The epidemic of obesity is spreading at the same rapid rate by which the industry of dieting is growing.
Dieting is the number one weight loss effort based on the idea that the lesser you eat the lesser you will weigh. And the commercial streak of nutrition widely exploits this mindset and bombards the public with expensive fad diets.
The US national surveys conducted between 1950 and 1966 reported that 14% women and 7% men were trying to lose weight. In 80s the statistics had risen to 40% women and 25% men while in 90s it was 44% women and 29% men .
However, now dieting has turned out to be the’ Cry wolf’ story of weight loss. Initially these diets deliver promising weight loss results but weight loss maintenance is as tough as losing weight.
Likelihood of weight relapse is quite high. So should the diet or the dieter be blamed for the weight regain?
Does dieting cause weight gain?
A question that everyone concerned with weight management keeps asking : ‘ Will you lose weight with a diet? Even better will you be able to keep it off?’
Increasing scientific evidence points that dieting can serve as a risk factor to weight gain.
A study conducted in Finland on twins demonstrated that dieting twins were two-three times more likely to not only gain weight but become overweight than the non dieting twin.
Also the risk of weight gain increased with every dieting episode. What this study shows us is that despite of your genetic framework, dieting alone can lead to weight gain.
A review of 31 studies by UCLA researchers reported that up to two-thirds of the study population regained weight more than what they had lost due to dieting. Studies involving adolescents also depicted that dieting can give rise to unhealthy eating habits and weight gain.
Yo-yo effect- An inevitable dilemma of diets
Losing weight quickly by dieting only to regain it again and then again starting a new diet to lose the same weight only to relapse and thus falling prey to this vicious cycle is called the ‘yo-yo’ effect.
Repeated cycles of weight gain and loss is known as weight cycling or yo-yo effect as it resembles the up and down fluctuating motion of a yo-yo.
Weight cycling typically occurs in association with weight loss induced by dieting. Initially restricted eating or a low calorie diet leads to significant weight loss. However these diets impose severe restrictions on the body causing fatigue and eventually these diets become hard to sustain.
One retreats to old eating habits which cause weight gain. The failure to adhere to a diet disturbs the individual emotionally thus causing overeating and the person regains the weight lost initially.
These cyclic changes in weight cause depressive disorders and are also said to give rise to cardiovascular risk factors. A bad choice of diets is generally blamed for this effect.
How does dieting supposedly lead to weight regain?
Here are a few points which could possibly contribute to weigh gain following a diet.
1. Diets make you hungry
Diets which force you to eat less, land up making you hungry. A 200 pound individual will have to eat more than a 125 pound individual to meet his daily requirements. A calorie restriction will only make him hungry.
Hunger generally induces a negative emotional response making us impatient. Foods seem more tasty when hungry because your brain releases chemicals called opioids. These chemicals make food seem more rewarding.
This feeling of hunger drives you take action and as a result even simple food cues like smell of baking cookies is enough to provoke you to overeat.
Hunger also reduces your urge to resist the kind of food you eat so you don’t tend to focus as to whether the food is healthy or no. And if the food is dense in calories you are likely to gain weight.
Also when we are restricted, we are psychologically hungry for the same food. When surrounded by an environment of palatable food , we tend to resist the temptation which drives us into a state called ‘hedonic hunger.’ Those experiencing this state are at a heightened risk of future weight gain.
Another important thing to note about diet and hunger is that on a diet, we tend to consume as per the diet rules. The time, the quantity and type of food we eat is based on the diet.
We think and form a pattern of eating. Naturally people eat on internal cues, like when you are hungry. Such cognitive control on eating habits requires a lot of willpower and deliberation.
When surrounded with such alluring food cues, it is not really surprising that those successful at losing weight eventually regain it.
2. The term ‘diet’ means a temporary change in your eating habits
When you say you are on a diet, you are instantly notifying the person that this is a temporary change in diet to achieve a particular weight goal. And that is where the fault lies.
Dieters who initially lose 10% of their weight, pride themselves in having achieved this result and return back to their old habits. This failure to maintain willpower and to adhere to diets can serve as a causative factor for weight gain.
Most people assume that they have to restrict their diet for a few months till they shed those extra kilos and once their desired state is achieved they can get back to old eating habits. But that is not how it works.
Those who have achieved their desired weight maintain it by following good eating habits and exercise regularly. They have a strategy to remain that way.
3. You have hidden medical issues
There are certain reasons beyond your diet or exercise that affect you weight and metabolism.
Restrained eating is generally observed in those who have a tendency to put on weight and these people believe that their caloric intake is responsible for this weight gain.
However it could be possible that one may have a hidden disorder. Improper activity of insulin as a result of diabetes or increased cholesterol levels due to gallbladder disease, fatty liver disease or heart problems can cause increased deposit of fat tissue.
Hidden food allergies such gluten and dairy sensitivity could be risk factors to weight gain.
Disturbances in the originally health microbial environment present in our intestines can lead to faulty absorption of fats and metabolism leading to weight gain.
A research study demonstrated that an enzyme with the name angiotensin I converting enzyme which regulates blood pressure is a predictor of weight gain after losing it.
Also the protein named fibrinogen which is involved in blood clotting dictates the percentage of individuals who are at the risk of regaining lost weight.
These are certain biological factors which could be hinder your dieting efforts or also come to surface once you have given up your diet.
4. Dieting can cause binge eating disorders
As mentioned previously, once we are restricted and asked not to eat something, we begin to crave for the same thing. And especially if that food item is highly palatable and addictive we want it even more.
Yes food can cause addictive nature similar to that of drugs of abuse.
Foods rich in sugar and fat attack the brain in the same manner as narcotics and the effect is so strong that you face withdrawal symptoms once you abandon it.
Once you are so addicted to food and your diet seems to restrain you, you go to extraordinary lengths to procure it. You start bingeing on it. That is when you get times between meals and no one is watching you eat your favourite food in excess.
At first it feels so good and satisfying but at the end of it you are left with nothing but guilt and discomfort.
Also constant food deprivation can lead to sensitisation of such food. Thats why most restrained eaters are susceptible to breaking their diet rules only to find themselves indulging in calorie dense foods.
Since they consume less, every time they consume they derive such immense pleasure that the effect is reinforced in them leading to addiction.
Development of such eating disorders is one of the biggest risks associated with dieting that can lead to subsequent weight gain. ( Read more on Binge eating 101:Anatomy explained)
5. You are an emotional eater
We eat not only to satiate our hunger, but also to entertain our emotions. Negative emotions such as stress, anxiety, depression, loneliness, boredom, hectic schedules all provoke us to raid the refrigerator. Why!? Because we are seeking comfort.
This gives rise to the term ‘comfort foods’. Stress hormones stimulate our appetite and make food seem rewarding. A study was conducted on rats where their brains were injected with stress hormones.
As a result the animals developed stress. However when fed sugar, the animals calmed down. That is the power of comfort foods!
Now what happens in dieting is that when you are faced with immense stress- either your dieting is not showing quick results or some family crisis strikes you, you immediately respond by eating foods rich in sugar and fat.
At that moment pacifying the emotional crisis seems more vital than the future goal of healthy weight loss.
Dieters who can’t find efficient means of coping with stress succumb to such ways and eventually regain the weight that is lost.
6. You are a victim of The what-the-hell effect
Eating that is determined by a boundary set by a diet requires a lot of mental effort. While eating dieters have to invest a lot of mental resources in counting calories. And this plan works properly unless it is affected by emotion or perceived dietary violations.
When either of these occur, the dieter loses focus and at that moment if he gets to eat the ‘forbidden foods’ he tends to overeat.
What goes on in his mind is ‘ I have already blown my diet. I might as well enjoy it.’ Scientists call this ‘what the hell’ effect.
Individuals with such dichotomous thinking suffer from dietary violations and dieting becomes a chance to overeat.
7. Your daily routine lacks exercise
A calorie restricted diet that will lead to good deal of weight loss without having to do any exercise is simply a gimmick. Yep they are the commercial guys who are misleading you.
Obviously a decrease in calories will reduce weight gain but only exercising will stimulate your body to make use of your fat reserve.
Exercise is vital for maintenance of muscle mass because healthy weight loss is fat loss not muscle loss. Muscles are active tissue in terms of metabolism; therefore more muscle means better expenditure of calories.
Losing weight after dieting is a great result but lack of physical activity can result in accumulation of those calories as fat depots.
8. Your choice of diet doesn’t work for you
The choice of diet is an extremely important decision when it comes to weight loss. It is best if you consult a nutritionist for this matter.
If you choose a low fat diet, you are not likely to lose weight because your diet is still rich in bad carbohydrates- the refined ones which cause you to gain weight and body fat.
If you choose a low carb diet, you will initially lose your water weight after which your weight might become stable for awhile because your body needs to get adapted to using fat instead of carbs to lose energy.
Also once you have achieved a stable weight with a low carb diet, transitioning back to a normal carb diet may cause temporary weight gain.
If you are on a high protein diet, you may still be gaining weight because you are losing the fat mass but building muscle mass. These factors need to be kept in mind while choosing a diet so that you don’t accuse every diet to be a weight regain scheme.
If you invested your time and pondered on the factors we have presented above, you must have realised that dieting alone is not a risk factor to weight gain.
Obviously the restrictive fashion imposed by diets cause deficits physically and psychologically and when given a chance food can replenish them. However this chance can be due to lack of self control, improper choice of diet or even metabolic issues.
Therefore it would be hard to conclude that dieting independently causes weight gain.