Would you be surprised to learn yoyo diets are a pillar of the weight loss industry?
With the global weight management market expected to reach USD 442.3 billion by 2025, it’s no surprise that we are bombarded and totally confused about what the best nutrition strategy or diet is to help us realise our weight loss goal. You would also be horrified to know that weight loss companies are well aware and their whole plan is to get you coming back after the inevitable relapse occurs.
Firstly, let’s clearly define the problem.
Diets are a reactive control. That is, they are only used once we have become overweight or obese. Other variables, such as metabolic disease or other complicated medical issues, may play a role but the premise remains the same, we use yoyo diets as an intervention only after the problem has been identified.
Enter The YoYo Diet
Weight loss companies profit by delivering short term strategies designed to deliver quick and steep weight loss results. What they neglect to factor is follow on maintenance and the inevitable relapse that occurs. All because they want you to keep coming back.
Steep or accelerated weight loss journeys trigger a stress response within our bodies particularly when products such as meal replacement shakes or overly restrictive caloric interventions are used. This causes the body to signal to our brain that we are starving and the usual response particularly when under stress, is to resume overconsumption. This is where the yoyo diet begins and this response to stress is potentially what lead you to weight gain in the first place.
This unhealthy cycle or yo-yo diet approach is utilised by weight-loss businesses to get repeat clients, since it is far simpler than acquiring new customers in a cluttered market.
What They Avoid Telling You
It has long been discussed that humans may have a ‘set point’ when it comes to our weight. This can potentially be given to use by a number of factors such as the product of genetic effects (DNA), epigenetic effects (heritable traits that do not involve changes in DNA), and the environment.
Weight loss companies choose to ignore this as they profit from providing quick fixes and fast results. This plays well in westernised cultures where slow, incremental weight gain can be linked with diets high in refined sugar and processed foods. Simply put, we don’t become fat overnight, it sneaks up over months and years of sustained caloric surplus that we might not even realise at first.
Combine these factors with social media and perfectly airbrushed bodies, it’s no wonder we feel inadequate compared to our genetically superior counterparts but also have completely unrealistic expectations about how we should look, eat and once we are aware, how to lose the weight we have gained.
A Causal Approach
Noticeably, we cannot impact our genetics or DNA but we can manipulate heritable traits from our upbringing and our environment in order to break the cycle of yoyo dieting to encourage slow and sustainable weight loss. Getting to the root cause or trigger for the follow on actions (overeating/overconsumption) will allow us to switch from a reactive to a proactive strategy when dealing with our weight loss journey.
If you’re someone with a complex metabolic condition or eating disorder, this is where you should stop reading and engage someone with the appropriate qualifications. For most of us however, this is the simple reason for our weight gain.
We’ve discussed westernised culture and refined/processed diets. Let’s speak about convenience and technology, since it is far easier to sit in the comfort of our own home and have meals brought to our door than it is to shop and source food.
In previous generations this ease and convenience simply wasn’t available. We are also in an age where we are making more complex decisions in a given day than ever before. Combine the decision making or cognitive fatigue with our inherent ability to shortcut or optimise processes it’s no wonder we revert to the easy option of home delivery, restaurants and takeaway meals.
Environmental factors can also include your family or social groups. If you hang around with people who value convenience over health it may come as no surprise when you start adopting these poor behaviours yourself.
Instead of fighting technology, we can leverage it to gain the momentum on our weight loss journey.
Step 1: Track it
What gets measured gets mastered. Instead of jumping straight onto a restrictive yoyo diet, take some time to track the relevant data to find your best course of action. As before, there’s a good chance that this has been a long term journey and giving yourself 7-14 days to track and measure will have no negative impact on your progress.
Using the OODA Loop, look for risk periods in your week and triggers that you can target. Find the biggest opportunity and focus on that. For example, if you’re someone who is well controlled from Monday to Wednesday after having a restful weekend there is no point putting controls around these days. Focus on optimising, automating or eliminating the risks and triggers from Thursday to Friday in order to have the best return on investment.
Low tech/low time methods to Track It:
- Journalling – Using a written journal or app is a great method for self reflection and pattern identification
- 0-5 Scales – Use simple point scales to measure the impact of activities and inputs.
- Caloric Trackers – Use apps like MyFitnessPal to track what you eat. The important thing here is to do nothing more. Tracking gets a bad wrap these days but using it as a self awareness exercise is not harmful. You can stop when you have enough information
- Low Tech Tests & Measurements – Use tests like blood panels and the waist to hip ratio. By using these free, low investment methods you can get an accurate measure of what you need to work on and track your progress over time.
Step 2: Bracket
Once you have the data, define your goal. Be specific and aim for long term targets to reduce or avoid unrealistic expectations. For clarification, sustained and successful weight loss is defined as being maintained for 2 years post intervention.
For those suffering overwhelm due to the realisation of how bad things have gotten, aim for weight maintenance first. By focusing on regulation of your current state rather than immediate restriction this gives us a chance to ease into journey and increase the self awareness around the problem.
Work on discovering a bracket in which you do not put yourself in a worse position and slowly coach yourself in the right direction. Give yourself a window to land in as opposed to a predefined number you need to hit every day.
Aim for 100-200cals either side of your daily TEE (Use this calculator). Be honest about your activity levels and if in doubt, err on the side of saying you’re less active than what you think, because you probably are. When talking about apps like MyFitnessPal, never set an aggressive weight loss target you cannot maintain, by aiming to no more than .5kg per week, you’ve got a far better chance of achieving consistency over the long term.
- Protein – Out of all macros, protein is the most important for weight loss. Why? It reduces hunger cravings, increases protein synthesis and metabolism, promotes muscle growth and helps repair muscles. There is some conjecture as to what the ideal intake is but there is reliable evidence suggesting that 1.6 to 2g/kg of bodyweight or roughly 30% of total caloric intake is suitable
- Total Caloric Intake – It may take some work to discover your true activity level and caloric intake. For the most part, people are overly optimistic about their activity level and deliberately inaccurate with tracking their caloric intake. Take your time and learn what moves the needle in the right direction
- Carbohydrates – Avoid refined sugars and processed foods as much as possible but carbohydrates are essential for brain function. The primary fuel source of the brain is glycogen
- Fats – Focus on healthy fats such as nuts and avocado, avoid deep fried and processed foods as much as possible
As you can see, it’s about balance. Sustainable weight loss is about setting realistic and repeatable habits in place that work over the long term. If you need specific adjustments made due to a specific medical condition, speak to a dietician.
Once you have the bracket you need to work with, track your progress over a 28 day period, observe how many times you hit the target and continue to refine your approach as you go. Aiming for an 80% success rate when hitting your bracket is where we see a lot of people make the best progress, aim for execution and not perfection.
Sleep, Stress & Stimulants
If you haven’t already realised, our habits with food are directly related to the factors of sleep, stress and stimulants. When one or more of these elements are not in a productive state, they directly influence each other to form unproductive coping mechanisms.
A lack of sleep can have numerous effects on our mind and body. It ruins our ability to burn fat, increases emotional reactivity and generally just makes us horrible to be around. There’s a reason why they use sleep deprivation as a form of torture (sorry to the new parents out there). On average 7-8 hours a night suits most individuals, but sleep quality is another important point to measure due to the effect of stress and vice versa.
If our stress response is to over-consume or binge, the quickest path to success is to deal with the trigger first and foremost. Relying on willpower, particularly when dealing with heritable or environmental causes is where we falter as our first or strongest learned behaviour (usually the ones we are given as children or times of stress) takes over and the pattern continues.
We should look at options to remove, reduce or replace the trigger to reduce our reliance on pure willpower.
Coffee, alcohol, drugs, social media and food. You heard me right, food can be used as a stimulant. Before you get on your high horse, with the rate and effects of obesity in comparison with most drug addictions, there’s a strong case to claim that western culture should be focusing more on fast food companies than drug dealers. But that’s not good business.
Politics aside, just because something is legal, doesn’t make it good for you. If you’re using any of the above and they’re having negative effects, getting to the root cause as to why you’re using them is the first point of understanding and then modifying the behaviour.
Avoid programs that don’t support long term, sustainable weight loss. An easy way to identify a yoyo diet is to look at the marketing around a product, if they agitate the problem using emotion and promote extreme results in short periods of time this is a sure sign of a yoyo diet. If you’re in doubt, remember that yoyo diets are designed for businesses to profit and they have 442.3 billion reasons to get you to use them.
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