The Real Truth About Lasting Weight Loss-Why Diets Don’t Work (and What Does)
Imagine for a moment you have $1000 to invest. After giving it much thought, you decide to put your money in a mutual fund because a financially-competent friend gave a glowing recommendation.
However, just before you pull the trigger and invest, you read an analyst’s report that details the fund’s historical return. You discover that this investment promises quick short-term gains—but 80 percent of people who buy it end up losing their entire initial investment.
For most people, this would prompt an easy decision: save your money.
When it comes to weight loss and diets though, turns out we like to gamble.
A staggering 80 percent of overweight dieters fail to keep the weight off … yet 108 million men and women still pour billions of dollars of their hard-earned money into Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, Nutrisystem, the Cookie Diet, the Grapefruit Diet, the Cabbage Soup Diet, and yes, even the Hallelujah Diet.
The deeper you dig, the more damning the evidence against diets gets. A group of UCLA researchers reviewed 10 weight loss studies and found that in only one did dieting lead to weight loss. In fact, in most of the studies dieting actually led to weight gain.
The researchers concluded:
“In the studies reviewed here, dieters were not able to maintain their weight losses in the long term, and there was not consistent evidence that the diets resulted in significant improvements in their health. In the few cases in which health benefits were shown, it could not be demonstrated that they resulted from dieting, rather than exercise, medication use, or other lifestyle changes. It appears that dieters who manage to sustain a weight loss are the rare exception, rather than the rule. Dieters who gain back more weight than they lost may very well be the norm, rather than an unlucky minority.”
This scathing conclusion begs the question—if diets don’t work … what does?
These Are the Things People Who Keep the Weight Off Do
According to the National Weight Control Registry, which tracks over 10,000 people with an average weight loss of 66 pounds sustained over 4.5 years, here are the common behaviors among those who lose weight and keep it off:
- 98 percent change how they eat.
- 90 percent exercise, on average, about 1 hour per day.
- 78 percent eat breakfast every day.
- 75 percent weigh themselves at least once a week.
- 62 percent watch less than 10 hours of TV per week.
As daunting as this may seem, here’s a silver lining: there’s a simple way you can start applying these insights to your life without completely overwhelming yourself.
The Secret to Lasting Weight Loss: Create Healthy Habits
BJ Fogg is a psychologist, director of the Persuasive Tech Lab at Stanford University, and creator of the Fogg Method of behavior change.
His teachings have massive potential in the weight loss realm.
The main premise is simple: to lose weight and keep it off, start by changing your habits. Here are the three steps Fogg recommends to do that:
Step 1: Pick a specific behavior you want to create. It’s not enough to just say “I want to lose weight.” You need to translate this goal into specific actions. The way you do this is to identify tiny behaviors to start you on the path toward the outcome you want.
Step 2: Make it easy. Fogg says simplicity changes behavior. How can you make the behavior as easy as possible? Starting small is the answer (Fogg refers to this as “tiny habits”). For example, if you want to lose weight, start by committing to just 2 minutes of exercise every day.
Step 3: Trigger the behavior. The final step is finding a prompt or “trigger” for the behavior. Triggers help your brain quickly learn the new behavioral sequence, so the habit becomes automatic. Fogg says relying on motivation alone usually doesn’t work. The easiest way to create a trigger is to use the following sequence:
After I (routine), I will (tiny behavior).
For example, “After I eat dinner, I will exercise for 2 minutes.”
Diets may be useful for some people, but for most they’re largely ineffective for keeping the weight off.
Cultivate healthy habits instead. Habits lead to repeatable actions that get ingrained in your brain … so you don’t have to rely on willpower alone.
Try using the method above, or sign up for Fogg’s Tiny Habits program if you need more guidance (it’s free).
You’ll likely need to change more than one behavior to make progress toward a big goal like losing weight. But start small and focus on one thing at a time.
One last bit of advice: embrace your success. Celebrate the small wins and allow yourself to really feel those positive emotions. This will help keep you motivated and more importantly, reinforce your belief in yourself, which research shows is critical when trying to change behavior.
So ditch your diet and start replacing those unhealthy habits with healthy ones today, and you’ll unlock the real key to lasting weight loss.