served in the US Army. In 2016, I found myself overweight, out of shape, and unhealthy, so I made a change to improve my health. This blog is the chronology of my path to better health and what I have learned along the way.

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