Read an Excerpt
Fed Up with Diets?
Eat more, weigh less?
This book challenges the conventional wisdom. In it, I will present new scientific evidence that you really can eat more and weigh less -- if you know what to eat. And that it's easier to make big changes in diet than moderate ones -- if you know what changes to make.
When the conventional wisdom isn't working, an unconventional approach is worth considering. And the conventional wisdom about weight loss isn't working. A recent panel of weight-loss experts convened by the National Institutes of Health Nutrition Coordinating Committee concluded that none of the conventional approaches to losing weight is effective -- in other words, most diets don't work.
"Evidence suggests that weight-loss regimes do more harm than good," said the panelists. "There is a strong tendency to regain weight, with as much as two-thirds of the weight lost regained within one year of completing the program and almost all by five years." Only 3 percent of those who take off weight keep it off for at least five years. Worse, the "yo-yo" pattern of going on a diet, losing some weight, and then gaining it back may be more harmful to your health than not going on a diet in the first place.
This pattern is familiar to just about anyone who has gone on a diet. And each time you go on another diet of deprivation, the weight becomes more difficult to lose, so you may become even more discouraged. This discouragement often leads to eating even more, causing more depression and overeating in a vicious cycle. You may blame yourself for being "destined to befat" or for having "Insufficient Willpower," when what is really needed is clear, scientifically based information to help you make more successful choices.
The panelists went on: "Very-low-calorie diets and fasting are associated with a variety of short-term adverse effects. Patients frequently report fatigue, hair loss, dizziness, and other symptoms, but these appear to be transitory. More serious is the increased risk for gallstones and acute gall-bladder disease during severe calorie restrictions..."
When I systematically reviewed the medical literature on diet, lifestyle, and weight loss, I was dismayed to learn how unsuccessful most weight-loss programs have been. In November 1992, for example, The New York Times ran a three-part series of front-page articles with titles like "For Most Trying to Lose Weight, Dieting Only Makes Things Worse" and "Commercial Diets Lack Proof of Their Long-Term Success." Here is a not-unusual example from The New England Journal of Medicine and The New York Times quoting a prominent weightless researcher:
Over the years, he has been the leading proponent of the view that obesity is innate, or that some people are born to be fat….They will feel miserable," he said. "But if they can diet, they will be better off.... I don't want to discourage people about losing weight, but they will have to pay for it."
Here's a leading obesity specialist from Harvard Medical School:
At least half of obese people -- those who are more than 30% overweight -- who try to diet down to "desirable" weights listed in the height-weight tables suffer medically, physically, and psychologically as a result, and would be better off fat.
According to a leading weightless researcher from the University of Pennsylvania:
There is not one single commercial weight loss program that makes available any data on its results or even wants to know what they are.... It isn't happenstance that there's not a single bit of scientific evidence that they are effective. The studies are actively opposed by the weight reducing industry.
And in perhaps the most gloomy assessment, the editor of the Medical School Health Letter wrote:
I can see no ethical basis for continuing research or treatment on weight loss.
In the face of this, is it any wonder that a growing number of people are asking, "Why bother? What's the use?" According to a recent front-page story in The New York Times:
A growing number of women joining in an anti-diet movement... which encourages people to stop weight-loss regimes, to eat in accord with their natural appetites and to make peace with their body size. They are forming support groups and ceasing to diet.... Others have smashed their bathroom, scales....
I understand this frustration. According to the conventional wisdom, you lose weight by counting calories, carefully keeping track of everything you consume, and depriving yourself by limiting the amount of food you eat. And "diet food" usually doesn't taste very good. Eventually you grow tired of the complexity, the hunger, the lack of flavor, and the feelings of deprivation. You abandon the diet and gain back the weight you lost-sometimes even more.
Despite the frustration with conventional diets, about one-half of women and one-fourth of men are currently trying to lose weight, with an additional one-quarter trying to maintain their weight. Even children are heavier than ever. Over one-third of children were overweight in 1991, compared with less than one-fourth only seven years earlier. One out of three girls ages eleven to eighteen is on a diet to lose weight.
If it's so hard to lose weight, why do people keep trying? Because they know they'll look better. They'll feel better. And they know that being overweight may lead to serious health problems.
For example, in a recent study of more than 115,000 American women thirty to fifty-five years of age who were followed for eight years, those who were as little as 5 percent overweight were 30 percent more likely to develop heart disease. Those who were mildly to moderately overweight had a risk of coronary disease 80 percent higher than their lean counter-parts. And those who were 30 percent or more overweight were over 300...Eat More, Weigh Less. Copyright © by Dean Ornish. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.