Thursday, March 29, 2012

A diet that works? Fat chance

Not only are weight-loss programs a waste of time, they can play havoc with our normal metabolisms.

A year is a long time in the life of a Hollywood starlet. One day you're thin, the next you're not. Just ask Mila Kunis. In August last year the Black Swan actress upset women everywhere with her less than helpful observation that "people who say they can't lose weight are lying".

Kunis shed nine kilograms for her role in Black Swan and celebrated her weight-loss "victory" by trampling her gym-toned legs all over the self-esteem of her sisters.

High on her success, Kunis told the Daily Mail: "When people say 'I can't lose weight', no, no, no, you can. Your body can do everything and anything, you just have to want to do it."

It's bad enough that women the world over are taught to believe that anyone larger than size 0 is undisciplined and lazy, but, according to Kunis, we can add "liar" to the list of character flaws.

Fast forward eight months, and Kunis has changed her tune. In the April edition of Harper's Bazaar she lets slip that not only has she regained the weight she lost on her way to becoming a swan, but her body has changed shape, and not in a good way.

"When I gained it back, it went to completely different areas. Not my rear … I'd be happy if my arse got bigger. All the weight that left my chest went to my side hip, my stomach."

Kunis' belated realisation that diets don't work will not surprise the average woman who spends 31 years of her life trying to lose weight.

It also won't surprise anyone acquainted with weight loss science. More than 50 years of research confirms that diets have a failure rate of between 95 to 98 per cent. That's right - of every 100 people who diet, 98 of them will either lose no weight or will soon regain any weight they do lose.

According to the US National Institute of Health technology assessment conference, "[weight-loss] interventions produce short-term losses followed by weight regain, and no current treatments appear capable of producing permanent weight loss".

Not a single diet or weight-loss treatment works. Not one. And that doesn't apply just to extreme fad diets that come and go as quickly as a bread roll to a carb-starved ex-Dukan Dieter. What decades of research tells us is that diets do not work. Full stop.

Worse, Columbia University researchers suggest that our bodies may burn fewer calories than normal for as many as six years after we diet because the metabolisms of people who have lost weight through dieting are slower than people of the same weight who did not diet.

Imagine that your friend is naturally a size 10 and you're a size 12. You may be able to diet to get down to the same weight as your friend, but once you're there you cannot eat what she eats.

If you eat the same number of calories as your non-dieting friend, you will most likely gain weight and she won't. That's because you've screwed up your metabolism for six years - possibly longer - and your friend's metabolism is still operating normally. This is your reward for the joy-sapping, soul-destroying, life-consuming deprivation of dieting. Worse still, you will regain more weight than you started out with.

Melbourne University professor Joseph Proietto, head of the weight control clinic at Austin Health, has found that dieters' bodies behave like they are starving, still trying to regain the lost weight a full 12 months after the diet has ended.

Participants in a study published last year in the New England Journal of Medicine reported feeling hungrier and more preoccupied with food than before they lost weight. This is not surprising because the researchers found that the levels of ghrelin, the hormone that makes us feel hungry, was about 20 per cent higher than at the start of the study and that the hormones that suppress hunger and stimulate metabolism were abnormally low.

"What we see here is a co-ordinated defence mechanism with multiple components all directed towards making us put on weight," Proietto says. "This, I think, explains the high failure rate in obesity treatment." And if you don't believe the scientists, then just look to our celebrity experts such as Mila Kunis. By her own admission, dieting has permanently changed her body.

With such a high failure rate, it's time to stop perpetuating the lie that losing weight is just about wanting it enough. Because it's not us who have failed. It's the diets. And every time a smug skinny mini makes a catty comment in the press, she fails us all.


Eating a small amount of chocolate regularly could actually help you lose weight

These results are from a self-report questionnaire so are far from conclusive

For chocolate-lovers feeling guilty about their indulgence it is the best kind of news – eating more can help keep you thinner.

Although chocolate contains more calories than many other foods, those who eat it regularly have less body fat than those who don’t, a study shows.

Researchers suspect the calories in chocolate are not like ‘normal’ calories.  The ingredients in chocolate appear to make your metabolism work harder, which means they offset the fat that might otherwise have stayed around.  As a result, the metabolic effects of certain ingredients make chocolate a good slimming food because it is calorie- neutral, says the U.S. study.

The study, published last night, did not specify which type of chocolate was best.

But it appears to back up the claim by Hollywood star Katharine Hepburn about her slim physique when she said: ‘What you see before you is the result of a lifetime of chocolate.’

Study leader Dr Beatrice Golomb, from the University of California at San Diego, said: ‘Our findings appear to add to a body of information suggesting that the composition of calories, not just the number of them, matters for determining their ultimate impact on weight.

‘In the case of chocolate, this is good news, both for those who have a regular chocolate habit, and those who wish to start one.’

The scientists investigated the chocolate-eating habits of 972 men and women with an average age of 57 for a study of statins – cholesterol-lowering drugs.

The participants did not have any known heart problems but were asked diet and lifestyle questions including: ‘How many times a week do you consume chocolate?’ Their Body Mass Index, which relates weight to height, was also recorded.

The surprising findings showed those who ate chocolate on more days of the week than average were statistically likely to have a lower BMI.

This was despite the fact that people who ate more chocolate did not consume fewer calories overall, or take more exercise. In fact they ate more. Chocolate consumption was associated with greater overall saturated fat intake from other sources.

Volunteers had an average BMI of 28 – meaning they were overweight – and ate chocolate on average twice a week.

The study did not look at what type of chocolate the participants ate or how much. As a result, no link was seen between the amount of chocolate eaten and either higher or lower BMI.

The researchers warn the study’s findings may not apply to all products containing chocolate and do not rule out the possibility that some people can put on weight with frequent modest chocolate consumption.

But the results, published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine, broadly fit with previous research on rats showing benefits from some chemicals found in chocolate, including speeding up the metabolism.

Epicatechin, one chemical derived from the chocolate ingredient cocoa, has been shown to boost numbers of mitochondria, the cells’ energy-generating ‘power houses’.

Mitochondria burn up calories and epicatechin reduced weight in rats whose calorie intake and exercise levels were unchanged. Another antioxidant ingredient theo bromine is a stimulant.

Other studies have found that the benefits of chocolate can include a drop in the risk of heart disease and strokes, a reduction in blood pressure and a cut in the risk of diabetes.


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