Weight loss lasts longer without diets


Oct 06, 2014 by British Blog

Weight, and in particular obesity, is one of the most important health and social care issues in the UK. Being overweight is linked to a range of adverse results, including cancer and heart disease, and obesity kills thousands of people in Britain every year.

For statistical and methodology reasons it is difficult to say exactly how many people die as a result of their obesity, but a 2001 report from the National Audit Office suggested that in 1998 around 6% of all UK deaths were caused by obesity, and the proportion of obese adults in the UK has risen by around 18% since then. Clearly, obesity is bad news.


Diets don't work?

The cure for obesity is weight loss, but weight loss is notoriously difficult to achieve. While 'quick fix' diets may take weight off, sustaining that weight loss is an entirely different matter. Most people who lose weight on a diet regain that weight, and often a bit more. Thus, the need to achieve and maintain weight loss is one of the most important public health challenges around.

Now, some experts suggest that people who want to lose weight should abandon the notion of weight loss diets altogether. For example, Dr Brian Wansink, consumer behaviour psychologist and marketing professor at Cornell University in the US, has recently published a book suggesting that small changes theory, a theory that is increasingly popular in public health circles, is the way to achieve sustained weight loss.

Wansink suggests that making just one small change, such as eating from a smaller plate, leads to some weight loss which in turn triggers the individual to make even more of such small, but effective, changes. In other words, the aim is to design healthy behaviours into the lifestyle, rather than rely on willpower to achieve weight loss. Over time, Wansink argues, these combined behaviours result in substantial weight loss and because the changes are only small, and easily incorporated into the long-term lifestyle, that weight loss is sustained.

Such small changes include: 

  •          Chew gum while shopping for food (this has been shown to reduce the amount of junk food purchased).
  •          Keep only health snacks, such as fruit, visible at home (even better, stop buying unhealthy snacks altogether).
  •          Do not eat at a desk or in front of the TV, pay attention to the process of eating and what is being eaten.


Cultural change

Elsewhere, companies and corporations and even whole cities are taking a more wide-ranging and cultural approach to weight loss. When Oklahoma City was named the 'fattest city in America', the town's mayor decided that together, the people of that town had to lose a million pounds in weight. Using a combination of town planning (making the town more pedestrian and cycle friendly) and public and corporate engagement, Oklahoma City lost its weight, dropped 21 places on the 'fattest cities' list within five years and appeared on the 'healthiest cities' list for the first time. In other words, five years on, the change was being sustained.

Weight loss is not, and perhaps never will be, easy, but perhaps the move away from the traditional weight loss diet, towards a more thoughtful approach, will benefit everybody in the long run.