Most Americans think the reason why people gain weight is simple. People should just eat less and exercise more, right? Every one, from scientists to celebrities, has parroted the calories-in versus calories-out equation for weight loss, and it has always made sense to us, because it is so simple and logical. But current research is slowly disproving almost everything we thought we knew about weight loss.
Recent research being done in Maryland, is giving scientists a new understanding of why losing weight is so hard, why staying fit in the long term is even harder and why the dominant assumptions concerning weight loss seem to only work some of the time, for some people. Shouldn’t there be one superior method that works for everybody? Well that’s what every single weight loss diet, supplement, or regime claims to be, but we have yet to find one that actually does work for everybody.
The people of America became obsessed with dieting long before the development of the epidemic of obesity. For instance, a Presbyterian minister, Sylvester Graham, boasted in the 1830s about a diet that excluded all meat, spices, condiments and alcohol for optimal health. Some 80 years later, popular nutrition experts advised people to chew their food until it was completely liquefied before swallowing, to maximize nutrient potential.
Scientists in Europe had been discussing the idea of the “calorie” as a unit of energy for some time, but calorie counting didn’t become fashionable in the US until World War I, when the US government needed a way to encourage rationing. Due to dwindling food sources, the government purposely popularized so-called “scientific diets”, which were built, among others things, around the concept of counting calories.
In the decades that followed, this trend continued to disseminate even after the war, when national rationing was no longer necessary. Being as thin as possible became more and more in vogue as the century wore on, until nearly every diet pushed for low calorie meals. There was the grapefruit diet of the 1930s, where people ate half a grapefruit with every meal believing that the fruit contained enzymes that could burn fat, and there was the cabbage-soup diet of the 1950s, where dieters ate cabbage soup every day for a week. And in the 1960s, we saw the birth of the famed Weight Watchers dieting program, which people still partake in today.
And now in 2017, we have decades worth of nutritional research and dieting “information” and yet, the rate of obesity in the US has never been higher. There are 155 million Americans who are overweight today. Why is that?
Some speculate it’s all about genetics. But experts have concluded that those obesity-related genes account for just 3% of the difference in people’s sizes. And further more, those same genes that predispose people to weight gain, existed 30 years ago, and 100 years ago, which means that those genes alone cannot explain the recent rapid increase in obesity.
So what can explain this escalation? The old belief was that poor diet and lack of exercise were the main contributors to obesity. However, specialists now understand the importance of a third factor in the outbreak of obesity; chemical exposure. The current amount of pollution and toxins that exist in our air, water and food can disrupt our hormones and metabolism, which in turn contributes negatively to disease, disability and weight gain.
Experts today are now starting to understand that the role of diet and exercise in a weight loss program are not what the majority previously thought and preached. Leading researchers finally agree, that regular exercise, though crucial to overall health, is not a particularly effective way to lose weight and keep off body fat in the long term. And the equation of “calories in versus calories out” has been deemed overtly simplistic. Scientists are developing a more nuanced understanding of how weight loss works.
They also now know that the best diet for you is most likely not the best diet for the person standing next you. Individual bodies respond to various diets very differently, whether it is a low fat, vegan or low carb diet. A person who is on a particular diet program might lose 70 pounds and keep it off for three years, and another person, following the exact same program religiously, will gain 5 pounds. Some studies looking to explore this concept further have tested the blood sugar levels of study participants, and have found that even when participants started out with the same levels, and then ate the exact same meal, the blood-sugar levels varied widely among them after they ate. These findings insinuate that making sweeping declarations on the healthiest way to eat is not only untrue, but also completely pointless. There is no one size fits all diet. The sooner we start believing, accepting and implementing that fact into our society, the sooner the rate of obesity will go down.
Scientists are proving that the key to successful weight loss is highly personalized regimes, and not trendy diets. Though they are not quite sure why that is yet. Though they are sure that the next step towards successful weight-loss science is vitally specific diets for individuals according to how their bodies respond to different foods.
For now however, doctors encourage those looking to lose weight not to lose hope. Just because there is no one-size fits all diet, does not mean that you won’t find a diet that does work for you. It just means you might need to try many different diets before you find the right one for your body. Hopefully we will soon find this new and critical information actually infiltrating the media, and being circulated, rather than just being discussed, rather secretly and perhaps even fearfully, in scientific circles.