Why Your Past Diets Have Failed (and why it's not your fault): Part 1

Dec 16, 2019
This article is part 1 of a 3-part series that walks you through why you have been struggling with your weight and why it's not actually your fault. You have been doing everything you were told to do, but it's just not working. Why? Well, if after 40 years of the same advice and with over 60% of American women now overweight or obese, maybe it's time to re-examine what you were told to do. What if the advice you've been given has been wrong the whole time?

The absolute foundational dogma of weight loss is to create a caloric deficit. Meaning, you need to burn more calories than you eat. Sounds logical, right?
It may be logical, but it's not right. That's not how the body works. That's not how your weight is controlled at all.
When you eat food, that food contains potential energy units called calories. Food also contains the building blocks your body needs to build tissues in your body, like muscle, cells, and neurotransmitters.
In the Energy Balance Hypothesis, you are like a machine that uses fuel. Because you are a machine, we apply the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics and tell you that if you eat more calories than you burn (building the tissues, biological processes, or through heat) you will conserve those calories for use later.[1]
Eat more than you burn and you will gain weight. Eat less than you burn and you will lose weight. Seems intuitive right? It's all about balancing calories. Calories in vs. calorie out.
Now, there are three macronutrients that make up all foods. Protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Each one is worth different amounts of calories when you eat them. Protein and carbohydrates provide you with about 4 calories per gram and fat provide 9 calories per gram. Alcohol incidentally is 7 calories per gram.[2]
So, if fat is the highest in calories, you should avoid fat in order to keep your total calorie intake low so you can stay slim.[3] This is perfectly logical advice, especially since you've been told by every doctor and health agency to avoid saturated fat because it will give you a heart attack and probably cancer.
This is the second theory in our storm, the Diet-Heart Hypothesis. It proposes that saturated fat causes cholesterol levels in your blood to go up and high cholesterol causes a heart attack. Later, they tacked on cancer.[4,5]
Great. No fat. Fat is bad. Got it.
So you dutifully refuse butter, buy skim milk, lean chicken breast, steam your vegetables, and eat fat-free anything in a box. In fact, the American Heart Association tells you explicitly to stop eating eggs and to choose "snacks from other food groups such as low-fat cookies, low-fat crackers...unsalted pretzels...hard candy, gum drops, sugar, syrup, honey, jam, jelly, marmalade..."[6]
And this is easy to do since Big Food is happy to oblige its paying customers with new-fangled low-fat products. When a consumer says they want a low-fat Oreo, they want everything about the old Oreo, but with lower fat. So Nabisco made a cookie that replaced it fats with...sugar! But that's cool because sugar is a carbohydrate and carbohydrates aren't fattening. Fat is. And everybody knows that.
So, here you are. Following a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet, just as directed. But something is wrong. You're gaining weight, you're addicted to carbs and caffeine, and now your doctor says you need a statin to lower your "bad cholesterol?" You thought this low-fat diet was supposed to keep you thin, healthy and heart disease free.
Your doctor also recommends you lose a little weight. That will help your heart disease risk. [7] So you start cutting back your calories. 1700, maybe 1500 calories per day. Still avoiding fat, of course.
Now all you think about is food. You watch cooking shows, making mental lists of recipes you can eat once your diet is over. You're hungry and irritable. But, you do end up losing eight pounds after 3 months. Your weight loss stalls. You speak about yourself in terms of "being bad today" by what you ate. Your self-worth is now being dictated by your foods choices.
Your doctor tells you to exercise more to break through the plateau. You do. You become even more hungry and more irritable. You're literally watching the cooking shows while on the treadmill at the gym at this point. You can't sleep and have trouble concentrating or remembering things. You lose 5 more pounds. You're miserable.
Six months later, still only eating 1500 low-fat calories a day, your weight starts to creep back up. You're frustrated, confused, and not sure what to do next. Maybe a new diet book? Maybe more exercise? Less food!? The blame for not being able to control your weight is solely on you. The established dietary advice from the last 60 years couldn't be wrong. It's you. You didn't control your energy balance.
This story is too true, isn't it?
This story is everyone's story.
If you born in the last 80 years, you have lived and died (literally) by two nutrition science theories that collided in a perfect storm that has caused millions of Americans to now be overweight and sick: The Energy Balance Hypothesis of weight control and the Diet-Heart Hypothesis of heart disease. Together, these two misguided theories about how food impacts our health have made eating a real, healthy diet almost impossible for everyday people.
The moral of this story is that it's not your fault. You were doing everything you were supposed too.
You haven't failed. We have failed you.
[1] Hill JO, Wyatt HR, Peters JC. Energy Balance and Obesity. Circulation. 2012;126(1):126-132.
[2] https://www.nal.usda.gov/fnic/how-many-calories-are-one-gram-fat-carbohydrate-or-protein
[3] Keys, Grande et al. Role of Dietary Fat in Human Nutrition:III. Diet and the Epidemiology of Coronary Heart Disease. Am J Pub Health Nat Health. 1957;12(47): 1528-1529.
[4] Keys et al. Diet and the Epidemiology of Coronary Heart Disease. JAMA. 1957;17(164):1912-1919.
[5] Tannenbaum et al. The Genesis and Growth of Tumors. III. Effects of a High-Fat Diet. Cancer Research. 1942;2(7):468-475.
[6] American Heart Association, an Eating Plan for Healthy Americans: Our American Heart Association Diet (Dallas,TX: American Heart Association, 1995).
[7] Lavie CJ, Milani RV, Ventura HO. Obesity and cardiovascular disease: risk factor, paradox and impact of weight loss. J Am Coll Cardiol. 2009 May;53(21):1925–32.

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