If you feel like a failure in your efforts to change your body, lose weight, and achieve happiness, you’re not alone.
Efforts at weight loss and body change, especially through dieting, are common: nearly 50% of men and 75% of women report dieting at some point. Americans spend about $35 billion — more than $100 for every man, woman, child, and infant — every year on weight loss products, according to this article from CBS news. Researchers have also gotten in on the act: The National Institutes of Health spent $147 million on obesity research in 2010, more than it spent on breast cancer, lung cancer, and stroke combined.
But all that scientific, entrepreneurial, and ordinary human effort expended hasn’t achieved much more than your own efforts have. If you’ve tried, and failed, to lose weight, it isn’t your fault.
There is little evidence that any weight loss diet — even the state-of-the-art scientifically supported diets that are generally studied in randomized controlled trials — is effective over the long term. In fact, as many as two thirds of dieters in clinical trials regain more weight than they lost on their diets. Also, weight loss research is biased toward showing successful results, so clinical research on weight loss probably underestimates the extent to which dieting is counterproductive.
The news may be worse in non-laboratory, real-world situations. Among adolescent girls, self-reported dieting, exercise for weight control, and dietary restraint actually predicted weight gain and the onset of obesity over long-term follow up, a finding that’s been replicated in several studies.
As Kate Harding said, diets don’t work. (And no, “lifestyle change” doesn’t work as a weight loss tactic, either. That’s part 2. Coming attractions.)