It seemed that it was not going to arrive, but it is here. It’s been five minutes since you sat down at your computer again and it’s like five months since you last enjoyed the sea breeze lying on your towel. Something that, by the way, happened the day before yesterday, but the emotional distance between that life and the return to reality makes, compared to this, Ulysses’ Odyssey seem like a half-day getaway.
That discomfort now is normal and it will pass; You know it because every year is the same and in a few hours or a few days you are as good as new. But at this moment everything is wrong, every email you have pending to answer seems like an unassumable challenge and, to top it off, in a totally self-destructive impulse this morning you got on the scale and confirmed what you already knew: the hateful number is not the Same as a month ago. Your pedantic, insufferable and obtuse co-worker has already taken it upon himself to let it fall to you laughing with “how did you take care of yourself” (I take this opportunity to give you some advice that you didn’t ask for: let’s stop commenting on people’s bodies, not even though let’s think we’re paying a compliment: you don’t know what’s wrong with that person to make them lose weight so conspicuously).
In short: you are especially vulnerable. Like so many people these days. So you become a target, a target, an objective public on which to bombard messages of diets, miraculous products and sculptural bodies achieved in a week. Your rational part knows that it is not a good idea to stick to that “ultimate plan” to lose five kilos and that there are no miracle diets. But you need to reduce your discomfort as soon as possible, and who says that this diet cannot be the good one?
The weight distracts us from what is important
We start from a misconception that conditions everything: weight is the axis on which your health and your own satisfaction with your body image revolve. This approach has several problems, as noted in Weight Science: Evaluating the Evidence for a Paradigm Shift. Several of them have already been discussed by Juan Revenga in other articles in El Comidista: weight by itself gives us little information about our body composition, weight loss is not necessarily related to better health, focusing on weight leads to stigmatization from people who are outside the canon, concern about weight is behind eating disorders, what else do we need to move the scale away from our idea of health?
Clinical practice guidelines are already taking center stage. The practical and patient-centred European guidelines for the treatment of obesity in adults in primary care indicate that when approaching a patient with obesity “the objective should be to focus on changes in lifestyle, body composition and reduction of circumference waist, instead of focusing on weight loss per se”. In other words, making changes in your life that lead you to acquire healthy habits will have a positive impact on your health, regardless of whether they are associated with losing weight or not.
“Dieting” Doesn’t Work for Weight Loss
I will clarify: “dieting” does not work if what you want is to lose weight and maintain that loss over time. The diets can help you get into that wedding suit that you have in 15 days, provided that in exchange you don’t mind recovering those kilos plus some as a gift and shooting one of the bullets that you have left to improve your health and your composition bodily. Be careful, I fully understand that it is tempting to look for a short-term solution, avoiding looking at the medium or long term. We need to solve something that seems like a problem right now and we need to solve it now.
To begin with, we have to blow up the very concept we have of “dieting”, that idea of following an eating plan that involves changes for a limited time. Because, what happens when the “diet” ends? He british medical journal published in 2020 a systematic review and meta-analysis of studies carried out on 14 popular diets -classifying them as low in carbohydrates, low in fat and with a moderate contribution of macronutrients- comparing their effectiveness at six and 12 months, and with all of them achieved some weight loss at six months, but this was reduced at 12 months (many studies did not even follow up to one year). The authors conclude that the difference between diets is small, so each person should choose the diet that best suits their preferences. And, what is more important and supports this idea, they indicate that adherence to the diet for a longer time would probably have led to better results regarding weight loss and cardiovascular risk factors.
getting angry is ok
Now that we are clear that “I start on Monday” does not seem to end well, I am going to give you the definitive arguments so that you send the diets, the miracle products and the gurus who promote them to take wind. I am going to appeal, without any kind of restriction, to your anger. That being up to the loquat is very motivating and we underestimate the potential of bad blood as an incentive to make us change. What happens when you “go on a diet” is that they are making money with you
Somewhere there is a lord smoking a cigar on a yacht and throwing lobsters at his subordinates – call them wage earners, call them slaves – watching his bottom line grow at the expense of your frustration. According to Grand View Research, the weight loss market was worth more than $132 billion in 2021 and is expected to continue to grow (estimated at about 10% per year through 2030). Of the different categories that are measured – fitness equipment, surgical equipment, services and diets – most of the market gains are taken by diets (meals aimed at weight loss, beverages and supplements).
The market for these products is growing, as is overweight and obesity. Not only does it not seem to work, but it takes advantage of the fact that it does not work. By the way, surely that respectable gentleman has a few shares spread across the media that have created and perpetuate stereotypes about what our bodies should be like. Master play.
You waste time in a fruitless effort: you, who lack hours in the day, who live permanently exhausted, who have the mental load of work and family all day on your shoulders, all you had to do was count calories, score points, calculate carbohydrates or whatever that new diet that they have sworn to you is the definitive one requires of you. In the apparent “best case scenario”, you can lose the pounds you want, stay that way for a while, and gain them back; something that, according to the review Diet is not the answerit happens in most cases (Juan Revenga explains it in detail in this article).
things can get worse
In a less graceful scenario, you can also recover more of what you lost and enter into a dynamic of hooking one diet with another, thrown into a vicious cycle of diet-deprivation-eating to feel better-disappointment and guilt for having eaten-back to the diet. Everything can get worse if the diet requires an extra effort because it means that you have to eat special meals or stop doing things that you enjoy like eating with the family: if it makes life difficult for you, it is not a good diet.
You also fall for the (disgusting) idea of meritocracy: if you lose weight it’s because you have willpower. If you don’t, it’s because you haven’t tried hard enough. You have to try more. Your body is what you deserve. It already. The stigma around weight is born in large part because we place the responsibility on the individual person and it is a blunder (as stated here or here).
We do not all start with the same biological factors, nor do we have the same social or economic circumstances, nor have we grown up in the same environment, nor do we have the same access to healthy foods, nor do we have similar psychological conditions (yes, all of this affects our weight as you can see in the Obesity System Map developed by the British government).
You have already managed to resist like a wild boar the bombardment of “if you want you can” in its economic version and you understand the cynicism and the social burden behind that idea, you just have to transfer your skepticism to another field, because the message and the perversity are the same. Not dieting is a form of revolution: today all you have to worry about is getting through your (absolutely disgusting) day back at work. Forget about the scale and send the punishing little voice to listen to the Salchipapa on a loop. Give yourself a margin.
If in a few days -when you don’t want to grab your bag and leave the office forever without further explanation- you continue with the idea that you have to change habits to be physically and mentally better, maybe it’s time to analyze again realistically what you can improve about your diet and lifestyle.
Beatrice Robles She is a food technologist, dietitian-nutritionist, and obsessed with battling misinformation. Professor in the Human Nutrition and Dietetics Degree at the Isabel I University and science popularizer, she has published the book Eat Safely by Eating Everything, to help you avoid messing up in the kitchen and eat safely.