Long-Term Success of Diets?

Read time: 2 minutes

Diet books are great. They get the public spun up, and some introduce hypothesis to chase. It’s a good thing, and it’s a bad thing.

The latest and greatest is really nothing new. Diet books like this have been written for decades. Each new book spins into details the interaction between food and metabolism — you know, the really intricate stuff that takes you for a ride through the metabolic and hormonal “pathway” of overweight, disease, and fatness, and then offers you an alternative route to leanness.

Many of these books read intelligent, and they’re often written by intelligent authors.

The various diets all work for someone at some point, as these books tend to fly off the shelves, sometimes creating cult followings and becoming cultural phenomenons. But the point is that they all work, at least temporarily.

Too often, however, the premise of these books — the cause of overweight and obesity — ride on a single factor, even though the body of knowledge points to multiple variables.

While Pritikin points to fat as the culprit for overweight, the Inuits prove his premise untrue. While Atkins and Good Calories, Bad Calories suggest that carbohydrates are the problem, the Mediterranean diet, rich in grains and legumes, shows otherwise.

There are many ways to convince people that overweight and obesity are caused by this or by that, but in the end the cause is multifactoral: from culture to psychology, from genetics to environment, from behavior to social pressure, from food abundance to processed food, from heavy flavoring to food addiction, from boredom to habits, from environmental chemicals to lifestyle, from poor sleep pattern to chronic stress pattern, and from thoughts to feelings to motivation and other as-yet-unknown contributors.

You get the picture.

To blame it on one thing, or a single macronutrient, while ignoring evidence to other factors, is not so much wrong as it is incomplete. That alone makes it wrong.

In the end, possessing the attitude of a Dietary Us Against Them is perpetuating a failure in the fight against overweight and obesity.

Many diets work for different people while failing others — whether these diets are high-fat and low-carbs, or the other way around, or anywhere in between. Nothing is consistent enough to confidently say that one diet fits all.

The statistics show that, of those who lost weight, 17% successfully maintain this weight loss for long-term, yet their chosen dietary strategies vary widely and collectively they do not support any one dietary concept — not even the one suggested in a book as elaborate and ambitious as Good Calories, Bad Calories.

At the risk of claiming that diet alone causes overweight and obesity, the simplest starting place to address this modern-day issue is in changing eating habit: eat mostly wholesome, real food, and develop a habit of eating less. The other immediate contributors to long-term success are time, effort, and motivation.

Watch this great lecture about a study comparing long-term successes of diets, including a low-carb diet similar to the one touted as the solution to the obesity problem in so many modern pop diets. It’s long, but every minute is worth your time; you’ll gain a different insight into the multitude of diets available and the factors to their long-term success, or lack thereof.

This entry was posted in Dietary Habit, weight Loss and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to Long-Term Success of Diets?

  1. KevinT says:

    “eat mostly whole, real food, and develop a habit of eating less”

    I’m going to take as meaning eating enough real food to get plenty of nutrients to satisfy true hunger & (ideally) no more than that. It would be natural, intuitive, & varied each day. Pretty much like how any other animal I can think of eats.

    It’s not really eating “under” some invisible calorie count or whatever … it’s just getting used to eating the right amount your body needs, which is probably less than you used to. Your metabolism would run correctly & start using body fat.

    Eat when you have real physical hunger and not just because it sounds good, you “think” you want to eat something, or you’re bored, etc.

    Just eat enough real food to be satisfied & then stop. Repeat when you’re actually hungry again.

    I’d think focusing in on that would make one eat the actual right amount they really need over time, which is probably “less” than they used to habitually eat on a SAD diet.

    That seems to make sense and flow with what you’ve said all along with the yin/yang thing. If you’re zoned in to hunger and you eat a lot one day … you’d probably last a while before you felt true hunger again … so you’d eat less the next day (even though over time it all balances out).

    Wouldn’t that be all your body & metabolism really need to run fine?

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Kevin,

      You got it.

      The dietary habit and eating environment are both vastly different between human and wild animals.

      We eat food that’s manufactured to taste exceptionally different from that in the wild. Consider how we typically flavor our meats with BBQ sauce and other herbs, etc., which has a significant impact on our brain’s reward center.

      That’s something the experts don’t mention when they talk about the “normal metabolic regulation” of wild animals.

      Then consider the food environment humans (at least in developed countries) must live in — a constant barrage of food advertisement, marketing, aroma, restaurants, etc. Walk through downtown Palo Alto, Ca., and your senses are attacked by everything associated with FOOD and EATING.

      I don’t think wild animals have to deal with this.


  2. Lillea says:

    So true.

    Fantastic video. The best I’ve ever seen on this subject. Thanks so much for posting it. I hope lots of people will watch the whole thing. Definitely worth it – it really shows the problems with what people actually do in diet studies unless they’re locked in a lab and strictly monitored, and the problems with statistics, etc. Fantastic.

  3. Bangkok Jay says:

    One of these new diet ebooks has got my head in. The idea of a heavy refeed/cheat days vs modest refeeds.

    Back in March (http://theleansaloon.com/2010/03/14/photo-update-body-composition-310/), you gave a brilliant response to the question of carb refeeds to restore leptin (you favoured modest, unplanned refeeds and pointed out that IF might balance fluctuating leptin cycles referencing Martin Berkhan’s post).

    I self-experimented a few times using a cheat meal/refeed, but concluded it wasn’t so effective for the relatively obese (>20% BF), saving it for when I was far leaner. Now at relatively lean to normal BF levels, those same self-experments on a few occasions with a very large lunch or dinner whilst still doing a daily IF, produced some unexpectedly positive results. I now realise it’s an effective strategy for the fairly lean as long as the other days remain disciplined caloric deficit days.

    The specific question I’d like to ask you is whether there is a difference between a modest refeed protocol vs a heavy refeed/cheat day protocol (a la ‘Cheat Your Way Thin’ or Lyle McDonald’s CKD as in ‘Ultimate Diet 2.0’). The latter advocates a huge caloric expenditure of 2-3 times one’s daily intake for the cheat day!! Liver & muscle glycogen stores would have been overfilled easily; so where do the excess calories really end up?

    I don’t mind self-experimentation (since I now have the discipline to reverse course) but I thought I’d seek out your personal opinion prior to diving in. And no, my goal isn’t bodybuilding but I’d like to see how far I can push my genetic envelope for the next 12 months. “I wanna be like Johnny.” 🙂

  4. Rick says:

    Great post! It’s all about keeping it simple and sustainable. NO MAJORING IN MINUTIA!

    I love the way I can focus on other interests more now that I’ve used IF and focus on real food. I keep it flexible and don’t worry about it so much.

    I had a 3 day bender last weekend where I ate all the things I normally try to limit: starchy carbs, fried food, lots of desserts, etc. (reminds me of your cruise experiment). I came home and weighed 10 pounds more than I did before I left. I didn’t worry about it though, I just giggled because I knew that I would fast more/longer this week and eat less. I will evaluate myself in the mirror at the end of the week and go back to maintenance or continue another week. It’s awesome to have this freedom. Thank you Johnny!

  5. Jordan D. says:

    “Dietary Us Against Them,” well said! That’s exactly what it’s become.

    “No majoring in minutiae,” also well said, Rick!

    BTW, I’ve had a similar experience recently. Overate quite a bit, jumped from 202 to 208! Already down to 206, and I’m sure I’ll keep dropping from there. We can’t get too worked up over fluctuations.

  6. Marna says:

    I totally agree. There’s not just one thing. However, I do believe that some strong contributing factors include emotional eating and overeating.
    Marna Thall

  7. Marc says:

    Great post Johnny!
    Have a great weekend.


  8. danrivera says:

    Imagine a diet book whose cover read, “YOU ARE SO FAT: Have you tried eating less food?” and a picture of a nasty big belly spilling over strained pants.
    Of course it would never get published. People would lose some pounds without even getting past the cover.

  9. Audley says:

    There is always the French paradox of eating “bad” food, at not getting fat due to portin control. I have a friend who is from France. She is in her 50’s, lean and eats most anything she wants….in small amounts. Her exercise program is hiking. It works for her.
    As for what foods to eat, I found that fasting helped to “detox” my body, then when I eat something, I really notice how I feel after. If I feel like crap, it’s off the food list. This sytem keeps my diabetes in check and keeps me med free.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi Audley,

      And isn’t it funny how we’re arrogant enough to call something so simple as not overeating a paradox? Here we are, still trying to figure out what’s the “right diet” out of several dozen diets touting to be THE right diet.

      While the French enjoy their “paradox.”


  10. Audley says:


    I have heard the “paradox” line so often, I never gave it a thought about the phrase in that light! People all amazed how many French are lean dispite what they eat, yet always point out the small portions….then we Supersize and wonder why we are fat. Kind of funny when you think about it.

  11. golooraam says:

    my first post on this site – I love this site.

    what I find now is that the less I am militaristic, the easier fasting and food choices are becoming

    I started last week fasting with BCAAs (or something like it, don’t want to start product name-dropping here in my first post) – I was fretting that my fast wasn’t a fast because my intake wasn’t 0 calories… it was 12 calories, yes, only 12. Once I realized that I was like “Dude, it’s 12 calories, in a day!” I was able to do it because the BCAAs killed my hunger and on the weekend I actually made good choices without really trying (next to no junk). Just a lot of good healthy food, with a nice bowl of ramen on Friday night to help me go to sleep. This week I am aiming for a multi-day fast. And you know what? I’m going to do it, and do it easily.

    • Johnny says:

      Hi golooraam,

      Sounds like you’re on a path that is working for you. And, yes, 12 calories is nothing. Major not in the minutiae.


  12. Thuy says:

    Johnny, you are my life saver.. Well, second to google because I wouldn’t have found you!

    And You are a great writer! Is there anything you can’t do? I’m in my second week and have lost 6 lbs… Thankyou so much for your transparency!

  13. Turling says:

    Are you freaking kidding me????? Karl Lagerfeld has a diet book?!?!?!? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! I think the only thing scarier is that people buy it. Going to Amazon…now…

    On a serious note, though, I must say that “eat real food and eat less of it” thus far seems to be working. I eat twice a day and only once a day once a week and pretty much stick to not eating anything out of a bag. It’s great, because I don’t really have to think about it. And, if the fourth helping of chile on Sunday is what I’m dying for, then I just fast the next day. Simple.

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