You know those people (mostly crazy anti-dieters but some dietitians too) who say that all diets come without the tiniest measure of success? That 95% of diets fail? Then you become discouraged and think what’s the point of even trying? Well, it’s a load of absolute gibberish.

You see, the ‘95% of diets fail’ thing is based on the 1959 clinical study of 100 subjects who were given a diet and… sent on their way to figure out whether chicken breast or those little blue tablets in the toilet are more nutritious. No guidance, no education. Nothing.

Forty years later, the New York Times interviewed the author of the study who went ‘I’ve been sort of surprised that people keep citing it; I know we do better these days.’ The doc is right. We can do better. We did better.

A diet is considered successful when as little as 5-10% of body weight loss is achieved. That’s when we see clinically meaningful improvements in health markers (source):

Relationship with amount of weight loss and various comorbidities

And when you lose those 5-10% of body weight in a sustainable way, your chances of maintaining new body weight are A LOT higher than a widely quoted but imbecilic 5% success rate.

The 8-year weight loss study of 5,145 overweight adults showed that over half of the subjects lost 5% of body weight and 27% of the subjects lost 10%. Interestingly, of 825 individuals who lost ≥10%, 65% of the individuals maintained a 5-10% degree of weight loss at year 8. But here’s the kicker — the subjects in the study were randomly assigned into two groups:

intensive lifestyle intervention and usual care (diabetes support and education)

The intensive lifestyle intervention group was provided with comprehensive behavioral weight loss counseling over 8 years which included registered dietitians, psychologists, and exercise specialists. The usual care group received periodic group education only.

And because people in the intensive lifestyle intervention group had the right guidance, education, and accountability, they both lost and maintained more weight.

So diets do work as long as you don’t do dumbfuck things such as:

  • Go full-blown water fasting, cleansing, detoxing, carnivore, Paleo, keto, and similar overly-restrictive diet that sucks the fun out of life. They’re as fun as being dropped into a shark-infested lake.

  • Use exercise as a way to burn calories and lose weight rather than get stronger, more muscular, and healthier. If the only reason you exercise is to burn calories, you’ll probably hate it.

  • Use meal replacements and weight loss supplements. Meal replacements don’t teach you anything and weight loss supplements aren’t really what scientists would call ‘effective.’

  • Pointless ‘30-day [insert anything]-free’ challenges. Just pointless.

  • Stupid starvation diets. No healthy adult should ever be (consistently) on a 400, 800, or 1200 kcal diet.

  • ‘A cheat day’ or ‘cheat meal.’ It should be called ‘a scheduled binge’ because your diet is so damn restrictive that you cannot sustain it for longer than a week.

Instead, start doing the obvious things you probably aren’t doing even though you know you should be doing:

  • Create a calorie deficit — eat more protein, fruits, and vegetables; Cut soda drinks and replace them with diet soda; Opt for leaner meats and fat-free/reduced-fat dairy; Limit eating out to no more than twice a week; Etc.

  • Don’t eliminate foods you like — approach nutrition with the ‘inclusive mindset’ rather than ‘exclusive.’

  • Prioritize nutritious, minimally-processed foods most of the time the 80/20 rule, remember?

  • Lift weights 2-4 times per week — it gives the body a stimulus to keep muscle, preventing it from being broken down and used for energy which is a crucial part of a successful weight loss because muscle loss is highly correlated with a subsequent body fat overshoot.

  • Daily walking — lifting weights a few times a week doesn’t mean you can sloth around for the rest of the week. Maintaining an active lifestyle (at least 8,000 steps/day) can burn significantly more calories than your average gym workout.

  • Try to sleep 7-9 hours per night (sorry new parents) — poor sleep may lead to weight gain through the activation of hormonal responses leading to an increase in appetite and caloric intake (source). This study found that sleep deprivation led to eating an extra 559 calories on the day after sleep restriction.

  • Monitor your progress — self-monitoring is one of the strategies commonly seen in successful weight losers and maintainers (source). When monitoring progress, you should never look at one metric in isolation! Use multiple tools: Weigh yourself daily, take body circumference measurements once every two weeks, progress photos once every 4-6 weeks, and track your workouts because strength is a good indicator of whether you’re holding on or losing muscle mass.

  • Get help — as a coach, accountability has always been something I’ve taken seriously because people perform better when performance is measured and reported. External accountability is one of the most powerful tools to stay consistent. So ask yourself, ‘Whom do I report to?’

So I issue a robust facepalm to the idea that 95% of diets fail. With the right guidance, education, and accountability diets do work. As educated scientists would say, ‘Hey, what’s all this crap in here — detoxes, cleanses, clean eating? Don’t do dumbfuck things and you’ll be fine.’

If you’d like me to walk you through the process of setting up a fat loss plan that’s actually sustainable long-term, check out my 1×1 Coaching Program. Cheers.


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Originally published by me on Medium on July 24, 2022

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