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Diets…When Science Meets Gimmick

January 25, 2012
Does Chocolate Really Lead to Weight Loss?

Image: graur razvan ionut / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I’ve been in Florida on vacation the past few days and I came across an article in a local newspaper describing a “dark chocolate” diet run by a psychotherapist that involves:

  1. Drinking shakes, eating high-quality dark chocolate as snacks and a “reasonable” dinner resulting in around 1500 calories a day for men, and 1200 calories for women.
  2. A series of behavior modification sessions with the psychotherapist designed to have you become better attuned to your relationship with food and eating…while having shakes and chocolate?!?

Can we really become attuned to our true eating habits when we are drinking shakes, chomping down on chocolate and significantly restricting our calories all day?  A tasty option, but is it really a solution?  This is the problem with most diets…they work, but do they LAST?

Most diets work.  Most people who design diets are not trying to “scam” you.  They’re just scared that when you hear the “truth” behind living healthfully such as eating more fruits and vegetables, drinking more water, having more whole grains and consuming less fried foods, pizza, soda and booze, you’re going to run away screaming.  Are their fears really unfounded?

Wouldn’t you rather eat steak, butter, bacon and eggs all day, every day (Atkins) or just have two shakes, chocolate and a “sensible” dinner every day?  It’s a heck of a lot easier to give up your relationship with food and say, “Yep, no carbs for me” or “Just shakes for breakfast and lunch every day”.  And it works, until six months later and that 120th chocolate or butter pecan-flavored shake looks less appetizing than a can of lima beans…or when you’re eyeing the bread basket at a restaurant like a long lost friend.  And in both cases, you’d probably much rather be having a slice of pizza.

The science says, eat less calories than you burn and you will lose weight.  And, studies have shown that you need to consume at least 1200 calories from “balanced” food sources to ensure you get enough vitamins and minerals in your diet.  A bit more for men, hence the 1500 calories.  No need to explain more for most people.  They just want to lose weight, regardless of whether it means the weight they are losing is the:

  1. Unsightly, physique hiding fat that jiggles for seconds after stop moving or…
  2. Calorie-burning, shape-defining, toned lean body mass (muscle, bone, etc.) that will ultimately keep their weight off for good.

Most people just want to see the scale go down.  No one gives us the nitty-gritty details, mainly because people don’t want to hear about it…or diet promoters don’t think we do.  Also, because when given the full details, it includes the other key to maintaining your shape-defining lean body mass: consistent physical activity (diet’s dreaded brother…exercise!).  But to stay physically active AND lose fat, we need to fuel our body with more than a “bare-bones” 1200 to 1500 calorie diet, or we are going to feel exhausted, cranky, unmotivated and in dire need of a cookie.  But at this point I’m sure all of this information is making your head spin and you’d rather just have a shake twice a day.

So we go on these diets, lose the weight, but fail to truly understand what it means to eat mindfully.  If we stop the diet but we don’t change our fundamental eating habits…what do you think happens?  We go back to our old meals, our old snacks…and our old weight (or worse).  But this weight gain usually makes us worse off than when we started, because we tend to regain more fat and less muscle.  And the more fat we have on our body, the harder it becomes to burn fat and lose weight in the future.  This is why yo-yo dieting is such a vicious cycle.  Each diet results in less muscle and more fat.

At least the psychotherapist’s diet plan involves behavioral modification, which is a fancy way of saying helping you become more mindful of your eating habits.  In the end, our mind controls what we choose to eat and what we eat controls how much we weigh.  When we can understand how our current eating habits lead to our current weight, we can then take the steps and make the choices necessary to improve our eating and our weight in a healthful, fat-burning, muscle-sparing way.

Of course, many things impact our mind, such as stress, hormones, sleep (or lack thereof), nutrition, etc. so it’s not always that simple, but it’s a great first step:  A fully aware mind can create a fully aware stomach.

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