Fasting is No Better For You Than Regular Calorie Restriction - new Scientific Study - POSTED ON: May 03, 2017
A Scientific Study was recently published concluding that an alternate-day fasting diet was NOT superior to a daily calorie restriction diet for Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults with regard to adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or improvement in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease (including insulin resistance).
The lead researcher in this study, Dr. Krista Varady, has previously done extensive research on Alternate Day Fasting. Those studies are currently considered the best scientific authority on Intermittent Fasting, and her previous research findings have often been extensively quoted by the majority of Intermittent Fasting Gurus, including Dr. Jason Fung, author of The Obesity Code (2016) and The Complete Guide to Fasting (2016)
Below is a recent article from TIME.
Fasting Isn’t Better for You Than Regular Dieting
Alexandra Sifferlin May 01, 2017 TIME
Losing weight is hard, which is why weight loss experts have long searched for different approaches to make it easier for people. One strategy gaining steam is intermittent fasting, where people fast or lower their calories substantially for a short period of time. (This diet plan also has potential lifespan-extending benefits.)
But new research published in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests that the fasting diet may not be the weight loss key it's been hyped up to be.
In the new trial, researchers wanted to know whether people who tried a fasting diet would be more successful than those on a standard diet. They told 100 people with obesity to follow one of three diets for a year. Some were told to cut their calorie consumption by 25% per day—a typical calorie restriction diet—while others did an alternate-day fasting diet, where they ate about 500 calories on “fast” days and whatever they wanted on “feast" days. The last group, which served as the control group, ate what they normally would.
The researchers expected that the people in the fasting group would lose more weight and have an easier time sticking to the diet than regular dieters, but the results didn't reflect that. At the end of the year, people who did the fasting diet and those who just cut calories both lost an average of 13 pounds. However, people in the fasting group actually had a harder time sticking to the diet, and more people in that group dropped out of the study.
“I really thought people would have an easier time and lose more weight on the [fasting diet] and I was shocked they lost the same amount,” says study author Dr. Krista Varady, an associate professor of nutrition the University of Illinois at Chicago and author of the book The Every-Other-Day Diet. “The take-home message for me is that this diet isn’t for everyone.”
The researchers also did not find significant differences in other health measures between the dieting groups, like blood pressure, heart rate or insulin resistance.
Dr. Varady says that while half of the people in the fasting group "could barely do the diet," there were several people who were very successful, losing between 20 to 50 pounds. Those findings suggest that some people do respond well to the diet.
Still, what works for one person clearly doesn’t work for everyone. “If people have failed other diets, maybe this will work,” Dr. Varady says. “People will pick what diet works best for them."
Below are Excepts from a recent CNN article about this scientific research study.
The study suggests that there is no significant difference between fasting and the other popular weight loss strategy of simply restricting how many daily calories you consume.
Dr. Varady said that, before the study, she thought alternate-day fasting would be an easier diet to adhere to because it allowed for a "break" from dieting every day.
"We were a little bit shocked to see that it was actually the calorie-restriction group that seemed like they could stick better to their daily calorie goals. Whereas the alternate-day fasting group, they were kind of wavering," said Dr. Varady, who authored a book about alternate-day fasting called "The Every-Other-Day Diet."
"Instead of eating the 500 calories on the fasting days, they were eating a couple hundred calories more on those days," she said.
'Not one diet fits everyone'
All in all, the new study showed that alternate-day fasting may be difficult to follow but can be effective in reducing obesity, said Valter Longo, a professor at the University of Southern California and director of the university's Longevity Institute. He was not involved in the study.
However, "because it requires a major effort every other day, it is unlikely to be applicable to the great majority of the obese population, particularly in the absence of the close monitoring carried out in the clinical study," Longo said.
For overweight or obese adults who might be interested in alternate-day fasting as a weight loss approach, Dr. Varady advised taking the time to really determine whether it is the best option. "I really think people just need to find what works for them," she said. "Not one diet fits everyone."
"I don't think there's anything magical to the diet at all," she said of alternate-day fasting. "I think it's just another way of tricking people into eating less food or helping people to kind of monitor how much food intake there is or how much food they're taking in."
Below is a copy of the published research study.
This study can also be found at:
May 1, 2017
Effect of Alternate-Day Fasting on Weight Loss, Weight Maintenance, and Cardioprotection Among Metabolically Healthy Obese Adults
A Randomized Clinical Trial
John F. Trepanowski, PhD1; Cynthia M. Kroeger, PhD1,2; Adrienne Barnosky, MD1; et al Monica C. Klempel, PhD1; Surabhi Bhutani, PhD1; Kristin K. Hoddy, PhD, RD1; Kelsey Gabel, MS, RD1; Sally Freels, PhD3; Joseph Rigdon, PhD4; Jennifer Rood, PhD5; Eric Ravussin, PhD5; Krista A. Varady, PhD1
Author Affiliations Article Information
JAMA Intern Med. Published online May 1, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936
Question Is alternate-day fasting more effective for weight loss and weight maintenance compared with daily calorie restriction?
Findings This randomized clinical trial included 100 metabolically healthy obese adults. Weight loss after 1 year in the alternate-day fasting group (6.0%) was not significantly different from that of the daily calorie restriction group (5.3%), relative to the no-intervention control group.
Meaning Alternate-day fasting does not produce superior weight loss or weight maintenance compared with daily calorie restriction.
Importance Alternate-day fasting has become increasingly popular, yet, to date, no long-term randomized clinical trials have evaluated its efficacy.
Objective To compare the effects of alternate-day fasting vs daily calorie restriction on weight loss, weight maintenance, and risk indicators for cardiovascular disease.
Design, Setting, and Participants A single-center randomized clinical trial of obese adults (18 to 64 years of age; mean body mass index, 34) was conducted between October 1, 2011, and January 15, 2015, at an academic institution in Chicago, Illinois.
Interventions Participants were randomized to 1 of 3 groups for 1 year: alternate-day fasting (25% of energy needs on fast days; 125% of energy needs on alternating “feast days”), calorie restriction (75% of energy needs every day), or a no-intervention control. The trial involved a 6-month weight-loss phase followed by a 6-month weight-maintenance phase.
Main Outcomes and Measures The primary outcome was change in body weight. Secondary outcomes were adherence to the dietary intervention and risk indicators for cardiovascular disease.
Results Among the 100 participants (86 women and 14 men; mean [SD] age, 44  years), the dropout rate was highest in the alternate-day fasting group (13 of 34 [38%]), vs the daily calorie restriction group (10 of 35 [29%]) and control group (8 of 31 [26%]). Mean weight loss was similar for participants in the alternate-day fasting group and those in the daily calorie restriction group at month 6 (–6.8% [95% CI, –9.1% to –4.5%] vs –6.8% [95% CI, –9.1% to –4.6%]) and month 12 (–6.0% [95% CI, –8.5% to –3.6%] vs –5.3% [95% CI, –7.6% to –3.0%]) relative to those in the control group. Participants in the alternate-day fasting group ate more than prescribed on fast days, and less than prescribed on feast days, while those in the daily calorie restriction group generally met their prescribed energy goals. There were no significant differences between the intervention groups in blood pressure, heart rate, triglycerides, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, insulin resistance, C-reactive protein, or homocysteine concentrations at month 6 or 12. Mean high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels at month 6 significantly increased among the participants in the alternate-day fasting group (6.2 mg/dL [95% CI, 0.1-12.4 mg/dL]), but not at month 12 (1.0 mg/dL [95% CI, –5.9 to 7.8 mg/dL]), relative to those in the daily calorie restriction group. Mean low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were significantly elevated by month 12 among the participants in the alternate-day fasting group (11.5 mg/dL [95% CI, 1.9-21.1 mg/dL]) compared with those in the daily calorie restriction group.
Conclusions and Relevance Alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or cardioprotection vs daily calorie restriction.
Trial Registration clinicaltrials.gov Identifier: NCT00960505
The first-line therapy prescribed to obese patients for weight loss is daily calorie restriction.1 However, many patients find it difficult to adhere to a conventional weight-loss diet because food intake must be limited every day.2 As such, adherence to daily calorie restriction decreases after 1 month and continues to decline thereafter.3- 5 In light of this limitation, another approach that requires individuals to restrict calories only every other day was developed.6 This strategy is called alternate-day fasting and involves a fast day where individuals consume 25% of their usual intake (approximately 500 kcal), alternated with a “feast day” where individuals are permitted to consume food ad libitum. Findings from short-term studies indicate that participants lose 3% to 7% of body weight after 2 to 3 months of alternate-day fasting and experience improvements in lipid profiles, blood pressure, and insulin sensitivity.7- 13
Alternate-day fasting regimens have increased in popularity during the past decade, and several best-selling diet books14,15 have promoted this approach. More than 1 million copies of these books have been sold in the United States and United Kingdom to date. Despite the growing popularity of alternate-day fasting, to our knowledge, no long-term randomized clinical trials have evaluated its efficacy or compared this regimen with a conventional weight-loss diet.
We conducted a 1-year, randomized clinical trial to compare the effects of alternate-day fasting vs daily calorie restriction on body weight and risk indicators for cardiovascular disease. We hypothesized that the participants in the alternate-day fasting group would be more adherent to their diet, achieve greater weight loss, and experience more pronounced improvements in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease during the 6-month weight-loss phase compared with those in the daily calorie restriction group. We also hypothesized that the alternate-day fasting group would better maintain their weight loss and sustain their improvements in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease during the 6-month weight-maintenance phase compared with the daily calorie restriction group.
We conducted the trial between October 1, 2011, and January 15, 2015, at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Participants were recruited from the Chicago area by means of flyers placed around the university and were screened via a questionnaire, an assessment of body mass index, and a pregnancy test. Individuals included were men and women between 18 and 65 years of age, with a body mass index between 25.0 and 39.9 (calculated as weight in kilograms divided by height in meters squared) who had previously been sedentary (<60 minutes per week of light activity for the 3 months prior to the study).
Exclusion criteria were a history of cardiovascular disease or type 1 or 2 diabetes, use of medications that could affect study outcomes, unstable weight for 3 months prior to the beginning of the study (>4-kg weight loss or gain), perimenopause or otherwise irregular menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and currently smoking. The protocol was approved by the Office for the Protection of Research Subjects at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and written informed consent was obtained from all participants. The full protocol is available in Supplement 1.
Randomization and Intervention Groups
Participants were randomized in a 1:1:1 ratio to an alternate-day fasting group, daily calorie restriction group, or no-intervention control group. Randomization was performed by a stratified random sampling procedure by sex, age (18-42 years and 43-65 years), and body mass index (25.0-32.5 and 32.6-39.9). Block size ranged from 1 to 11 participants. The active trial duration was 1 year and consisted of a baseline phase (1 month), a weight-loss phase (6 months), and a weight-maintenance phase (6 months) (eFigure 1 in Supplement 2). We chose this design because weight loss typically peaks at 6 months during a lifestyle intervention.16 During the baseline phase, all participants ate their usual diet and maintained a stable weight. Baseline total energy expenditure was measured using doubly labeled water.17 All participants were instructed not to change their physical activity habits throughout the trial (eg, not to join a gym) to avoid potential confounding.
Participants in the alternate-day fasting group and those in the daily calorie restriction group were provided with all meals during the first 3 months of the trial and received dietary counseling thereafter (eFigure 1 in Supplement 2). During the 6-month weight-loss phase, the intervention groups were instructed to reduce their energy intake by a mean of 25% per day. To achieve this reduction, the alternate-day fasting group was instructed to consume 25% of baseline energy intake as a lunch (between 12 pm and 2 pm) on fast days and 125% of baseline energy intake split between 3 meals on alternating feast days. The daily calorie restriction group was instructed to consume 75% of baseline energy intake split between 3 meals every day. The provided meals were in accordance with the American Heart Association guidelines18 for macronutrient intake, with 30% of energy as fat, 55% as carbohydrate, and 15% as protein. From months 4 to 6, when food was no longer provided, intervention participants met individually with a dietician or nutritionist weekly to learn how to continue with their diets on their own.
At the beginning of the 6-month weight-maintenance phase, total daily energy expenditure was reassessed using doubly labeled water.17 Participants were instructed to maintain their body weight during this phase. Participants in the alternate-day fasting group were instructed to consume 50% of energy needs as a lunch on fast days and 150% of energy needs split between 3 meals on alternating feast days. Participants in the daily calorie restriction group were instructed to consume 100% of energy needs split between 3 meals every day. Intervention participants met with the dietician individually each month to learn cognitive behavioral strategies to prevent weight regain19 and received personalized energy targets for weight maintenance based on results from doubly labeled water.
Control Group Protocol
Participants in the control group were instructed to maintain their weight throughout the trial and not to change their eating or physical activity habits. Controls received no food or dietary counseling but visited the research center at the same frequency as the intervention participants (to provide outcome measurements). Controls who completed the 12-month trial received 3 months of free weight-loss counseling and a 12-month gym membership at the end of the study.
The primary outcome of the study was change in body weight, which was measured monthly via a digital scale while the participant was in a hospital gown. Fat mass and lean mass were measured every 6 months in the fasted state by dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry (QDR 4500W; Hologic). Visceral fat mass was measured every 6 months by magnetic resonance imaging performed with a 1.5-T magnet (Siemens Vision), and images were analyzed using validated software.20
Mean percentage energy restriction during the weight-loss phase was retrospectively calculated by the intake balance method using doubly labeled water and changes in body composition.21 Physical activity was measured for 7 consecutive days every 6 months using an activity monitor (SenseWear Armband Mini; BodyMedia Inc).22 Dietary intake and adherence to diets was assessed every 3 months with a 7-day food record and analyzed using Nutritionist Pro software (Axxya Systems LLC). Intervention participants were considered to be adherent when their actual energy intake, determined via food records, was within 200 kcal of their prescribed daily energy goal.
Blood samples were obtained following a 12-hour fast every 6 months (collected on the morning after a feast day for the alternate-day fasting group). Secondary outcomes included blood pressure, heart rate, and total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, triglycerides, fasting glucose, fasting insulin, C-reactive protein, and homocysteine concentrations (analytical methods are detailed in the full protocol in Supplement 1). The homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance was calculated as insulin × glucose/405, where the unit of measure for insulin is in micro-international units per milliliter and the unit of measure for glucose is milligrams per deciliter.23
For the sample size calculation, we estimated that alternate-day fasting would reduce body weight by 15% by month 69,11 and that daily calorie restriction would reduce body weight by 10% by month 6.24 We calculated that 26 participants per group would provide 80% power to detect a significant difference of 5% in body weight between the alternate-day fasting group and the daily calorie restriction group at month 6, using a 2-tailed independent-samples t test with α = .05. We anticipated a dropout rate of 12%. Thus, we initially aimed to recruit 90 participants (30 per group), assuming that 78 participants (26 per group) would complete the trial. We later decided to recruit 100 participants to increase our statistical power because our dropout rate was higher than expected.
Data are shown as mean values (with 95% CIs) unless otherwise noted. A 2-tailed P < .05 was considered statistically significant. Tests for normality were included in the model, and all data were found to be normally distributed. We conducted an intention-to-treat analysis, which included data from all 100 participants who underwent randomization. Results are reported by intention-to-treat analysis unless indicated otherwise. A linear mixed model was used to assess time, diet, and time × diet effects for each outcome. This model provides unbiased estimates of time and treatment effects under a missing-at-random assumption. Time was not assumed to be linear in the model. This strategy allowed for estimation of time and diet effects (and their interaction) without imposing a linear time trend. The analyses were performed using SAS, version 9.4 (SAS Institute, Inc), and R software, version 3.2.2 (R Foundation for Statistical Computing).
Participant Characteristics and Attrition
Of the 222 participants who were screened, 100 (45.0%) were randomly assigned to the diet or control groups, and 69 (69.0% of those assigned) completed the study (Figure 1). The dropout rate was highest in the alternate-day fasting group (13 of 34 [38%]), relative to the daily calorie restriction group (10 of 35 [29%]) and control group (8 of 31 [26%]). More participants in the alternate-day fasting group than in the daily calorie restriction group withdrew owing to difficulties adhering with the diet. All baseline characteristics had comparable distributions between the alternate-day fasting group, the daily calorie restriction group, and the control group (Table 1). The participants were primarily metabolically healthy obese women.
Prescribed vs Actual Energy Intake Determined via Food Records
On the fast day (Figure 2A), participants in the alternate-day fasting group exceeded their prescribed energy goal at months 3 and 6. On the feast day (Figure 2B), participants in the alternate-day fasting group ate less than their prescribed goal at months 3, 6, 9, and 12. Participants in the daily calorie restriction group (Figure 2C) met their prescribed energy goals at months 3, 6, and 12 but ate less than their prescribed goal at month 9. A higher proportion of participants in the daily calorie restriction group were adherent to their energy goals at months 3, 6, 9, and 12 relative to those in the alternate-day fasting group.
Percentage Energy Restriction Determined via Doubly Labeled Water
From baseline to month 6, the alternate-day fasting group achieved a mean (SD) percentage energy restriction of 21% (16%), and the daily calorie restriction group achieved a mean (SD) percentage energy restriction of 24% (16%), with no significant difference between the intervention groups or compared with the control group (eFigure 2 in Supplement 2).
Physical Activity and Dietary Intake
Data on dietary intake are displayed in eTable 1 in Supplement 2. Percentage of energy intake from fat, carbohydrates, and protein did not differ significantly over time in any of the groups. Physical activity, measured as steps per day, did not change during the course of the trial in any group (eTable 2 in Supplement 2). This level of activity is approximately 1000 to 2000 steps per day higher than that of the average overweight or obese adult.25
Weight Loss and Weight Maintenance
Changes in body weight are displayed in Figure 3 and Table 2. Weight loss was not significantly different between the alternate-day fasting group and the daily calorie restriction group at month 6. At the end of the study, total weight loss was –6.0% (95% CI, –8.5% to –3.6%) for the alternate-day fasting group and –5.3% (95% CI, –7.6% to –3.0%) for the daily calorie restriction group, relative to controls, with no significant difference between the intervention groups. Weight regain from months 6 to 12 (–0.8%; 95% CI, –3.2% to 1.7%) was not significantly different between the alternate-day fasting group and the daily calorie restriction group. Moreover, weight regain from months 6 to 12 was not significantly different between the alternate-day fasting group and controls (0.8%; 95% CI, –1.8% to 3.3%), or the daily calorie restriction group and controls (1.5%; 95% CI, –0.8% to 3.9%). Changes in body composition are reported in Table 2. There were no statistically significant differences between the alternate-day fasting group and the daily calorie restriction group for fat mass, lean mass, or visceral fat mass at month 6 or month 12.
Blood Pressure and Heart Rate
Blood pressure was not significantly different between the intervention groups, or relative to controls, at month 6 or month 12 (Table 2). There were also no statistically significant differences in heart rate between the alternate-day fasting group and the daily calorie restriction group at month 6 or month 12 (Table 2).
Changes in plasma lipids during the course of the trial are shown in Table 2. Total cholesterol levels were not significantly different between the intervention groups, or relative to controls, at month 6 or month 12. At month 6, high-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels were significantly elevated in the alternate-day fasting group by 6.2 mg/dL (95% CI, 0.1-12.4 mg/dL) (to convert to millimoles per liter, multiply by 0.0259) vs the daily calorie restriction group, but this effect was no longer observed by month 12. Low-density lipoprotein cholesterol concentrations did not differ significantly between the intervention groups at month 6. At month 12, low-density lipoprotein cholesterol levels significantly increased in the alternate-day fasting group (11.5 mg/dL [95% CI, 1.9-21.1 mg/dL]) (to convert to millimoles per liter, multiply by 0.0259) relative to the daily calorie restriction group. Triglyceride levels did not differ significantly between the intervention groups at month 6 or month 12.
Glucoregulatory and Inflammatory Factors
Changes in glucoregulatory and inflammatory factors are displayed in Table 2. Fasting plasma glucose did not differ significantly between the intervention groups, or relative to controls, at month 6 or month 12. There were also no significant differences in fasting insulin or the homeostasis model assessment of insulin resistance between the intervention groups at month 6 or month 12. High-sensitivity C-reactive protein and homocysteine levels did not differ significantly between the intervention groups, or relative to controls, at month 6 or month 12. We also performed a sensitivity analysis, in which sex and race/ethnicity were included as adjustment covariates in the intention-to-treat mixed model. The inclusion of sex and race/ethnicity did not affect any of the estimated treatment effects reported in Table 2.
The results of this randomized clinical trial demonstrated that alternate-day fasting did not produce superior adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or improvement in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease compared with daily calorie restriction.
Alternate-day fasting has been promoted as a potentially superior alternative to daily calorie restriction under the assumption that it is easier to restrict calories every other day. However, our data from food records, doubly labeled water, and regular weigh-ins indicate that this assumption is not the case. Rather, it appears as though many participants in the alternate-day fasting group converted their diet into de facto calorie restriction as the trial progressed. Moreover, the dropout rate in the alternate-day fasting group (38%) was higher than that in the daily calorie restriction group (29%) and the control group (26%). It was also shown that more participants in the alternate-day fasting group withdrew owing to dissatisfaction with diet compared with those in the daily calorie restriction group (Figure 1).
Taken together, these findings suggest that alternate-day fasting may be less sustainable in the long term, compared with daily calorie restriction, for most obese individuals. Nevertheless, it is still possible that a certain smaller segment of obese individuals may prefer this pattern of energy restriction instead of daily restriction. It will be of interest to examine what behavioral traits (eg, ability to go for long periods without eating) make alternate-day fasting more tolerable for some individuals than others.
To our knowledge, the present study is the longest and largest trial of alternate-day fasting to date. Previous trials of alternate-day fasting reported weight loss of 3% to 7% after 2 to 3 months of diet.7- 13 Adherence was measured in several previous trials and was shown to be high (eg, participants met their calorie goals on approximately 80%-90% of fast days).7,8,10,11 Most of these past studies provided food on the fast day,7,8,10,11 so the provision of food is not a confounder when comparing past findings with present findings. Food was provided to the intervention participants during the first 3 months of the weight-loss phase to promote adherence26 and show participants the types and quantities of foods that they should be eating. Data from the food records indicated that participants frequently ate extra “nonstudy” foods that were purchased from stores or restaurants.
This finding suggests that limiting caloric intake to approximately 500 kcal every other day may have been difficult for many participants early in the intervention. Future work in this area should examine whether this lack of adherence to alternate-day fasting is due to cognitive, environmental, and/or physiological factors. For instance, measuring changes in subjective appetite (hunger and fullness) in conjunction with modulations in appetite hormones (ghrelin, peptide YY, and glucagon-like peptide-1) could offer some insight into why daily calorie restriction may allow for easier adherence compared with alternate-day fasting.
Contrary to our original hypotheses, the participants in the alternate-day fasting group did not experience more pronounced improvements in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease compared with the participants in the daily calorie restriction group. However, the trial included primarily metabolically healthy obese adults. Since many of the participants had normal cholesterol levels and normal blood pressure at baseline, it is not surprising that most risk indicators for cardiovascular disease did not change in response to diet.
Our study has several limitations. First, the duration of the maintenance phase was short (6 months). Second, the control group was imperfect, in that they received no food, no counseling, and less attention from study personnel, relative to the intervention groups, which may have confounded our findings. We also failed to include the control group in our initial power calculation. Third, since the dropout rate was higher than anticipated, our power to detect the hypothesized difference of 5% weight loss between the intervention groups at month 6 decreased from 80% to 60%. The higher dropout rate in the alternate-day fasting group may have also introduced a possible selection bias between groups.27 Finally, we enrolled predominantly metabolically healthy obese individuals, which may have hindered the abilities of the interventions to produce greater improvements in our measured cardiovascular disease risk indicators.28,29 The generalizability of our findings is also limited by the enrollment.
The alternate-day fasting diet was not superior to the daily calorie restriction diet with regard to adherence, weight loss, weight maintenance, or improvement in risk indicators for cardiovascular disease.
Corresponding Author: Krista A. Varady, PhD, Department of Kinesiology and Nutrition, University of Illinois at Chicago, 1919 W Taylor St, Room 532, Chicago, IL 60612 (email@example.com).
Accepted for Publication: February 26, 2017.
Published Online: May 1, 2017. doi:10.1001/jamainternmed.2017.0936
Author Contributions: Dr Varady had full access to all the data in the study and takes responsibility for the integrity of the data and the accuracy of the data analysis. Drs Trepanowski and Kroeger contributed equally to this work and should be considered co–first authors.
Study concept and design: Kroeger, Varady.
Acquisition, analysis, or interpretation of data: All authors.
Drafting of the manuscript: Trepanowski, Kroeger, Varady.
Critical revision of the manuscript for important intellectual content: All authors.
Statistical analysis: Freels, Rigdon.
Obtained funding: Varady.
Administrative, technical, or material support: Kroeger, Barnosky, Bhutani, Hoddy, Gabel, Rood, Varady.
Study supervision: Varady.
Conflict of Interest Disclosures: Dr Varady reported receiving an advance for the book The Every-Other-Day Diet: The Diet That Lets You Eat All You Want (Half the Time) and Keep the Weight Off, published by Hachette Book Group. No other disclosures were reported.
Funding/Support: This study was supported by grant R01HL106228 from the National Institutes of Health/National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute and grants P30DK072476 and F32DK107157 from the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.
Role of Funder/Sponsor: The funding sources had no role in the design and conduct of the study; collection, management, analysis, and interpretation of the data; preparation, review, or approval of the manuscript; and the decision to submit the manuscript for publication
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Binge = Response to Starvation - POSTED ON: Feb 23, 2017
No one in life gets away
with avoiding all problems.
Some problems are physical.
Some problems are mental.
Some problems are the two combined.
If it’s my problem,
I’m the one who has to deal with it.
Defining a problem helps me understand it,
which helps give me
wisdom to know the difference
between what I can change,
and what cannot be changed.
What is a Binge?
The dictionary definition of bingeing is:
Bingeing isn’t usually because of lack of self control and weakness. We binge because of a complex interaction of habit, brain chemistry, and external cues that signal us to eat. This interaction can be overcome, but it's harder to do and takes longer to change than most of us realize.
Current scientific research indicates that bingeing has a physical (PHYSIOLOGICAL) cause, and that mental & emotional (PSYCHOLOGICAL) problems are a RESULT of the condition, not the CAUSE of the condition.
Neuroscientists say that Bingeing is a normal response to Dieting because:
Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.
The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200.
Our brains send signals to the rest of our body that it is starving when our weight is below its Set Point range. A person’s Set Point is determined by a person’s genes and life experience.
Life experience involves a person’s weight history, because when a person gains and holds “excess” weight, their Set Point can rachet up, and up and up. (A rachet is a mechanical device consisting of a toothed wheel or rack engaged with a pawl that permits it to move in only one direction.)
However, thus far all of the evidence shows that this is a one-way-street survival issue. While Set Points can go up with weight-gain, they don’t go back down with weight-loss.
Lots of body functions are naturally one-way as we grow, age, and experience life. When our life experience changes our Set Point, it’s like our scars, stretch marks, wrinkles, grey hair etc. in that there is no “natural” way our bodies will revert back to the way they once were.
Weight-loss and maintenance have less to do with motivation and will-power than most people think. In fact it has far more to do with how the individual body adjusts to, and is capable of, resisting a calorie deficit. Putting less fuel in the tank of one's car will always cause the car to drive a shorter distance. However, the human body adapts to less fuel .... meaning eating fewer calories .... by becoming more ‘efficient’ and running the same distance on less fuel than before. That is the big difference between simple physics and biology.
Is Dieting a form of STARVATION?
The dictionary definition of STARVATION is defined as “to suffer or die from lack of food”.
To “SUFFER” is defined as “to experience something unpleasant”. Although we might not be in any danger of dying from lack of food, most Dieting does involve “suffering… from lack of food”. Therefore, the term “starvation” isn’t completely inaccurate, but, of course, there are a great many different degrees of suffering.
However, most Diet Guru’s, including medical doctors, say that a Dieter is not experiencing “starvation” as long as there is any excess fat left on that person’s body. Excess fat defined as: there is “less than an inch of fat to pinch”, and the body weight is near the bottom border of its 18 BMI “underweight” category.
This is true for some people, but not ALL people. Although all human bodies operate in a similar fashion, there are differences in the ways that they function. The regulatory mechanisms which allow our cells to deal effectively with fluctuations in nutrient supply can vary from person to person, and there is a still a great deal that science has not yet discovered about the body’s inner workings.
Research studies involving lab rodents have demonstrated genetic differences. Certain genetically obese mice will fatten excessively regardless of how little or how much they eat. Some of them, … while dieting, … will consumed their own muscles and organs and die before all of their “excess” fat is gone.
Researcher Jean Mayer reported: “These mice will make fat out of their food under the most unlikely circumstances, even when half starved”. If starved sufficiently, these animals can be reduced to the same weight as lean mice, but they’ll still be fatter. They will consume the protein in their muscles and organs rather than surrender the fat in their fat cells.
When these fat mice are starved, they do not become lean mice…, they become emaciated versions of fat mice.
In 1936 Francis Benedict reported this after fasting a strain of obese mice. They lost 60 percent of their body fat before they died of starvation, but when they died, they still had five times as much body fat as lean mice that were allowed to eat as much as they desired.
In 1981, M.R.C. Greenwood reported that restricting the diet of an obese strain of rats known as Zucker rats from birth onward, caused those rats to grow fatter by adulthood than their littermates who were allowed to eat to their heart’s content. These semi-starved Zucker rats had 50% less muscle mass than genetically lean rats, and 30% less muscle mass than the Zucker rats that ate as much as they wanted. The calorie restricted rats were sacrificing their muscles and organs to make fat.
DietHobby’s BOLG CATEGORIES Research - Science contains additional articles relevant to Set Point and its relationship to weight-gain and maintenance.
If Bingeing is a natural response to Starvation,
why is it considered to be an Eating Disorder?
In the 1960s the medical profession began attributing psychological reasons, rather than physiological reasons to people who overeat to the point of obesity.
Since that time, there has been a tendency on the part of health professionals to classify every kind of eating outside “moderate eating” as an “eating disorder”.
Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOS) includes a wide variety of disordered eating patterns. It's often used for people who meet many of the symptoms of anorexia or bulimia but not all. For example, a woman who meets all of the symptoms for anorexia, but still menstruates regularly -- a criteria for an anorexia diagnosis -- would be diagnosed with an “eating disorder not otherwise specified”.
Binge eating disorder (B.E.D.) first appeared in the American Psychiatric Association's Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, or DSM, in 1994. Until recent times, “Binge Eating Disorder” was categorized under the umbrella term 'eating disorders not otherwise specified”, or EDNOS for short. However, in 2013 it was added to the DSM-V as B.E.D., a specified eating disorder.
There are many reasons for this…and one of them is Financial Motivation. Unless a behavior is labeled a “disorder” or an illness, health insurance won’t pay for treatment.
You may call me cynical, but since “Binge Eating Disorder” is far more common than anorexia and bulimia, it has a much larger population base. This means MORE PATIENTS to treat with Therapy, and/or Eating Disorder programs; MORE MONEY and more profit for that specific health industry field.
Health professionals admit that a Binge Eating Disorder is more than simply eating too much food, and that many obese patients don't have it. However these medical “experts” still they claim that up to 5 percent of obese patients and 30 percent of patients participating in weight loss programs meet the criteria for binge eating disorder.
In May 2013 the DSM-V, added Binge Eating Disorder to its list of specified eating disorders. All of the following must be met to meet the diagnostic criteria of B.E.D.
1. Recurrent and persistent episodes of binge eating
2. Binge eating episodes are associated with three (or more) of the following:
3. Marked distress regarding binge eating
4. Absence of regular compensatory behaviors (such as purging).
Think about it.
Such a diagnosis would fit almost every fat person that I’ve even known. I’ve been super fat myself, and I’ve known many, many others. Almost every fat person … and some of those who are not fat … experiences eating occasions where they sense that they have lost control of their eating behavior, AND have strong feelings of embarrassment and guilt after eating an unusually large amount of food when they aren’t physically hungry.
Weekends come every week, vacations and holidays come frequently, other celebrations and special events happen frequently as well. Plus, most of us experience times of sadness, anxiety, or crisis more frequently than we like.
It is common for almost any person, whether fat or thin, to engage in excess overeating on these occasions. It is also a very common occurrence for a fat person to “binge out” at least one time a week for months at a time.
The disgust and aversion that modern Society has for fat people pretty much guarantees that fat people will feel embarrassment and guilt because they’ve “failed” to keep from engaging in behavior that contributes to their fat condition.
It is my opinion that, despite the “conditions” that psychologists attach to the “Binge Eating Disorder”, by their proposed definition, almost everyone who engages in excessive or uncontrolled indulgence in food, which is the dictionary definition of Bingeing, could easily fall into the current medical classification of having an “eating disorder”.
I find something really wrong with this reasoning.
For those who are obese, (and normal-weight-dieting-people) bingeing is normal, and not abnormal, eating behavior.
My own experience together with my observation of the dismal long-term success rate
of “eating disorder” treatments, … especially those that include the use of “Intuitive Eating” as a tool of recovery … supports my belief that while Therapy is helpful to gain self-understanding of one’s behaviors, and can help one learn alternative behaviors, the underlying conditions causing obesity are not cured through that process.
I see Society’s current label of “Eating Disorder”, and suggested “Treatment”, as simply another attempt to shame fat people into believing that they should eat “normally” and that their body should be a “normal” weight. It’s one more indoctrination to misinform fat people. It's another way to reinforce the Cultural Lie that only those who are greedy, lazy, or mentally ill are fat, and that if anyone would just “eat healthy” instead of "overeating" or "dieting", they would meet our Culture’s standards of what is a “healthy”, or a “normal”, or even a “thin” weight.
This is a misplaced effort, because an obese body wants to maintain itself. It doesn’t want to maintain itself as a Thin body. It wants to stay Obese. Bingeing is a natural physiological response to our Culture’s demand that fat people become thin. It is based upon a survival instinct that will never disappear, no matter how thin one becomes, or how much therapy one has.
Happily Ever After & Neuroscience - POSTED ON: Feb 20, 2017
Once upon a time, there was a fat woman who wanted to become thin. She began eating less food than her body used day after day, and eventually her body became a size “normal”.
After she crossed the “finish line” to her weight goal, she slightly relaxed her rigid eating behaviors, but in order to maintain her weight-loss, she paid close attention to the hunger signals from her body, working to eat only when she felt hungry, and to stop as soon as she stopped feeling hungry.
And she lived happily ever after…..
…........... NOT exactly .......….
I advise anyone struggling with - or interested in - maintenance issues to go to DietHobby’s
BLOG CATEGORIES, Research - Science and read the articles that have been scrapbooked there.
The following article was written by Sandra Aamodt, a neuroscientist, author of “Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss” (2016). It was posted in the New York Times in May 2016.
Dr. Aamodt makes the point that the problem with Dieting is not Willpower. It’s neuroscience. I found her book to be well researched, and I believe she accurately states the basic problem. Dr. Aamodt’s information is extremely valuable, and I recommend her book for people working to maintain weight-loss. However, although the “solution” to the dieting and maintenance struggle that she proposes could be effective for some people, it is not one …. for various reasons … that I find personally acceptable or one that I’m willing to adopt.
Why You Can’t Lose Weight on a Diet
by Sandra Aamodt
SIX years after dropping an average of 129 pounds on the TV program “The Biggest Loser,” a new study reports, the participants were burning about 500 fewer calories a day than other people their age and size. This helps explain why they had regained 70 percent of their lost weight since the show’s finale. The diet industry reacted defensively, arguing that the participants had lost weight too fast or ate the wrong kinds of food — that diets do work, if you pick the right one.
But this study is just the latest example of research showing that in the long run dieting is rarely effective, doesn’t reliably improve health and does more harm than good. There is a better way to eat.
The root of the problem is not willpower but neuroscience. Metabolic suppression is one of several powerful tools that the brain uses to keep the body within a certain weight range, called the set point. The range, which varies from person to person, is determined by genes and life experience. When dieters’ weight drops below it, they not only burn fewer calories but also produce more hunger-inducing hormones and find eating more rewarding.
The brain’s weight-regulation system considers your set point to be the correct weight for you, whether or not your doctor agrees. If someone starts at 120 pounds and drops to 80, her brain rightfully declares a starvation state of emergency, using every method available to get that weight back up to normal. The same thing happens to someone who starts at 300 pounds and diets down to 200, as the “Biggest Loser” participants discovered.
This coordinated brain response is a major reason that dieters find weight loss so hard to achieve and maintain. For example, men with severe obesity have only one chance in 1,290 of reaching the normal weight range within a year; severely obese women have one chance in 677. A vast majority of those who beat the odds are likely to end up gaining the weight back over the next five years. In private, even the diet industry agrees that weight loss is rarely sustained. A report for members of the industry stated: “In 2002, 231 million Europeans attempted some form of diet. Of these only 1 percent will achieve permanent weight loss.”
The specific “Biggest Loser” diet plan is probably not to blame. A previous study found similar metabolic suppression in people who had lost weight and kept it off for up to six years. Whether weight is lost slowly or quickly has no effect on later regain. Likewise — despite endless debate about the relative value of different approaches — in head-to-head comparisons, diet plans that provide the same calories through different types of food lead to similar weight loss and regain.
As a neuroscientist, I’ve read hundreds of studies on the brain’s ability to fight weight loss. I also know about it from experience. For three decades, starting at age 13, I lost and regained the same 10 or 15 pounds almost every year. On my most serious diet, in my late 20s, I got down to 125 pounds, 30 pounds below my normal weight. I wanted (unwisely) to lose more, but I got stuck. After several months of eating fewer than 800 calories a day and spending an hour at the gym every morning, I hadn’t lost another ounce. When I gave up on losing and switched my goal to maintaining that weight, I started gaining instead.
I was lucky to end up back at my starting weight instead of above it. After about five years, 41 percent of dieters gain back more weight than they lost. Long-term studies show dieters are more likely than non-dieters to become obese over the next one to 15 years.
That’s true in men and women, across ethnic groups, from childhood through middle age. The effect is strongest in those who started in the normal weight range, a group that includes almost half of the female dieters in the United States.
Some experts argue that instead of dieting leading to long-term weight gain, the relationship goes in the other direction: People who are genetically prone to gain weight are more likely to diet.
To test this idea, in a 2012 study, researchers followed over 4,000 twins aged 16 to 25. Dieters were more likely to gain weight than their non-dieting identical twins, suggesting that dieting does indeed increase weight gain even after accounting for genetic background. The difference in weight gain was even larger between fraternal twins, so dieters may also have a higher genetic tendency to gain. The study found that a single diet increased the odds of becoming overweight by a factor of two in men and three in women. Women who had gone on two or more diets during the study were five times as likely to become overweight.
The causal relationship between diets and weight gain can also be tested by studying people with an external motivation to lose weight. Boxers and wrestlers who diet to qualify for their weight classes presumably have no particular genetic predisposition toward obesity. Yet a 2006 study found that elite athletes who competed for Finland in such weight-conscious sports were three times more likely to be obese by age 60 than their peers who competed in other sports.
To test this idea rigorously, researchers could randomly assign people to worry about their weight, but that is hard to do. One program took the opposite approach, though, helping teenage girls who were unhappy with their bodies to become less concerned about their weight. In a randomized trial, the eBody Project, an online program to fight eating disorders by reducing girls’ desire to be thin, led to less dieting and also prevented future weight gain. Girls who participated in the program saw their weight remain stable over the next two years, while their peers without the intervention gained a few pounds.
WHY would dieting lead to weight gain? First, dieting is stressful. Calorie restriction produces stress hormones, which act on fat cells to increase the amount of abdominal fat. Such fat is associated with medical problems like diabetes and heart disease, regardless of overall weight.
Second, weight anxiety and dieting predict later binge eating, as well as weight gain. Girls who labeled themselves as dieters in early adolescence were three times more likely to become overweight over the next four years. Another study found that adolescent girls who dieted frequently were 12 times more likely than non-dieters to binge two years later.
My repeated dieting eventually caught up with me, as this research would predict. When I was in graduate school and under a lot of stress, I started binge eating. I would finish a carton of ice cream or a box of saltines with butter, usually at 3 a.m. The urge to keep eating was intense, even after I had made myself sick. Fortunately, when the stress eased, I was able to stop. At the time, I felt terrible about being out of control, but now I know that binge eating is a common mammalian response to starvation.
Much of what we understand about weight regulation comes from studies of rodents, whose eating habits resemble ours. Mice and rats enjoy the same wide range of foods that we do. When tasty food is plentiful, individual rodents gain different amounts of weight, and the genes that influence weight in people have similar effects in mice. Under stress, rodents eat more sweet and fatty foods. Like us, both laboratory and wild rodents have become fatter over the past few decades.
In the laboratory, rodents learn to binge when deprivation alternates with tasty food — a situation familiar to many dieters. Rats develop binge eating after several weeks consisting of five days of food restriction followed by two days of free access to Oreos. Four days later, a brief stressor leads them to eat almost twice as many Oreos as animals that received the stressor but did not have their diets restricted. A small taste of Oreos can induce deprived animals to binge on regular chow, if nothing else is available. Repeated food deprivation changes dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the brain that govern how animals respond to rewards, which increases their motivation to seek out and eat food. This may explain why the animals binge, especially as these brain changes can last long after the diet is over.
In people, dieting also reduces the influence of the brain’s weight-regulation system by teaching us to rely on rules rather than hunger to control eating. People who eat this way become more vulnerable to external cues telling them what to eat. In the modern environment, many of those cues were invented by marketers to make us eat more, like advertising, supersizing and the all-you-can-eat buffet. Studies show that long-term dieters are more likely to eat for emotional reasons or simply because food is available. When dieters who have long ignored their hunger finally exhaust their willpower, they tend to overeat for all these reasons, leading to weight gain.
Even people who understand the difficulty of long-term weight loss often turn to dieting because they are worried about health problems associated with obesity like heart disease and diabetes. But our culture’s view of obesity as uniquely deadly is mistaken. Low fitness, smoking, high blood pressure, low income and loneliness are all better predictors of early death than obesity. Exercise is especially important: Data from a 2009 study showed that low fitness is responsible for 16 percent to 17 percent of deaths in the United States, while obesity accounts for only 2 percent to 3 percent, once fitness is factored out. Exercise reduces abdominal fat and improves health, even without weight loss. This suggests that overweight people should focus more on exercising than on calorie restriction.
In addition, the evidence that dieting improves people’s health is surprisingly poor. Part of the problem is that no one knows how to get more than a small fraction of people to sustain weight loss for years. The few studies that overcame that hurdle are not encouraging. In a 2013 study of obese and overweight people with diabetes, on average the dieters maintained a 6 percent weight loss for over nine years, but the dieters had a similar number of heart attacks, strokes and deaths from heart disease during that time as the control group. Earlier this year, researchers found that intentional weight loss had no effect on mortality in overweight diabetics followed for 19 years.
Diets often do improve cholesterol, blood sugar and other health markers in the short term, but these gains may result from changes in behavior like exercising and eating more vegetables. Obese people who exercise, eat enough vegetables and don’t smoke are no more likely to die young than normal-weight people with the same habits. A 2013 meta-analysis (which combines the results of multiple studies) found that health improvements in dieters have no relationship to the amount of weight they lose.
If dieting doesn’t work, what should we do instead? I recommend mindful eating — paying attention to signals of hunger and fullness, without judgment, to relearn how to eat only as much as the brain’s weight-regulation system commands.
Relative to chronic dieters, people who eat when they’re hungry and stop when they’re full are less likely to become overweight, maintain more stable weights over time and spend less time thinking about food. Mindful eating also helps people with eating disorders like binge eating learn to eat normally. Depending on the individual’s set point, mindful eating may reduce weight or it may not. Either way, it’s a powerful tool to maintain weight stability, without deprivation.
I finally gave up dieting six years ago, and I’m much happier. I redirected the energy I used to spend on dieting to establishing daily habits of exercise and meditation. I also enjoy food more while worrying about it less, now that it no longer comes with a side order of shame.
I listed Dr. Aamodt’s book in DietHobby’s RESOURCES Books & Tools section with the following comment:
"Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession With Weight Loss by Sandra Aamodt PhD (2016).
The author, a neuroscientist and proponent of mindful eating, discusses scientific research on weight and health. Her central argument is that our body weight tends to settle at "set points" — that 10- to 15-pound range the brain maintains despite repeated efforts to lower it.
Once people see how the set-point theory reflects their dieting experience, they realize that although they don't have the final say on their weight (their brain does), they do have real influence — through exercise and other health-affirming activities — over their health and well-being."
Dr. Aamodt’s information is extremely valuable, and I recommend her book for people working to maintain weight-loss.
Dr.Sandra Aamodt thinks that you can’t - and shouldn’t - fight back against your Set Point. Her solution is the Behavior of eating mindfully, while following the body’s hunger signals, and to accept whatever weight the body chooses to give you as a Result of that Behavior.
I agree with her opinion that we are stuck with our biological and historical Set Point. However, although the “solution” to the dieting and maintenance struggle that she proposes could be effective for some people, it is not one …. for various reasons … that I find personally acceptable or one that I’m willing to adopt.
Sandra Aamodt’s personal experience is that of a person who has struggled with being overweight or slightly obese, and not of a person who deals with the struggles caused by a history of extreme, morbid, or severe obesity. Dr. Aamodt’s personal Set Point might keep her from meeting our culture’s high standards for “thinness”, but her choice not to struggle against it won’t cause her body to become Fat Enough enough to make her a TRUE VICTIM of our fat biased culture. The majority of offensive comments and other behaviors showing open disgust, ridicule, and abuse are primarily reserved for those who are extremely fat.
The Set Point of someone who has struggled with 10 to 50 excess pounds is very different from the Set Point of someone who has struggled with 100+ excess pounds. Also, someone who has carried 50+ excess pounds for only a year or so is going to have a lower Set Point than someone who has carried that same weight for several years and longer.
This is the ongoing dilemma for those who are Fat. It is a situation in which day-after-day, year-after-year, a difficult choice has to be made between two or more alternatives, all of them equally undesirable.
Each of us must make the eating and behavior choices that will work for us personally in our own individual lives. Everyone doesn’t value the same things the same way. Food vs. Body Size vs. Desire and everything else that is involved in those categories. Everyone’s choice is equally valid, despite the fact that those - often difficult - choices can result in making us Thin, Overweight, or Extremely Fat.
My own personal choice is to treat Dieting as a Hobby. For many, many years I have continually dieted; have been vigilant about what I eat; and have diligently worked against my own body’s Set Point in order to maintain my “reduced fat” body inside the BMI weight range that is labeled “normal”.
Eating Toward Immortality - POSTED ON: Feb 12, 2017
I find the article below intriguing as well as appealing. Throughout my lifetime of dieting, I’ve seen a great deal of evidence supporting many of the statements it contains, such as:
“The desire for more life … grew into an obsession with transforming the self into a perfected object.”
When we make the choice to follow the rules of any “recommended” diet, we do this because we want to make our bodies conform to cultural standards of “beauty” and/or “health”. Which means, of course, our goal is … to transform our bodies into a more “perfected object”.
Another such statement is:
“People willingly, happily, hand over their freedom in exchange for the bondage of a diet that forbids their most cherished foods, all for the promise of relief from choice.”
Every voluntary action we make, or don’t make, is a choice. When we choose one action, … it eliminates the ability to choose an alternative action …. at least for that present time. So, when we choose to follow any specific outside dieting rules, our choice is also to give up making our own ongoing individual food choices.
My current choice is to read, think about, and share the concepts contained within this following article.
Eating Toward Immortality
Diet culture is just another way of dealing with the fear of death.
by MICHELLE ALLISON posted in The Atlantic in 2/2017
Knowing a thing means you don’t need to believe in it. Whatever can be known, or proven by logic or evidence, doesn’t need to be taken on faith.
Certain details of nutrition and the physiology of eating are known and knowable: the fact that humans require certain nutrients; the fact that our bodies convert food into energy and then into new flesh (and back to energy again when needed).
But there are bigger questions that don’t have definitive answers, like what is the best diet for all people? For me?
Nutrition is a young science that lies at the intersection of several complex disciplines—chemistry, biochemistry, physiology, microbiology, psychology—and though we are far from having figured it all out, we still have to eat to survive. When there are no guarantees or easy answers, every act of eating is something like a leap of faith.
Eating is the first magic ritual, an act that transmits life energy from one object to another, according to cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker in his posthumously published book Escape From Evil. All animals must feed on other life to sustain themselves, whether in the form of breastmilk, plants, or the corpses of other animals. The act of incorporation, of taking a once-living thing into your own body, is necessary for all animals’ existence. It is also disturbing and unsavory to think about, since it draws a direct connection between eating and death.
Human self-awareness means that, from a relatively early age, we are also aware of death. In his Pulitzer prize-winning book, The Denial of Death, Becker hypothesized that the fear of death–and the need to suppress that fear—is what drives much of human behavior. This idea went on, in social psychology, to the form the basis of Terror Management Theory.
Ancient humans must have decided, once their bellies were full, that there was more to life than mere survival and staring mortality in the face. They went on to build things in which they could find distraction, comfort, recreation, and meaning. They built cultures in which death became another rite of passage, not the end of everything. They made structures to live in, wrote songs to sing to each other, and added spices to their food, which they cooked in different styles. Humans are supported by a self-created system of meanings, symbols, rituals, and etiquette.
Food and eating are part of this. The act of ingestion is embroidered with so much cultural meaning that, for most people, its roots in spare, brutal survival are entirely hidden.
Even for people in extreme poverty, for whom survival is a more immediate concern, the cultural meanings of food remain critical. Wealthy or poor, we eat to celebrate, we eat to mourn, we eat because it’s mealtime, we eat as a way to bond with others, we eat for entertainment and pleasure. It is not a coincidence that the survival function of food is buried beneath all of this—who wants to think about staving off death each time they tuck into a bowl of cereal? Forgetting about death is the entire point of food culture.
When it comes to food, Becker said that humans “quickly saw beyond mere physical nourishment,” and that the desire for more life—not just delaying death today, but clearing the bar of mortality entirely—grew into an obsession with transforming the self into a perfected object that might achieve a sort of immorality. Diet culture and its variations, such as clean eating, are cultural structures we have built to attempt to transcend our animality.
By creating and following diets, humans not only eat to stay alive, but they fit themselves into a cultural edifice that is larger, and more permanent, than their bodies. It is a sort of immortality ritual, and rituals must be performed socially. Clean eating rarely, if ever, occurs in secret. If you haven’t evangelized about it, joined a movement around it, or been praised publicly for it, have you truly cleansed?
As humans, we are possibly the most promiscuous omnivores ever to wander the earth. We dine on animals, insects, plants, marine life, and occasionally non-food: dirt, clay, and chalk.
We are not pandas, chastely satisfied with munching through a square mile of bamboo. We seek variety and novelty, and at the same time, we carry an innate fear of food. This is described by the famous omnivore’s paradox, which (Michael Pollan notwithstanding) is not mere confusion about choosing what to eat in a cluttered food marketplace.
The omnivore’s paradox was originally defined by psychological researcher Paul Rozin as the anxiety that arises from our desire to try new foods (neophilia) paired with our inherited fear of unknown foods (neophobia) that could turn out to be toxic.
All omnivores feel these twin pressures, but none more acutely than humans. If it weren’t for the small chance of death lurking behind every food choice and every dietary ideology, choosing what to eat from a crowded marketplace wouldn’t be considered a dilemma. Instead, we would call it “the omnivore’s fun time at the supermarket,” and people wouldn’t repost so many Facebook memes about the necessity of drinking a gallon of water daily, or the magical properties of apple cider vinegar and coconut oil. Everyone would be just a little bit calmer about food.
Humans do not have a single, definitive rulebook to direct our eating, despite the many attempts nutrition scientists, dietitians, chefs, and celebrities have made to write one. Each of us has to negotiate the desire for food and fear of the unknown when we are still too young to read, calculate calories, or understand abstract ideas about nutrition. Almost all children go through a phase of pickiness with eating. It seems to be an evolved survival mechanism that prevents us—once we are mobile enough to put things in our mouths, but not experienced enough to know the difference between safe and dangerous foods—from eating something toxic. We have all been children trying to shove the world in our mouths, even while we spit out our strained peas.
Our omnivorousness gives us an exhilarating and terrifying amount of freedom. As social creatures, we seek safety from that freedom in our culture, and in a certain amount of conformity. We prefer to follow leaders we’ve invested with authority to blaze a path to safety.
The heroes of contemporary diet culture are wellness gurus who claim to have cured themselves of fatness, disease, and meaninglessness through the unimpeachable purity of cold-pressed vegetable juice.
Many traditional heroes earn their status by confronting and defeating death, like Hercules, who was granted immortality after a lifetime of capturing or killing a menagerie of dangerous beasts, including the three-headed dog of Hades himself. Wellness gurus are the glamorously clean eaters whose triumph over sad, dirty animality is evidenced by fresh, thoughtfully-lit photographs of green smoothies in wholesome Mason jars, and by their own bodies, beautifully rendered.
There are no such heroes to be found in a peer-reviewed paper with a large, anonymous sample, and small effect sizes, written in impenetrable statistician-ese, and hedged with disclosures about limitations. But the image of a person you can relate to on a human level, smiling out at you from the screen, standing in a before-and-after, shoulder-to-shoulder with their former, lesser, processed-food-eating self, is something else altogether. Their creation myth and redemption—how they were lost but now are found—is undeniably compelling.
There are twin motives underlying human behavior, according to Becker—the urge for heroism and the desire for atonement. At a fundamental level, people may feel a twinge of guilty for having a body, taking up space, and having appetites that devour the living things around us. They may crave expiation of this guilt, and culture provides not only the means to achieve plentiful material comfort, but also ways to sacrifice part of that comfort to achieve redemption. It is not enough for wellness gurus to simply amass the riches of health, beauty, and status—they must also deny themselves sugar, grains, and flesh. They must pay.
Only those with status and resources to spare can afford the most impressive gestures of renunciation. Look at all they have! The steel-and-granite kitchen! The Le Creuset collection! The Vitamix! The otherworldly glow! They could afford to eat cake, should the bread run out, but they quit sugar. They’re only eating twigs and moss now. What more glamorous way to triumph over dirt and animality and death? And you can, too. That is, if you have the time and money to spend juicing all that moss and boiling the twigs until they’re soft enough to eat.
This is how the omnivore’s paradox breeds diet culture: Overwhelmed by choice, by the dim threat of mortality that lurks beneath any wrong choice, people crave rules from outside themselves, and successful heroes to guide them to safety. People willingly, happily, hand over their freedom in exchange for the bondage of a diet that forbids their most cherished foods, that forces them to rely on the unfamiliar, unpalatable, or inaccessible, all for the promise of relief from choice and the attendant responsibility. If you are free to choose, you can be blamed for anything that happens to you: weight gain, illness, aging—in short, your share in the human condition, including the random whims of luck and your own inescapable mortality.
Humans are the only animals aware of our mortality, and we all want to be the person whose death comes as a surprise rather than a pathetic inevitability. We want to be the one of whom people say, “But she did everything right.” If we cannot escape death, maybe we can find a way to be declared innocent and undeserving of it.
But diet culture is constantly shifting. Today’s token foods of health may seem tainted or passé tomorrow, and within diet culture, there are contradictory ideologies: what is safe and clean to one is filth and decadence to another. Legumes and grains are wholesome, life-giving staples to many vegan eaters, while they represent the corrupting influences of agriculture on the state of nature to those who prefer a meat-heavy, grain-free Paleo diet.
Nutrition science itself is a self-correcting series of refutations. There is no certain path to purity and blamelessness through food. The only common thread between competing dietary ideologies is the belief that by adhering to them, one can escape the human condition, and become a purer, less animal, kind of being.
This is why arguments about diet get so vicious, so quickly. You are not merely disputing facts, you are pitting your wild gamble to avoid death against someone else’s. You are poking at their life raft. But if their diet proves to be the One True Diet, yours must not be. If they are right, you are wrong. This is why diet culture seems so religious. People adhere to a dietary faith in the hope they will be saved. That if they’re good enough, pure enough in their eating, they can keep illness and mortality at bay. And the pursuit of life everlasting always requires a leap of faith.
To eat without restriction, on the other hand, is to risk being unclean, and to beat your own uncertain path. It is admitting your mortality, your limitations and messiness as a biological creature, while accepting the freedoms and pleasures of eating, and taking responsibility for choosing them.
Unclean, agnostic eating means taking your best stab in the dark, accepting that there is much we don’t know. But we do know that there is no One True Diet. There may be as many right ways to eat as there are people—none of whom can live forever, — all of whom must make of eating and their lives some personal, temporary meaning.
The author of the above article, Michelle Allison, is a registered dietitian based in Toronto who blogs at TheFatNutritionist. com.
Weight-Loss Alternative Facts - POSTED ON: Jan 24, 2017
What is commonly believed to be “Fact” about weight loss, including weight-loss and health, has no basis in evidence from Scientific Research.
No matter how many people believe a lie, it will never become the truth.
Repeating an untruth as though it were true, over and over, will never make it true.
Also, wishing, hoping, or believing that something is true won’t magic away objective facts.
A current event along that line occurred when aides of the new president recently denied the reality of certain specific objective facts even though photographic and other verifiable evidence proved that those facts were True. Even though the truth was clearly visible, the White House denied it. One aide even defended their false statements as being an offer of “Alternative Facts”. After that new political term was used to justify Falsehoods, Lies, and Untruths, it was corrected by a tweet from the Merriam-Webster Dictionary saying: “A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality.”
Below is an accurate article showing how the marketing of “Alternate Facts” has been effectively applied to Weight-Loss isues.
When We Talk About Weight Loss Research
by Ragen Chastain of Dances with Fat
One of the reasons that I’m no longer interested in attempting weight loss is that my review of the literature informs me that it simply has no basis in evidence as being an effective way to either lose weight or become more healthy (which are two separate things). When I say that, people often object insisting that there are studies where people have lost weight.
The problem is that any old research where a couple of people lost weight won’t do (go ahead, review the literature. I think you’ll be shocked to find how often the average participant lost a few pounds, gained back half of it before they stopped tracking, and then the authors declare the study a success.)
The research we would need for weight loss to meet the criteria of an evidence-based medical intervention is twofold. First, we would need a study where the majority of the participants lost the amount of weight that we are told we need to lose to change our health and maintain that weight loss long term (over 5 years). If we had those studies – and we don’t – we would then need some proof that weight loss actually caused health improvements – and this study already brings that into question.
This rules out the National Weight Control Registry because they’ve chosen to study 10,000 people who experienced weight loss while completely ignoring the up to 800,000,000 failed attempts that happened in the same time frame. Then they just look for things that the 10,000 have in common. So when they say things like “eating breakfast contributes to weight loss” what they actually mean is that they asked the 10,000 people who succeeded what they did, and a majority of them said that they ate breakfast. Note that they didn’t ask how many of the up to 800,000,000 people who did not lose weight also ate breakfast – that would be important information to have since if a majority of the people who didn’t lose weight also ate breakfast then breakfast may have absolutely nothing to do with it.
Imagine if I got together everyone who had survived a skydiving accident when their parachute didn’t open and started looking for things they have in common. Even if every single one of them wore a green shirt and had oatmeal for breakfast, I cannot say that wearing a green shirt and eating oatmeal will allow you to survive a skydiving accident, nor can I ethically start Ragen’s School of No Parachute Skydiving “free green shirt and oatmeal with every jump!” When your entire sample is a statistical anomaly, your research is useless. When all you’re looking for is random coincidence among a select group of outliers, you’d be better off using your research money on lottery tickets.
Other times, people bring up studies where phase 1 was weight loss and phase 2 was maintenance, the study lost between 40% and 70% of participants during or after phase one, and then the researchers continued on as if the remaining people were the complete study group. Not ok. Why did all of those people quit? How will their experience be accounted for?
Often the remaining subjects start gaining back the weight they lost so that at the end of phase 2 the average participant has gained back half of their weight with a net loss of less than 10 pounds. Or they only follow up for a year or two when we know that most people gain their weight back by year 5.
People list study after study and all of them have one or more of the above problems, which I or someone else in the discussion points out. At that point, the person listing the studies often gets frustrated and says something like “Why don’t you like my studies?” or “You just don’t want to believe.” If they examined it, I think they’d find that their frustration isn’t with me, it’s with the fact that they’ve been sold a lie and they bought it at full retail price.
I certainly know that frustration, when I did my first literature review of weight loss research I expected to find that all diets worked – I was just looking for the “best” one, the one that had the most solid success. I was so shocked at what I found that I read through all of the literature again. I simply couldn’t believe that this thing – weight loss – that had been marketed to me more aggressively than anything else in my life had no basis in evidence.
I couldn’t believe that doctors had been giving me an intervention which had been shown repeatedly to almost always end in failure, and the majority of time had the exact opposite of the intended result. When I found out that there weren’t even any studies that showed that weight loss caused changes in health I was just stunned.
It took me a lot of time and a lot of work to accept the truth. It was hard to find out that I’d been lied to (on purpose and inadvertently), it was hard to find out that the thing that I’d been promised would solve all of my problems was never going to happen.
In many ways, at least for me, Health at Every Size was about giving up, but that’s what I do when I find out that I’ve been harboring a mistaken belief. That’s what scientists (well, good scientists) do when their research does not support their hypothesis (however strongly held or widely believed it might be.) They don’t suspend the rules of research and logic and argue for a belief that they can’t support with evidence.
Jun 15, 2017 DietHobby: A Digital Scrapbook. 1500+ articles and 300+ videos in DietHobby reflect my personal experience in weight-loss and maintenance. One-size-doesn't-fit-all, and I address many ways of eating whenever they become interesting or applicable to me.
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