A viewpoint article recently published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, calling for an end to the ‘diet debate’ has certainly resonated with me. Promoting, discrediting, or debating any dietary approach to weight loss serves little benefit. Let me explain why.
The scientific jury is now firmly in, with dozens of high-quality, randomised controlled trials showing that no one dieting option is the magic solution for everyone. Despite this, populist fad diet are always emerging – intermittent fasting would be the diet du jour at the moment.
In a previous blog post, I made the case for how little it matters what type of diet you choose to follow. Low fat, low GI, high protein, low carb – they all work for a few months, but have very poor long-term weight loss outcomes. If any popular diet was truly a magical solution, it would have permeated through the population by now and we’d be seeing a reversal in obesity rates. That has not happened and nor will it likely ever.
The only key predictor of weight loss success when following a diet is: sticking to it. An earth-shattering revelation I know.
The simple mantra I have to emphasise this point, is that ‘losing weight is easy, keeping it off is the hard part’. Why is losing weight easy? Because there are dozens of different ways you can do this, and they all can give quick results. Maintaining that weight loss in the face of an environment that is tuned to make us over consume is much, much tougher.
The time has passed for more research into evaluating the merits of different diets. The time has also passed for advocating for or against a particular nutrient – be it sugar, fat, carbohydrates, or protein. The focus now should be on how best to help people hold on to their hard-fought weight loss, no matter what type of dietary philosophy they have chosen to follow.
If sticking to a diet or lifestyle change is the best predictor for long-term weight loss success, then how best can we help people do this? Weight loss advice is too focussed on promoting a particular way of eating, often times heavily influenced by commercial interests. Much less focus is put on behavioural change and providing support to help a person stay on track to the dieting approach they feel is best for them.
I hope to see in the near future more research into addressing the problem of helping to predict what support strategies can best help a person in their weight loss endeavours. This is not an area that will immediately attract headlines. Nor will such research fit within the commercial paradigm of the fad diet industry promoting their own proven-to-be-flawed diets.
Debating the merits of particular nutrients or diets only serves to further confuse the public. It is time to say goodbye to the diet debate. Changing behaviours and making ease of adherence to positive changes as the number one priority is the only realistic long-term effective way to help everyone.