Scientists love disclaimers. “Futher research is required”, “The results are restricted in significance to the population studied in this research”, “Results are inconclusive but point the way for future investigation”, etc., etc. Definitive statements have an air of finality that scientists rarely like because it means that something has been studied to death and requires no further investigation and that its “time to move on”. Even when something has been “proven”, scientists usually prefer to let time take its course and the findings to be absorbed into common acceptance, e.g. “Bacteria and viruses cause infection”. This usually takes a few generations.
That’s why yesterday’s review of the Medicare diet-funding study published in last year’s APA journal American Psychologist took me by surprise. It nagged me in my sleep last night and this morning I went back to see if I had in fact read and quoted it correctly. But there it was in black-and-white; the peer-reviewed and highly respected flagship of the American Psychological Association had published a definitive statement:
“It is clear that dieting does not lead to sustained weight loss in the majority of individuals, and additional studies of the effects of dieting on weight are not needed”.
The significance of this statement is staggering. It means that the evidence is so overwhelming and conclusive that other scientists (and PhD students looking for doctoral thesis topics) should simply steer clear of this one! Wow!
Strangely, a statement of this magnitude should have quickly crept into the popular media…but it didn’t. Either some science writer missed it…or the papers were afraid Jenny Craig et al might pull their ads!
It is nevertheless a very tough message to accept, yet one that requires much meditation if you are among that sad majority of the population struggling to keep weight and its associated diseases in check. Tough, to a large extent, because if dieting is so definitively useless and absolutely certain to make you fatter….if you give it up, what the Hell do you replace it with??? The answer, at least for now, appears to be: Exercise. Yuck!
P.S. As Leisureguy points out so well in the comments to this post, while “dieting” is not only useless (and actually counterproductive, i.e. you will gain more weight back), having an excellent “diet” of high-quality foods is an essential platform for good health and from which to lose weight through increased activity. If you keep eating double-cheeseburgers for lunch, french fries and fried chicken for dinner, and double-chocolate cheesecake for desert…you’d better be prepared to do one hell-of-a-lot of exercise (and even then your arteries would probably kill you while you’re doing it!).
That being said, there is no hard-and-fast definition of what constitutes a great diet, despite all the media attention to “low-fat”, “high whole-grain”, and other popular mantras. Traditional societies with great health and longevity span the spectrum of food choices, from whale blubber in the Arctic, to almost exclusively meat and cheese consumption in some of the “Stans” (former USSR satellite states). What does appear to bind all these societies is:
-Heavy physical activity;
-Strong family and community ties and support;
-A deep sense of spirituality.