The Big Picture of Permanent
Weight Loss By
Will Brink -
Most people who read my
articles and e-books know me as a science guy who likes to quote studies and
apply research to everyday problems such as weight loss, bodybuilding, and
other health/fitness related topics. However, sometimes you have to step back
from the science and look at the big picture to help bring people back into
focus, so they can see the forest for the trees, so to speak.
For most people reading this
article, finding effective diets that work most of the time must seem as
complicated as nuclear physics. Its not, but there are a bewildering
number of choices for diets out there. High fat or no fat? High carbohydrate or
no carbohydrate? Low protein or high protein? To make matters worse, there are
a million variations and combinations to the above diet scenarios to add to the
confusion. It seems endless and causes many people to throw up their hands in
frustration and give up. In this article I will attempt to change all that.
There are some general
guidelines, rules of thumb, and ways of viewing a diet program that will allow
you to decide, once and for all, if its the right diet for you. You may
not always like what I have to say, and you should be under no illusions this
is another quick fix, lose 100 lbs. in 20 days, guide of some sort.
However, if you are sick and tired of being confused, tired of taking the
weight off only to put it back on, and tired of wondering how to take the first
steps to deciding the right diet for you that will result in permanent weight
loss, then this is the article that could change your life
Do you need to be a
scientist to apply what you will learn here? No. A mind reader or clairvoyant?
No. A nutritionist or medical doctor? Not at all. What you need to be is
open-minded and willing to learn a few key concepts that will allow you to sort
through the confusion.
You will be able to apply
what you learn here to any diet you are considering and decide if it makes
sense, once and for all! The process, however, is neither easy nor quick per
se, but I never promised you either of those things
This article does not look
at specific diets but will teach you to take a logical approach and apply some
common sense to choosing a nutritional plan for life long weight loss. If you
are willing and able to make a paradigm shift, then lets proceed.
Does your diet pass
What is the number one
reason diets fail long term; above all else? The number one reason is
a lack of long term compliance. The numbers dont lie; the vast
majority of people who lose weight will regain it - and often exceed what they
lost. You knew that already didnt you?
Yet, what are you doing to
avoid it? Heres another reality check: virtually any diet you pick which
follows the basic concept of burning more calories then you consume
the well accepted calories in calories out mantra
will cause you to lose weight. To some degree, they all work: Atkins-style, no
carb diets, low fat high carb diets, all manner of fad diets - it simply does
not matter in the short term.
If your goal is to lose some
weight quickly, then pick one and follow it. I guarantee you will lose some
weight. Studies generally find any of the commercial weight loss diets will get
approximately the same amount of weight off after 6 months to a year. For
example, a recent study found the Atkins' Diet, Slim-Fast plan, Weight Watchers
Pure Points program, and Rosemary Conley's Eat Yourself Slim diet, were all
equally effective. (1)
Other studies comparing
other popular diets have come to essentially the same conclusions. For example,
a study that compared the Atkins diet, the Ornish diet, Weight Watchers, and
The Zone Diet, found them to be essentially the same in their ability to take
weight off after one year. (2)
Recall what I said about the
number one reason diets fail, which is a lack of compliance. The lead
researcher of this recent study stated:
Our trial found that
adherence level rather than diet type was the primary predictor of weight
Translated, its not
which diet they chose per se, but their ability to actually stick to a diet
that predicted their weight loss success. I can just see the hands going up
now, but Will, some diets must be better than others, right? Are
some diets better then others? Absolutely. Some diets are healthier then
others, some diets are better at preserving lean body mass, some diets are
better at suppressing appetite there are many differences between diets.
However, while most of the popular diets will work for taking weight off, what
is abundantly clear is that adhering to the diet is the most important aspect
for keeping the weight off long term.
What is a diet?
A diet is a short term
strategy to lose weight. Long term weight loss is the result of an alteration
in lifestyle. We are concerned with life long weight management, not quick fix
weight loss here. I dont like the term diet, as it represents a short
term attempt to lose weight vs. a change in lifestyle. Want to lose a bunch of
weight quickly? Heck, I will give you the information on how to do that here
and now for no charge.
For the next 90 to 120 days
eat 12 scrambled egg whites, one whole grapefruit, and a gallon of water twice
a a day. You will lose plenty of weight. Will it be healthy? Nope. Will the
weight stay off once you are done with this diet and are then forced to go back
to your normal way of eating? Not a chance. Will the weight you
lose come from fat or will it be muscle, water, bone, and (hopefully!) some
fat? The point being, there are many diets out there that are perfectly capable
of getting weight off you, but when considering any eating plan designed to
lose weight, you must ask yourself:
Is this a way of
eating I can follow long term?
Which brings me to my test:
I call it the Can I eat that way for the rest of my life? Test. I
know, it does not exactly roll off your tongue, but it gets the point across.
The lesson here is: any
nutritional plan you pick to lose weight must be part of a lifestyle change you
will be able to follow - in one form or another - forever. That is, if
its not a way of eating you can comply with indefinitely, even after you
get to your target weight, then its worthless.
Thus, many fad diets you see
out there are immediately eliminated, and you dont have to worry about
them. The question is not whether the diet is effective in the short term, but
if the diet can be followed indefinitely as a lifelong way of eating. Going
from their way of eating back to your way of eating
after you reach your target weight is a recipe for disaster and the cause of
the well established yo-yo dieting syndrome. Bottom line: there are no short
cuts, there is no free lunch, and only a commitment to a lifestyle change is
going to keep the fat off long term. I realize thats not what most people
want to hear, but its the truth, like it or not.
The statistics dont
lie: getting the weight off is not the hardest part, keeping the weight off is!
If you take a close look at the many well known fad/commercial diets out there,
and you are honest with yourself, and apply my test above, you will find most
of them no longer appeal to you as they once did. It also brings me to an
example that adds additional clarity: If you have diet A that will cause the
most weight loss in the shortest amount of time but is unbalanced and
essentially impossible to follow long term vs. diet B, which will take the
weight off at a slower pace, but is easier to follow, balanced, healthy, and
something you can comply with year after year, which is superior? If diet A
gets 30 lbs off you in 30 days, but by next year you have gained back all 30
lbs, but diet B gets 20 lbs off you in the next 3 months with another 20 lbs 3
months after that and the weight stays off by the end of that year, which is
the better diet?
If you dont know the
answer to those questions, you have totally missed the point of this article
and the lesson its trying to teach you, and are set up for failure. Go
back and read this section again
By default, diet B is superior.
Teach a man to
A well known Chinese Proverb
Give a man a fish and you
feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.
This expression fits
perfectly with the next essential step in how to decide what eating plan you
should follow to lose weight permanently. Will the diet plan you are
considering teach you how to eat long term, or does it spoon-feed you
information? Will the diet rely on special bars, shakes, supplements or
pre-made foods they supply?
Lets do another diet A
vs. diet B comparison. Diet A is going to supply you with their foods, as well
as their special drink or bars to eat, and tell you exactly when to eat them.
You will lose say 30 lbs in two months. Diet B is going to
attempt to help you learn which foods you should eat, how many calories you
need to eat, why you need to eat them, and generally attempt to help teach you
how to eat as part of a total lifestyle change that will allow you to make
informed decisions about your nutrition. Diet B causes a slow steady weight
loss of 8 -10 lbs per month for the next 6 months and the weight stays off
because you now know how to eat properly.
Recall the Chinese proverb.
Both diets will assist you to lose weight. Only one diet, however, will teach
you how to be self-reliant after your experience is over. Diet A is easier, to
be sure, and causes faster weight loss than diet B, and diet B takes longer and
requires some thinking and learning on your part. However, when diet A is over,
you are right back where you started and have been given no skills to fish.
Diet companies dont make their profits by teaching you to fish, they make
their money by handing you a fish so you must rely on them indefinitely or come
back to them after you gain all the weight back. Thus, diet B is superior
for allowing you to succeed where other diets failed, with knowledge gained
that you can apply long term. Diet programs that attempt to spoon feed you a
diet without any attempt to teach you how to eat without their help and/or rely
on their shakes, bars, cookies, or pre-made foods, is another diet you can
eliminate from your list of choices.
Diet plans that offer weight
loss by drinking their product for several meals followed by a sensible
dinner; diets that allow you to eat their special cookies for most meals
along with their pre-planned menu; or diets that attempt to have you eating
their bars, drink, or pre-made meals, are of the diet A variety covered above.
Theyre easy to follow but destined for failure, long term. They all fail
the Can I eat that way for the rest of my life? test, unless you
really think you can eat cookies and shakes for the rest of your
Bottom line here is, if the nutritional approach you use to lose
weight, be it from a book, a class, a clinic, or an e-book, does not teach you
how to eat, its a loser for long term weight loss and it should be
Missing link for long term weight
We now make our way to
another test to help you choose a nutrition program for long term weight loss,
and it does not actually involve nutrition. The missing link for long term
weight loss is exercise. Exercise is the essential component of long term
weight loss. Many diet programs do not contain an exercise component, which
means they are losers for long term weight loss from the very start. Any
program that has its focus on weight loss but does not include a comprehensive
exercise plan is like buying a car without tires, or a plane without wings.
People who have successfully kept the weight off overwhelmingly have
incorporated exercise into their lives, and the studies that look at people who
have successfully lost weight and kept it off invariably find these people were
consistent with their diet and exercise plans. (4)
I am not going to list all
the benefits of regular exercise here, but regular exercise has positive
effects on your metabolism, allows you to eat more calories yet still be in a
calorie deficit, and can help preserve lean body mass (LBM) which is essential
to your health and metabolism. The many health benefits of regular exercise are
well known, so I wont bother adding them here. The bottom line here is,
(a) if you have any intentions of getting the most from your goal of losing
weight and (b) plan to keep it off long term, regular exercise must be an
integral part of the weight loss strategy. So, you can eliminate any program,
be it book, e-book, clinic, etc. that does not offer you direction and help
with this essential part of long term weight loss.
Side Bar: A quick note on exercise:
Any exercise is better than
no exercise. However, like diet plans, not all exercise is created equal, and
many people often choose the wrong form of exercise to maximize their efforts
to lose weight. For example, they will do aerobics exclusively and ignore
resistance training. Resistance training is an essential component of fat loss,
as it builds muscle essential to your metabolism, increases 24 hour energy
expenditure, and has health benefits beyond aerobics.
The reader will also note I
said fat loss above not weight loss. Though I use the term weight
loss throughout this article, I do so only because it is a familiar term
most people understand. However, the true focus and goal of a properly set up
nutrition and exercise plan should be on fat loss, not weight loss. A focus on
losing weight, which may include a loss essential muscle, water, and even bone,
as well as fat, is the wrong approach. Losing the fat and keeping the all
important lean body mass (LBM), is the goal, and the method for achieving that
can be found in my ebook(s) on the topic, and is beyond the scope of this
article. Bottom line: the type of exercise, intensity of that exercise, length
of time doing that exercise, etc., are essential variables here when attempting
to lose FAT while retaining (LBM).
Psychology 101 of long term weight
Many diet programs out there
dont address the psychological aspect of why people fail to be successful
with long term weight loss. However, quite a few studies exist that have looked
at just that. In many respects, the psychological aspect is the most important
for long term weight loss, and probably the most underappreciated component.
Studies that compare the
psychological characteristics of people who have successfully kept the weight
off to people who have regained the weight, see clear differences between these
two groups. For example, one study that looked at 28 obese women who had lost
weight but regained the weight that they had lost, compared to 28 formerly
obese women who had lost weight and maintained their weight for at least one
year and 20 women with a stable weight in the healthy range, found the women
who regained the weight:
- Had a tendency to evaluate
self-worth in terms of weight and shape
- Had a lack of vigilance with regard
to weight control
- had a dichotomous (black-and-white)
- Had the tendency to use eating to
The results suggest
that psychological factors may provide some explanation as to why many people
with obesity regain weight following successful weight loss.
This particular study was
done on women, so it reflects some of the specific psychological issues women
have - but make no mistake here - men also have their own psychological issues
that can sabotage their long term weight loss efforts. (6)
Additional studies on men
and women find psychological characteristics such as having unrealistic
weight goals, poor coping or problem-solving skills and low self-efficacy
often predict failure with long term weight loss. (7) On the other hand,
psychological traits common to people who experienced successful long term
weight loss include
an internal motivation to lose weight, social
support, better coping strategies and ability to handle life stress,
self-efficacy, autonomy, assuming responsibility in life, and overall more
psychological strength and stability. (8)
The main point of this
section is to illustrate that psychology plays a major role in determining if
people are successful with long term weight loss. If its not addressed as
part of the overall plan, it can be the factor that makes or breaks your
success. This, however, is not an area most nutrition programs can adequately
tackle and should not be expected to. However, the better programs do generally
attempt to help with motivation, goal setting, and support. If you see yourself
in the above lists from the groups that failed to maintain their weight long
term, then know you will need to address those issues via counseling, support
groups, etc. Dont expect any weight loss program to cover this topic
adequately but do look for programs that attempt to offer support, goal
setting, and resources that will keep you on track.
Theres a sucker
born every minute
So why dont you see
this type of honest information about the realities of long term weight loss
more often? Lets be honest here, telling the truth is not the best way to
sell bars, shakes, books, supplements, and programs. Hell, if by some miracle
everyone who read this article actually followed it, and sent it on to millions
of other people who actually followed it, makers of said products could be in
financial trouble quickly. However, they also know - as the man said -
theres a sucker born every minute, so I doubt they will be
kept up at night worrying about the effects that I, or this article, will have
on their business.
So lets recap what has
been learned here: the big picture realities of permanent weight loss and how
you can look at a weight loss program and decide for yourself if its for
you based on what has been covered above:
- Permanent weight loss is not about
finding a quick fix diet, but making a commitment to life style changes that
include nutrition and exercise
- Any weight loss program you choose
must pass the Can I eat that way for the rest of my life? test,
- The weight loss program you choose
should ultimately teach you how to eat and be self reliant so you can make
informed long term choices about your nutrition.
- The weight loss program you choose
should not leave you reliant on commercial bars, shakes, supplements, or
pre-made foods, for your long term success.
- The weight loss program you choose
must have an effective exercise component.
- The weight loss program you choose
should attempt to help with motivation, goal setting, and support, but
cant be a replacement for psychological counseling if needed.
I want to take this final
section to add some additional points and clarity. For starters, the above
advice is not for everyone. Its not intended for those who really have
their nutrition dialed in, such as competitive bodybuilders and other athletes
who benefit from fairly dramatic changes in their nutrition, such as off
season and pre-contest and so on.
The article is also not
intended for those with medical issues who may be on a specific diet to treat
or manage a specific medical condition. The article is intended for the average
person who wants to get off the Yo-Yo diet merry-go-round once and for all. As
thats probably 99% of the population, it will cover millions of
People should also not be
scared off by my you have to eat this way forever advice. This does
not mean you will be dieting for the rest of your life and have nothing but
starvation to look forward to. What it does mean, however, is you will have to
learn to eat properly even after you reach your target weight and that way of
eating should not be a huge departure from how you ate to lose the weight in
the first place. Once you get to your target weight - and or your target
bodyfat levels - you will go onto a maintenance phase which generally has more
calories and choices of food, even the occasional treat, like a slice of pizza
Maintenance diets are a
logical extension of the diet you used to lose the weight, but they are not
based on the diet you followed that put the weight on in the first place!
Regardless of which program
you choose, use the above big picture approach which will keep you
on track for long term weight loss. See you in the gym!
Will Brink Will
Brink is a columnist, consultant, and writer for various health/fitness,
medical, and bodybuilding publications. His articles relating to nutrition,
supplements, weight loss, exercise and medicine can be found in such
publications as Lets Live, Muscle Media 2000, MuscleMag International, The Life
Extension Magazine, Muscle & Fitness, Inside Karate, Exercise For Men Only,
Body International, Power, Oxygen, Women's World and The Townsend Letter For
Doctors. He is also the author of Priming The Anabolic Environment, Fat Loss
Revealed and Brink's Bodybuilding.
See Will's ebooks
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bodybuilding supplements and eating to gain lean muscle