Why Diet Zealots Are Usually Wrong

I hate Diet Zealots.

You know, those people who tell you, “I lost blah blah pounds on the blah blah diet.  If only everyone was on the blah blah diet, then we wouldn’t have an obesity crisis.”  The also add when they see my generously rotund abdomen, “Why don’t you try it?” Grrrrr.

Its hard to argue against these people.  They hold unshakably to the belief in whichever diet worked for them because of their own attentional bias.  Usually they have tried for years to lose weight and have consistently failed.  So it is only natural that when they finally lose weight, their attention and belief systems are immovably focussed on their path to enlightenment.  It doesn’t help that some have the scientific acumen of a lab rat.  But of the many Diet Zealots that have come across my path, even the ones that have some scientific training find it hard to move beyond their cognitive anchoring to the program that finally worked for them.

But no matter what the French physician says in his book, or the woman who lost 200 pounds says on the TV, there is no magic ingredient or silver bullet in any of their diets.  If any diet brings about weight loss, there is only one fundamental reason.  It brings about a calorie imbalance, where more calories were used than consumed.  Nothing else.

The key point isn’t whether a diet can induce weight loss.  I can show you examples of people doing the dumbest things and still losing weight.  One guy ate nothing but potatoes for 60 days and in the process lost 21 pounds.  Even the cabbage-soup advocates say that you can lose 10 pounds in seven days.  Although I think I’d rather remain five kilos heavier than live on cabbage soup for a week.

The foundation to any diet is that it has to be healthy.  Because isn’t that the point, you go on a diet for your health.  There are a number of diets which sound good on the surface, and the guy selling his book will point to the thousands of people who may have genuinely lost weight on it.  But if it contributes to heart disease or colon cancer, then all it means is that you will fit better into your coffin.

The other consideration is whether the diet contributes to long term loss of fat.  Short term weight loss is always water weight and intracellular carbohydrates, then proteins from your muscle and bones.  Losing most of the weight in the first two weeks and then plateauing is actually going to be bad for you in the end.  Slow gradual weight loss over months to years is the best form of weight loss, because that usually represents fat loss, the sort of weight that you want to lose.  If you lose about two kilograms a month (or four to five pounds in the imperial) then you are on the right track.

Next time you meet a Diet Zealot, be happy for them.  It’s hard to lose weight, no matter which diet they might be on, so congratulate them on their achievement.  But don’t feel you have to be converted.  Find what works for you, which is likely to be something a lot more simple than what the Diet Zealot has done.

(If you would like to compare the pros and cons of a number of the popular diets, I found this website in my research: http://health.usnews.com/best-diet/best-overall-diets I don’t know who their expert panel was, whether they were experts, or whether they were paid off.  But it’s the best comparison I have seen so far on the web.  If you have come across one better, let me know in the comments.)

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