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Diabetes Diet

Diabetes Diets Don’t Work

Diets are shortcuts to weight loss, which is to be high on the priority list of almost everyone who has diabetes. But like all shortcuts, they can take us astray and fail to get us to where we want to go.

Diets don’t work. But don’t give up, because we can still lose weight and keep it off. Whether you call it a behavioral change or a lifestyle adjustment, we have to dig deeper than just what we put in our mouths, although that is certainly important too. Only when we realize that we can’t have it all, that we face a tradeoff, can we lose weight and keep it off. Success comes to us only when we really appreciate that we must pass up transient pleasure to invest in our future well-being.

Diets are, at best, temporary fixes to long-term problems. As a society we know this is true. Dieting among Americans is at an all-time low, while the proportion of Americans who are overweight is at an all-time high. We have largely given up on diets.

Only about 20 percent of us told the market research firm NPD Group a year ago that they were on a diet. Yet the most recent count by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows that 69.2 percent of us are overweight.

The most telling fact that shows us that diets don’t work is the overwhelming numbers of people who regain all the pounds they lose dieting and often gain even more. The most commonly quoted statistic is that 95 percent regain all the pounds they lost. That number is based on one small study of 100 people in 1959, but larger, more recent, and better designed studies come up with similar numbers.

2000 study of 911 people reported in the International Journal of Obesity found that only 6 percent of them maintained a weight loss of at least 5 percent after six years.

A meta-analysis of 31 long-term diet studies found that within four to five years at least one-third to two-thirds of people on them regained more weight than they lost, and the true number may well be significantly higher. American Psychologist, the journal of the American Psychological Association, reported this finding in its April 2007 issue.

Researchers call this tendency to relapse “recidivism,” a term we usually think about as a relapse into criminal behavior after getting out of the pen. Regaining the weight you lost while you were on a diet isn’t punished as a crime against society anywhere, as far as I know. But it is a crime against your own body, because the yo-yo effect of repeated weight loss and regain makes it harder to keep it off the next time you try.

The fact that we have so many diet plans to choose from ought to give us pause. Hundreds if not thousands of them exist, and practically every week somebody asks me what I think of one that I have never heard of before. Earlier this week the magazine U.S. News & World Report wrote about the recommendations of some so-called “experts” about which of the 32 most popular diets is the best.

Americans probably spent more than $66 billion last year in hopes of losing weight, according to Marketdata Enterprises, a market research firm. This is big business. Weight Watchers is the biggest, followed by Herbalife, Jenny Craig, and NutriSystem. In fact, it is partly the money that we spend with these companies that keeps us staying on their diets at least for a few months.

Weight loss is such big business that companies in this business make more than twice as many fraudulent claims as those in any other business category. Some 13 percent of the fraud claims that Americans submit to the Federal Trade Commission are for weight-loss products, The New York Times reported yesterday.

Some people nevertheless do lose weight and keep it off. Some of them follow pre-made diet plans, and some of them do it on their own. Some of them succeed on a very-low fat diet, and some of them, myself included, on a very low-carb diet.

Long before “The Biggest Loser” came along was the National Weight Control Registry. Rena Wing, a professor of psychiatry and human behavior at Brown University’s Alpert Medical School, and James O. Hill, director of the Center for Human Nutrition at the University of Colorado at Denver, created the registry in 1994. It keeps track of more than 10,000 people who have lost weight and kept it off.

Anyone who is at least 18 years old and has lost 30 pounds and kept it off for at least a year can be a part of the study. I joined it years ago, having become eligible to join by May 25, 2007. I have now lost 158 pounds and weigh 154 pounds.

So I know that we can keep off the pounds that we lose. But it’s more than just a diet. It means reinventing ourselves.

This article is based on an earlier version of my article published by HealthCentral.

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