A bitter pill to swallow: Is chronic dieting actually CAUSING weight gain?
04/08/2019 // Zoey Sky // Views

The global weight loss market is worth billions of dollars, yet there's no solid proof that dieters are actually losing weight. Even research suggests that diets can actually cause weight gain.

The surprising thing is, obese people aren't the only ones trying diets. Weight loss has become a priority for those who have normal weights and individuals who are only slightly overweight, especially women.

Experts say that this desire to become slender is linked to poor body image, which is aggravated by constant media exposure to slim models, celebrities, and athletes. The desire to be thin is more common in women, and it can begin as early as five years old.

According to one study, which appeared in the British Journal of Health Psychology, more than half of girls of normal weight reported that their ideal weight was lower than their actual weight. Young girls' beliefs about dieting and weight are often learned from their mothers.

Data suggest that weight loss diets aren't even effective long-term solutions. A study published in the Archives of Internal Medicine reports that three years after volunteers finished a weight loss program, only 12 percent kept off at least 75 percent of the weight they had lost. Surprisingly, 40 percent of the participants gained back more weight than they originally lost.

Findings from a separate study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition show that only 19 percent of volunteers successfully maintained a 10 percent weight loss for five years. Experts advise that weight regain takes place no matter what diet you try.


Certain diets are linked to less regain compared to others. For example, in a study comparing three diets, volunteers who tried a diet that was high in monounsaturated fat regained less weight unlike those who followed a low-fat or control diet.

Chronic dieting and weight gain

Research suggests that instead of successfully losing weight, chronic dieters end up gaining weight in the long term. According to a 2013 review, at least 15 out of 20 studies of individuals who weren't obese, recent dieting behavior predicted weight gain over time.

Experts believe that weight regain occurs in people of normal weight because of an increase in appetite hormones. Your body boosts its production of these hunger-inducing hormones when it senses it has lost fat and muscle. Additionally, calorie restriction and loss of muscle mass make the body's metabolism slow down, which makes it easier to regain weight after you start following a normal diet again.

A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition reports that after men of normal weight started a diet that allowed them to consume 50 percent of their calorie needs for three weeks, they started burning 255 fewer calories daily.

Take note that these observational studies don't necessarily prove that dieting causes weight gain. Individuals who have a tendency to gain weight are more likely to try dieting, which is one reason why dieting behavior is linked to a greater risk of weight gain and obesity.

Natural, effective alternatives to dieting

Instead of spending money on the latest fad diet, how about trying natural alternatives that can effectively help you avoid or even reverse weight gain?

Exercise regularly.

Physical activity reduces stress and boosts your overall health and sense of well-being. Studies have determined that exercising for at least 30 minutes every day is "particularly beneficial for weight maintenance."

If you don't like going to the gym, try fun alternatives like dancing, hiking, kayaking, or rollerblading. Exercise will be more effective if you choose an activity that you enjoy and can commit to on a long-term basis.

Prioritize healthy food choices and practice mindful eating. 

Adopt a mentality that focuses on healthy eating instead of dieting. Start by eating "nourishing foods that keep you satisfied and allow you to maintain good energy levels so you feel your best."

Another strategy that you can try is eating mindfully, which involves taking the time to appreciate the eating experience and paying attention to your body's hunger and fullness cues. Mindful eating will improve your relationship with food, and it also promotes weight loss. (Related: Extreme measures rarely work: You don’t have to quit all sugar to be healthy.)

Accept that you probably won't achieve your "ideal" weight.

The body mass index (BMI) measures a person's weight (in kilograms) divided by the square of their height (in meters). BMI can help you determine your healthy weight range. A BMI between 18.5 and 24.9 is classified as normal and a BMI between 25 and 29.9 is considered overweight. A BMI above 30 is considered obese.

However, experts have challenged the usefulness of BMI for predicting health risk, especially since it doesn't consider differences in age, bone structure, gender, muscle mass, or where body fat is stored.

Your BMI shouldn't dictate how healthy you feel. In fact, you can be healthy even if you're not at your "ideal weight." Others may even feel and perform best when they weigh more than what's considered a normal BMI.

Various diets will promise to help you achieve your "dream body," but the truth is not everyone can be – or even stay – slim. Research implies that being fit at a stable weight is healthier compared to losing and regaining weight with chronic dieting.

By accepting your current weight, you boost your self-esteem and body confidence. This can also help you avoid the constant frustration of trying to reach an "ideal" but unrealistic weight goal.

Don't try to fit into socially constructed ideas of "beauty." Stop your chronic dieting, exercise to maintain a healthy, stable weight, and start making healthy food choices.

Sources include:



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