For many people trying to lose weight, going on a diet is the first option they have for attaining their goal weight. However, whether it’s the Atkins, Mediterranean, or South Beach diets — and there are many more — simply dieting isn’t going to do much if a person quits midway through, or doesn’t alter their lifestyle entirely, according to Sherry Pagoto, a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
“As the obesity epidemic persists, the time has come to end the pursuit of the ‘ideal’ diet for weight loss and disease prevention,” Pagoto wrote in the commentary, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Pagoto says that fad diets have become popular to the point that they are a multibillion dollar industry, yet years of research and thousands of studies haven't found conclusive evidence that focusing on macronutrient composition, such as proteins, fats, and carbs, will burn more fat with one diet than with another. After about six months, all diets lead to similar results, ABC News reported. But the effects of any diet are worthless if the person trying to diet doesn’t commit.
“We really need to shift our conversation away from what exactly people should be eating to how to get people to change their behavior, how do you get people to make long-term changes,” Pagoto said in press release.
By focusing on the “ideal” diet, attaining weight loss becomes “unidimensional,” she says. Two of the three major components to lifestyle interventions go ignored — behavioral modification and exercise.
“The million dollar question is, ‘How do you get people to stick to a plan that helps them lose weight?’” Pagoto said.
The Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle
Although about 35.9 percent of American adults are obese, 69.2 percent of Americans are overweight (including those that are obese). Having extra weight can increase chances of developing heart disease, stroke, arthritis, some cancers, and diabetes, which affects 25.8 million Americans. The National Institutes of Health says that by shedding even five to 10 percent of body weight, the chances of developing these diseases can decrease significantly.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ publication, Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic activity a week, or 75 minutes of vigorous intensity aerobic activity a week. Additionally, it advises adults to partake in muscle-strengthening exercises at least two days a week, making sure to engage all major muscle groups until they get tired to the point that it’s impossible to do another repetition.
In the paper, she cites three long-term interventions that worked long after they ended. One of them, the Finnish Diabetes Prevention Study, compared health education to a four-year lifestyle intervention. Those who were part of the lifestyle intervention group had lower rates of diabetes incidence for as long as 13 years — nine years after the study ended. Another study, the China Da Qing Diabetes Prevention Study, was a six-year lifestyle intervention that resulted in less incidences of diabetes among its participants for up to 20 years, when compared to a control group that received no form of intervention.
The commentary focuses on three approaches to lifestyle interventions that must all occur together: controlling portions and eating fewer high-calorie, fatty foods; setting exercise goals, and staying motivated even when hunger strikes.
“The amount of resources that have gone into studying ‘what’ to eat is incredible, and years of research indicate that it doesn’t really matter, as long as overall calories are reduced,” Bradley Appelhans, co-author of the commentary, told LiveScience. “What does matter is ‘how’ to eat, as well as other tings in lifestyle interventions … and supportive behavior that help people stay on track.”
Source: Pagoto S, Appelhans B. A Call for an End to the Diet Debates. JAMA. 2013.