I have long been a believer that there is no one solution to weight loss that works for everyone. There was a recent article in the New York Times that discusses this. The article is “One Weight-Loss Approach Fits All? No, Not Even Close.” The article asks the question as to why some people lose a lot of weight on a particular diet while other similar people on the same diet lose nothing. A good point is made that there is not just one type of obesity. There are many types, one researcher cited in the article said he had counted 59 so far. And, if there are different types of obesity and different causes then it makes sense there is no one perfect solution for everyone:
It makes as much sense to insist there is one way to prevent all types of obesity — get rid of sugary sodas, shun carbohydrates, eat breakfast, get more sleep — as it does to say you can avoid lung cancer by staying out of the sun, a strategy specific to skin cancer.
This made a lot of sense to me. It has so often seemed to me that different people respond to different weight loss interventions. I’ve had a lot of success with Weight Watchers and tend to eat moderate carbs at most (tending to the low moderate side). Others don’t do well on Weight Watchers at all or might do well on a low fat diet.
One part I really liked in the article was they addressed something I’ve noticed was true when I read a lot of weight loss studies. When you read studies of weight loss programs it is often discouraging. It is not uncommon to read that overall the participants in the program lost, say, an average of 10 pounds over 6 months and at a year had gained back a few pounds. And, for some studies all they have in the article are the overall numbers. What I always find fascinating is when they show the individual results for participants. When that information is given you often find that there were a few people who lost a lot of weight, way more than the average. And, there are some who didn’t lose anything or gained. It always seemed to me that there was something about the program that worked for some people. And, that what would be really helpful would be to figure out in advance who is likely to benefit from which program.
Anyway, the article describes a study where participants were assigned either a low fat/high protein, low fat/average protein, high fat/high protein, or high fat/average protein diet. The study ran for 2 years. At the end of that time, none of the diets was really more successful overall than the others and none of them led to great average weight loss (3.6 to 4.5 kg). So, this seems fairly typical to these types of studies. No program is vastly more effective than any other and after a year or two, there isn’t a huge amount of weight loss on average. However, the article continues:
But buried in those averages were the outliers: In every one of the four diet groups were superresponders who dropped huge amounts of weight and a few nonresponders who did not lose any.
Every obesity medicine specialist has seen it happen — someone repeatedly tried and failed to lose weight and keep it off. It turned out they were trying the wrong thing.
The article then goes on to give some short profiles of people who eventually found a weight loss plan that was effective for them.
To me, this is why I don’t think one size fits all on weight loss. I’ve seen it too often, where some people do great on one plan and haven’t lost anything on other plans. Or, they pick a plan and lose weight, but can’t sustain it long term. Many diet books frustrate me because they present the diet as the one true solution that will work for everyone. In reality, I think diets or ways of eating are more like a buffet. You might get the beef and I find that I really like the chicken.
For example, on weight loss I’ve learned some things about me:
- I don’t like eating low fat. I am fine with eating low saturated fat, but I tend to eat a higher fat diet. I get unhappy very quickly with a low fat diet. I could only follow that long term if I really felt my survival depended on it. I think this is part of the reason why my first getting to goal on Weight Watchers didn’t stick. The exchange program was fine, but it really did tend to be fairly low fat. You had limited fat exchanges and the only other source for more fat was to use optional calories which were also limited. I did lose the weight on the program, but once I got to goal I found that way of eating impossible to sustain.
- I doubt I could do well as a vegan. I was actually a vegetarian for a couple of years (lacto-ovo). I didn’t lose weight on it and I didn’t feel well. I seem to do better on more protein and I think it was too high in carbs for me. Other people do well on that kind of diet. Philosophically, being a vegan aligns the most closely with many of my thoughts and values. But, even being a vegetarian didn’t agree with me.
- Relying heavily on exercise to lose weight doesn’t work for me. I am not very tall and am an older woman. I have a lower than expected resting metabolic rate. So, I don’t burn a lot of calories. I can’t just go burn 2500 calories a day. In over 3 years of using a Fitbit I’ve gone over 2000 calories burned only a handful of times. Exercise certainly can be a part of a weight loss plan for me, but I don’t burn enough calories to have exercise be the bulk of my weight loss plan.
- I like data and details. I like counting calories and tracking my food. I use that information a lot to plan what I am going to do. I go back and analyze historic information. I like analysis and data. So, both Weight Watchers tracking and calorie counting with MyFitnessPal work really great for me.
I could go on, but this gives an idea of the kinds of factors that I think go into why I do well on certain programs. And, I think this is individual for everyone. The article is really good and I found the examples interesting.