Will dieting make me fatter?
September 4, 2019 3:11 PM   Subscribe

I want, but don't need, to lose 10 to 15 lb. I've read a lot of studies about how diets don't work, weight loss is impossible and "yo-yo dieting" makes you wind up heavier in the long run. Is it worth it for me to lose the weight?

I'm 30 and at the high end of the normal BMI range. I put on the weight 3-4 years ago after going on SSRIs and going back to school and a more sedentary lifestyle. I am more active again now but maintained the same weight. I tried and gave up a few diets after like a week but I have not actively dieted since high school.

The weight loss would just be for aesthetic reasons and to fit some older clothes. My doctor said it's not necessary but not harmful. I'm also afraid that I will keep getting bigger as I get older. But I don't want to lose 10 lb. only to gain 20 and end up even bigger than I would otherwise.

I walk a lot, go to the gym 2-3 times a week and eat pretty healthy already -- mostly vegan, unprocessed, whole grains and legumes and lots of produce with a little junk. I would just try to eat smaller portions to lose weight.

Am I better off, in the long term, accepting my current size or trying to shed a few pounds now?
posted by vanitas to Health & Fitness (28 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Dieting makes you fatter because people that go on diets also go off diets or reach their goal weights & stop dieting. If you make lifestyle changes to lose the weight then maintain those changes at a level that helps you maintain the weight loss then you won't gain the weight back. ie don't diet lose weight then go back to eating how you are now or you'll just gain back the weight & most likely a few extra pounds as well.
posted by wwax at 3:21 PM on September 4, 2019 [10 favorites]

The real issue is not so much how yoyo diets happen (I don't think anyone's in real doubt about that) and more why and whether that can be avoided.

I think the short answer is "no, they mostly can't be avoided". You're probably better off forgetting about weight loss and instead putting 50% of the effort you'd have put into dieting into going to the gym (or other exercise) more. You probably won't lose weight, but you probably won't lose weight (medium to long term) by dieting either. This way you get a definite health benefit and a probable aesthetic benefit (depending on your views, naturally) which may be greater than could be achieved by weight loss.
posted by howfar at 3:51 PM on September 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

Does your gym or insurance plan or workplace have health coaches? My recommendation would be to track your food and exercise for a couple of weeks and then make an appointment to have a health coach look at the numbers with you. Maybe you are eating a reasonable number of calories but you need more protein. Maybe you are getting enough exercise and eating well but your sleep sucks. The health coaches at my gym are super awesome and talking to you about what you are doing and making suggestions for doable changes. They say if you aren’t losing weight to look at your water intake and sleep quality.

So, I guess I would be on team no diet, but do look into making some changes.
posted by MadMadam at 3:53 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Diet is just what you eat: forget about ‘going on a diet’ that is the big mistake. Everyone has a diet; you can lose weight by changing your current diet slowly and carefully, but trying to change your body for the long-term cannot be accomplished without long-term changes.
posted by SaltySalticid at 3:58 PM on September 4, 2019 [18 favorites]

Once upon a time about 20 ish years ago I didn't need but wanted to lose about 15 pounds.

It set up a lifetime of terrible habits. I'm now 130 pounds above where I started. There's something about restricting food that makes me go crazy. Even the slightest hint of restriction.

I agree with MadMadam - track food and exercise and get some input. I'd look at mixing up exercise types before messing much with your food as it sounds like you already have a really healthy diet.
posted by kitten magic at 4:29 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I think if you're being active and then you start eating less that's when your body is like uh oh times are tight, better hold on to what we got. I think your instinct is correct that you're better off not doing this thing in the long term. Best thing is to maintain and deepen your healthy habits and work on making them sustainable and pleasurable to last into the future.
posted by bleep at 4:34 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

Somewhat-relevant article -- I'm an obesity doctor. I've seen long-term weight loss work. Here's how.
posted by salvia at 4:51 PM on September 4, 2019 [13 favorites]

When you go to the gym, are you doing cardio or building muscle? If you're focused on cardio, it might be helpful to think about increasing your muscle mass through strength training. You could end up at the same weight, but leaner, and your old clothes might fit again.

The other thing I wonder about, given that you are vegan, is you have are getting a lot of carbs relative to protein. I know it's a misconception that vegans can't get enough protein, but is it possible that even if you are doing strength training, you aren't eating enough protein to build muscle?

You said a little bit of junk. What's your sugar intake like, especially from processed sources like sweets? It could be that cutting out a tiny bit of that kind of stuff could lead to some weight loss.

I'm right around where you are relative to my BMI, and I just started strength training. I'm shifting to thinking about improved health through building some muscle and eating healthier rather than just weight loss.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:58 PM on September 4, 2019 [3 favorites]

While I can't answer your question about what is right for you, in my experience some medications make losing the extra weight really really hard. I posted about it here, as someone who can typically keep my weight in a pretty narrow zone, when I'm on certain medications, I can't get there no matter how much I limit calories and exercise.

Perhaps since it is only for aesthetic reasons, it may be more reachable for you to focus on staying exactly where you are now. Although I absolutely understand wanting to be at your weight aesthetic purposes.
posted by seesom at 5:01 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

The article from salvia is a good touchstone. I'm an epidemiologist and cancer biologist and I'm almost embarrassed to say that I was unhappy with my weight until age 35, when I had to spend a few weeks counting calories in preparation for an operation. Everyone has what works and what doesn't, but I was genuinely stunned at how simple (not necessarily easy) it was to calculate my TDEE, set a daily calorie goal range, and log my intake with an app. I lost about 25 pounds of extra weight that I'd been carrying around, unhappily, for decades. It's still off half a decade later. It really did change how I think about what I eat and drink, and that's been a good, sustainable thing.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 6:03 PM on September 4, 2019 [9 favorites]

bluedaisy -- I do cardio, yoga class and swimming. I've always found strength training hugely intimidating so I've never tried it.

My protein intake is good and I rarely eat sweets, but I could definitely consume less beer and chips.
posted by vanitas at 6:40 PM on September 4, 2019

I lost about 30 lbs and have kept it off for 5 years. (I'm a middle aged woman who has given birth, so the metabolic deck is stacked against me.) I counted calories and started very slow pokey running a few days a week, though the running is really for cardiovascular health, not weight management.

I've kept it off because the act of counting calories for several months taught me a lot about portion size, empty calories and how painfully small my daily caloric budget is, and that knowledge prompted long term lifestyle changes. I think that's the only way to keep weight off and while there's lots of approaches to weight loss, I wouldn't recommend one that's not sustainable long term.
posted by soren_lorensen at 6:54 PM on September 4, 2019 [12 favorites]

Honestly when I was a daily drinker I easily lost 10-15 lbs by giving up liquor and beer. After a few months I gradually added a few drinks a week (I am talking 1-2) back into my life and didn't really gain the weight back.
posted by muddgirl at 7:53 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I saw an interesting interview on Joe Rogan's podcast, Rogan was interviewing a doc who is looking to extend life length -- really interesting guy. Anyways, Joe asked him something about weight loss and the guy said "Look, that's not my interest and not what I spend time with. But I can say that you don't want to lose weight -- you want to lose fat." That made/makes real sense to me, as with most any type of workout I begin to gain muscle and shed fat, which is all to the good, but looking at a scale is more than worthless while in this process, because muscle weighs more than fat -- I can actually gain weight while working really hard at whatever activity works for me, so if I base/judge my progress by the scale it's not generally a winner, it's not an accurate method of tracking what is going on in my body. For me, it's clothing -- a shirt that fit me like a sausage skin now hangs looser on me, jeans that my gut mushroomed over the top of now have slack, I use a belt with them now. (I generally wore a belt then, too, but just because I like belts with jeans, it's not like I needed to hold the jeans from dropping to the floor.)

I've done fat/thin for many years. I quit smoking at 29 and didn't change a damn thing in my diet yet inside of a week clothing that fit me fine was now tight, trouble getting a belt on. I was astonished. I'd never needed to exercise or watch my diet, always I was just muscle and gristle and bone; at 29, when I quit smoking, I was like 187 pounds, wearing clothing that would absolutely have fit me in high school. I began jogging, and got it back down, and kept jogging, and kept it back down, plus I was more watchful of my diet, too. I think my highest weight was 245, in my early 40s; I'm 6'6" so I carried it okay but I damn sure didn't like it, not one bit. It was a poor diet and no exercise of any consequence, I was making fistfuls of dollars by working tons of hours in work I hated -- food became comfort, and I had plenty enough money to buy really comforting food. But for maybe 15 years I did fat/thin. In my early 50s I got into an Ashtanga yoga practice and I became unbelievably fit, and strong, and trim, and I didn't eat any garbage *at all* but when the master I loved so much left town I only held to the practice a year or two. Then: fat/thin again.

Now I'm 64. It's much harder to shed weight. I move every day -- bicycle 11 miles, pushups, up to 200 a day now, eight sets of 25, I'm shooting for 650 pushups a day by my 65th birthday -- we'll see, that's three and a half months out. Pushups are amazing for me -- sweat pours, fat runs and hides. But I know for a fact that fat never runs far, and would *love* to come back and show its nasty-ass face, it would love to come back and not just for a visit, either. I'm back at 187 pounds but I've got to bleed every damn day, push against my inertia.

For whatever it's worth, calorie counting would be a total wrist-slitter for me. I keep good food in this condo, and I eat when I'm hungry, and not till I'm full but just til I'm not hungry. If I'm eating a salad, or a few eggs or some salmon or broccoli, if that's what I'm eating I'm in good shape.

Last. I've heard that the only way to "lose fat" is liposuction. (Believe me, I've been tempted -- no matter what I do I've got this blob of goo on my stomach, which is where guys tend to hold fatt; it gets smaller when I'm moving a lot and eating right, but it *never* goes away.) Aside from liposuction, which I'll likely not do, then it's just a matter of not giving the fat cells in my body any quarter, keep moving this old arthritic crate around, no matter if it wants to move around or not, and eat (mostly) healthy food, and then move this old arthritic crate around some more, every day.

On preview: I just read what you're doing -- yoga, swimming, cardio. That's fantastic. Is your yoga practice brutal? (Ashtanga was *death* for me, I sweat like a beast from the minute I set foot on the mat. I got to where I was strong as when I was a kid, and got to that weight also, but I know it doesn't do that for everyone -- for me it was like magic.) You're doing great things, but if your body is acclimated to them it'll be all like "Hardy har, you're not gonna win!" Might have to shake things up a bit. I *hate* weights but might be that'll be a place you'll have to visit, esp if you are already really bleeding in your yoga practice and in the water.

I wish you the very best of luck. It's hard to look in the mirror and look yourself in the eye and say "I've got news for you -- things are about to change. You're going to suffer. This is going to suck." So it's hard to do that but it sounds like you've gotten past that bit already.

If it's any comfort, know that I am bleeding also. Might be at the same time that your pushing yourself through things you don't like I'll be pushing myself through things I don't like, too.

Good luck.
posted by dancestoblue at 8:21 PM on September 4, 2019 [8 favorites]

I put on some weight when I hit menopause. I kept reading about how cutting calories doesn't work because your body just goes into starvation mode and reduces your metabolism. But I eventually decided I might as well at least try it. I looked up how many calories you have to cut to lose a pound a week (500 per day) and every day I made it my goal to eat 500 calories less than I normally would (or exercise more than I normally would to use up some calories.) And it totally worked. I didn't add up all the calories I ate, just did calculations like: Normally I would have a mug of milk with this, so if I drink water instead, that's 150 out of my 500. Or normally, I'd turn around here on my daily dog walk; if I walk another half mile before I turn around, that's 60 calories toward the 500. I kept on eating all the foods I liked, just used a little more moderation. I eventually got a better sense of how much I ought to be eating and just kept on eating the way I knew I should without thinking about calories. I lost about 15 pounds, which was about what I wanted to lose, and two years later I've gained back about 3 (but I feel like most of that was put on fairly recently and I'm paying a little more attention now and am likely to get it back down somewhat.) So I don't think the kind of moderate weight loss you're talking about is impossible.
posted by Redstart at 8:24 PM on September 4, 2019 [5 favorites]

I just started doing serious HIIT 3 times a week alongside cardio, thanks to an app that schedules my workouts and instructs me in how to do them. Accompanied by only a *slight* awareness of what my daily calorie limit is and eating small but satisfying portions of mostly protein with some green leafy veg, I feel like I'm becoming the hulk. The transformation is amazing, and fast. Weight loss-wise, not so much (and I'm on an antidepressant that affects my weight, too), but, my clothes fit so much better, and my body feels better. I'm a woman near your age. Unfortunately, there comes a time, around the end of your 20s, when simple cardio is not enough. Wish it weren't so. If you did some strength training and/or HIIT you'd see quick results. Remember: take progress photos rather than weighing yourself.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 9:23 PM on September 4, 2019 [2 favorites]

Your current weight might be your set weight, your body's natural happy place re: size, but if you want a sustainable way to lose those pounds I want to recommend Corinne Crabtree to you.

Yes, her website looks gimmicky, but what she teaches is rock solid, because it's not a diet - it's changing the way you think about/around food. Her program has four basic principles - plan what you're gonna eat the day before and stick to it, journal regularly, get enough sleep, and drink enough water. Oh, and follow the hunger scale. Basically, eat when you're hungry, stop when you're satisfied. There are no restrictions, no measuring, no batshit rules. The idea is to lose weight how you're gonna live it, with margin added for slipping up.

I've been following her for about six months now, and the amount of mental bullshit I've shed around my weight is amazing. I don't binge nearly as much, and when I do, I don't dig myself further down by beating myself up - I accept it and move on to the next best decision. It's a far healthier way to live than endless diet/binge cycles for sure. And while she does have a paid membership group (registrations currently open) she puts a TON of resources out there for free - they're what I use and I can vouch they work.
posted by Tamanna at 9:37 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

I've always found strength training hugely intimidating so I've never tried it.

Me too! So I’m working with a trainer at my gym. I’ve only had two sessions so far, and it’s been great. I actually put as one of my goals to get over feeling intimidated by strength training.
posted by bluedaisy at 10:10 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

You seem to be doing what's called "going on a diet" or "dieting".

Just look at the people around you, or the article in the NY Times today about growing obesity in the military. "Dieting" doesn't usually work.

What I would suggest instead is a different mentality, which is "changing your diet". Eliminate the things from your diet that work against your goals.

I'm sure there are many vegans on here who will not like to hear what I'm going to say, but I don't think a vegan diet is necessarily "healthy" if your goal is to lose weight. The reason is because there's tons of evidence now that carbs are what matter, not fat or calories. A vegan diet can be heavy on grains, which can be high carb.

The other thing I would suggest is don't try to follow some kind of exact formula, like the "such-and-such diet". It will exhaust you.

If you want to change your diet to a low carb diet, just avoid bread, pasta, rice, potatoes, sweet drinks, and desserts. If you can totally eliminate them, great. If you can't, just minimize them.

I highly recommend reading the book "Always Hungry?". It could change your life because it will make you realize that everything you've learned about calories and fat over your life is nonsense.

Good luck, and you're welcome!
posted by Dansaman at 11:39 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

Cutting calories a SMALL amount is unlikely to put you on a cycle of weight loss and gain. Making it your goal to lose a pound every month or two can put you on the trajectory you are hoping for without messing with your mind and body in bad ways.
posted by metasarah at 6:54 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

vanitas if you find strength training intimidating, assuming this is either from the other people using the weights, or the weights themselves, what about bodyweight strength training? You can do this at home with minimal to no equipment. There's a ton of options; but a simple starting point is r/bodyweightfitness and their recommended routine.

I strongly recommend doing the warm up parts, even though it's easy to think of that as a time waste - an injury; even a slight muscle pull that stops you from working out for 1-2 weeks ia a much bigger time waste.
posted by nobeagle at 8:58 AM on September 5, 2019

I've always found strength training hugely intimidating so I've never tried it.

Yeah, this was my girlfriend. She had started lifting heavy shortly before I met her but kept to the smaller, non-barbell room at the Y. I had totally stopped lifting shortly before we met, but we agreed to go to the Y and into the room that intimidated her (her idea, not mine). I think it made her feel better that it was intimidating to me at that point since I'd been 4-5 months without lifting and felt like an outsider (and a new gym is just always intimidating). She now goes back there regularly and says she feels much more at home.

So going with someone might help at least once. I know she spent a lot of her teens/20s thinking of herself as "a chub" as she will say or meanly just call herself fat, but seeing how much pride and happiness she gets from lifting is incredibly awesome. (And it is definitely working.)
posted by OnTheLastCastle at 9:24 AM on September 5, 2019 [2 favorites]

Fad diets are quite problematic. But changing your habits to make your regular diet healthier is good for you, and if you reduce calories and maintain activity, you should lose some weight. I made a list of sensible weight loss tips that I find useful.
posted by theora55 at 9:50 AM on September 5, 2019 [5 favorites]

Thanks for all the advice. Just to be clear, I'm not wondering if it's possible for me to lose weight -- I haven't even tried. My concern is that weight loss through any means will get me into a yo-yo cycle.
posted by vanitas at 10:20 AM on September 5, 2019 [1 favorite]

Even though I don’t this is the best place to ask this question, I’m going to answer with my experience and that of my family. If you do something to lose the weight that you aren’t going to do every single day for the whole rest of your life then yes, even a 15 lb loss can put your body on a yo-yo path and you risk winding up heavier than you started.
posted by kapers at 10:32 AM on September 5, 2019 [3 favorites]

I'm not going to read the previous answers because this question usually brings out a ton of uniformed bullshit about "lifestyle changes" vs. diets.

We have level A evidence, which is as strong as the evidence that smoking causes cancer, that "“Weight loss following lifestyle intervention is maximal at 6-12 months. Regardless of the degree of initial weight loss, most weight is regained within a 2-year period and by 5 years the majority of people are at their pre-intervention body weight.”

There is so much evidence out there that weight loss over five years is impossible — even if you call it a lifestyle change — for over 95% of people I don't even know where to start. One book that does give you some tips about your "leanest possible weight" without dieting is Secrets From the Eating Lab. All the aforementioned research is in that book.

I have to stress again that no matter what any of the previous answers say, diets don't work. Lifestyle changes don't work. I can send you as many rigorous studies as required to prove this point, any person can send me a message via my profile at any time and I will send them to you because we have plenty of evidence to support this.
posted by the thorn bushes have roses at 2:04 PM on September 5, 2019 [6 favorites]

People do succeed at losing weight and keeping it off long term. They do it by making lifestyle changes and remaining committed to those changes. I find it worrying that some people suggest otherwise.

However, you need to make long term changes. Yes, going on a 'diet' is probably a bad idea and could make you yoyo. Going to the gym more forever, eating less sugar forever (though I note you say you don't eat many sweets) etc., in the long term will have an impact on your weight.

I can't stress enough that this is a long-term thing. Going to the gym regularly and being aware of what I'm eating (not cutting stuff out but trying to eat a balanced diet and in moderation) has worked for me, as has moving my mind towards a health-based approach. I have kept weight the weight off for the last 15 years.
posted by thereader at 11:48 PM on September 5, 2019

My doctor said it's not necessary but not harmful.

So you've discussed this with a medical professional, one who's familiar with you and your medical history, and your doctor did not think it would be harmful for you. That's an important consideration. One point in favor of you trying to lose a little weight now.

I'm also afraid that I will keep getting bigger as I get older.

That is something that happens to a lot of people, so that's also an important consideration. Another point in favor of you trying to lose a little weight now.

But I don't want to lose 10 lb. only to gain 20 and end up even bigger than I would otherwise.

That's a legitimate concern, and as the thorn bushes have roses pointed out, a lot of people find themselves heavier a few years after trying to lose weight. So that's a point against you trying to lose a little weight now.

Am I better off, in the long term, accepting my current size or trying to shed a few pounds now?

Unfortunately, no one can answer that for sure until you try - because everybody's different, and metabolism can be weird, and you never know what life is going to throw at you in the future. You've already had the experience of gaining weight due to prescribed medication; that could happen again. Or you may end up with a medical condition or a medication that makes you lose a lot of weight. Or you may just have a body that wants to be heavier than you want.

But if your question is, "Is there any chance I could lose some weight and keep it off - or am I 100%, absolutely doomed to gaining back more weight than I lose?" I think the answer is this: some people do lose weight and keep it off.

The key paragraph from that article salvia posted:
Today there are more than 10,000 registrants who on average have lost 66 pounds and kept it off for five and a half years. Registrants have lost weight every which way. Some have lost rapidly, while for others it took years. Some lost weight with low-fat diets, others low-carb. Some used diet books for guidance, others self-directed, and others still went to weight loss programs for help.
So. More than 10,000 people have lost weight without putting it back on.

Here in this thread, late afternoon dreaming hotel, soren_lorensen, muddgirl, Redstart, and thereader have all said that they've lost weight and kept it off, and I'll add my name to that list:

Over the past 10 years, I went from a BMI of 24 to 21 and now just below 20. Most of that change was in the first year or two, but I've continued to drop a bit in the past year or two. To be sure, there are ups and downs, but I have never risen above the point I started at (except for literally one day when I ate a ton of salty food, so I literally gained 4 pounds in a day, and was back down 4 pounds to my previous level within a week). I feel like every year or two or three my body gets happier being a pound lighter, and I just ... stay there with very little effort. I know I am extremely lucky that my body works this way, and not everyone has a body that does this. Still, it's worth letting you know that some people have lost weight and kept it off.

My experience is that it took a while to figure out what worked for me. Trying out some changes now, when you don't have a serious medical concern pressuring you to lose weight, may make it easier to experiment and see what approaches work for you.

I would just try to eat smaller portions to lose weight.

I have to tell you, that's exactly what worked for me. I started trying to lose weight because I was a little higher on the BMI scale than I wanted to be, and my weight had been creeping up, and a relative had a cholesterol issue that made me worry about my own levels. I tried some stupid things (gave up protein in an effort to give up fat, which made me feel TERRIBLE - don't do that) but eventually hit on some things that worked for me, including focusing on stuff I want to eat more of (leafy green vegetables, fruit). But mostly portion control. I had gotten in the habit of eating pretty ridiculous quantities of food (I could eat two Big Macs for lunch as a teenager), and I just - started cutting most meals in half. If I was still hungry a while later, I could certainly have some more, but seriously - I ate out a lot, and most restaurant portions are enough for two people (at least, two people of my diminutive height). Psychologically, that was great too - if I got my favorite fried rice for dinner, eating half meant I got to have it for TWO meals instead of just once!

This week - a typical week - I've had a burger and fries and pizza and pastries and ice cream and beer - but not huge amounts of them, and very sensible amounts of food at other meals. (I eat three meals a day pretty much every day.) But I consistently weigh 5% less than I did two years ago, when I consistently weighed 3-4% less than I did two years before that. (Also, my cholesterol levels are way better than they were 10 years ago, despite the burgers and pizza and eggs.)

One thing that was important for me: I weigh myself every day, but I do not worry about gaining weight unless it continues over, like, a month or two. Salty food can easily bump me up a pound or two - but (for me) it comes back off automatically within a few days. I focus heavily on watching the longer-term trends (a month or two, or a year) rather than worrying about what happens from one day to the next.

No one can know what your personal individual body will do when you try to lose a little weight. But if you're asking, "Is it possible at all for anyone, ever, to lose weight and keep it off?" the answer is yes, for at least 10,000 people in that article, plus the six of us in this thread.

Good luck, whatever you decide!
posted by kristi at 7:18 PM on September 11, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Tracking meals without counting calories?   |   What can you do about lead in the water? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments