If you walk into any book store, or heck even if you log onto Amazon, you have seen the ungodly deluge of diet books.
I even searched “diet books” on Amazon for this article and it returned the value “>50,000” which means there are so many that they don’t even want to add it up and tell you.
Why are there so many? Well… there can only be a few reasons:
- We know nothing about nutrition so these are all WAGs (wild ass guesses),
- People have a sexy message to sell and people love dieting. If you can package a sexy idea up, you can sell people something with a slightly different message over and over and over again.
The most likely answer is number two with a little number 1 mixed in. The thing is most authors of these books know enough to be dangerous but not enough to tell you the full truth.
At this point in my career I have read upward of 300 “diet books” and probably the same number of nutrition textbooks (I know, my 20s were lame). And what I have noticed is that in all those popular diet books, they don’t tell you the real, gritty, unsexy truth.
Since I don’t have a book to sell you, I get to do that in this article. Just give you the truth.
1. Your Diet Doesn’t Matter
I am going to come out swinging on this one. When it comes to weight loss, your diet doesn’t matter.
Now, I don’t mean that in the sense that what you eat doesn’t matter. What I am saying is that your exact diet, the one that has converted you like a religion, doesn’t really matter.
I am not kidding. Name a diet… go on, take a few seconds and think about it. Heck, name two diets.
Paleo? Not magical.
Vegan? Nope, sorry. Try again.
Keto? Negative Ghost Rider.
I am not just saying this to rustle some jimmies. There are decades upon decades of research showing this is the case. If you take any diet and properly control for the things we know matter (protein and calories) they all have the exact same result. Head to head comparisons have shown the exact same thing over and over again1, 2, 3, 4.
It was really interesting; while I was writing this article I had this precise conversation with a family friend over dinner. They asked me, “What is the best diet out there” and I told them, “All of them, and also none of them. The real question that we should ask is, what things should I know about nutrition and dieting in general that can help me succeed at my goals”.
2. Dieting Isn’t the Key to Health
Most people view dieting as the best way to become healthier. It probably isn’t. It is PART of getting healthier, but it might be the smaller part.
Now, don’t take this out of context or misquote me here.
Dieting helps people get healthy, but it really only does it in one direction: down. What do I mean by that? Let’s look at what dieting, specifically calorie restriction does.
It lowers body weight, fasting blood glucose, insulin resistance, lipid profiles, blood pressure, and body fat. It also down regulates thyroid function in most people, lowers spontaneous physical activity, and sex drive.
This is why exercise is critical for optimizing the health side. When you exercise and chase exercise induced adaptations here is what happens: Increased cardiac output, lower resting heart rate, lower blood pressure, improved metabolic flexibility, improved bone density, improved muscle mass, improved memory retention, better sleep. The list goes on.
Dieting is great for some things, but it isn’t the panacea for health. You can’t “diet harder” to optimal health, there needs to be a focus on exercise and periods of not “dieting” to let your body adapt to exercise.
3. Most People Diet Their Way to Failure
The last point takes me right to this point - a lot of people diet their way to failure.
In at least one study, previous dieting was shown to be associated with a lower rate of success when following a weight loss protocol5. Another study showed that men who had dieted before where more likely to gain weight than those who had not7.
Now we don’t know the exact reason for this but this is a real phenomenon. Chronic dieters tend to have worse success with weight loss than non-dieters.
What is most interesting about this is we see this all the time in the real world. Over the last 18 months I have tracked data on ~12,000 clients and one of the most fascinating things we have seen is that people who chronically eat (track that they eat) low calories have an almost impossible time losing weight, while people who eat a decent amount of food have the best success.
4. Secret Fat Burning Foods & Detoxes Don’t Work
Fat burning foods and detoxes are the biggest cons in the nutrition game. Let’s start with this whole “fat burning foods” idea.
First, your body has evolved over billions of years and is designed to metabolize a wide range of substrates: glucose, fats, ketones, amino acids, nucleic acids, exosomes… if it has a two carbon back bone, throw it in the metabolic blender. That last part of the sentence is hyperbole but you get the point.
There isn’t a magical food or diet pattern you can follow that really makes you a true “fat burning” machine in the sense that you speed up body fat loss. Some foods will increase fat oxidation, but that net result is the same as a different, calorie matched and protein matched food. Sorry to burst your bubble but that is just the way it is.
Your body also is incredibly robust and has evolved to be highly effective at removing toxins and other bad things. For example, your kidneys filter your blood at a rate of 180 liters a day, which means that your blood gets filtered about 40-60 times a day.
Your liver is also a giant detox machine, with an entire series of enzymes and other processes designed to break down “toxins”. There is also this thing call an immune system, which is the main way our body recognizes foreign substances and gets rid of them.
So put that in context. You have 2 organs and an immune system that have evolved over billions of years to help “detox” your body. Now, how likely is it that your kale or juice cleanse is more effective than those billions of years of evolved systems?
5. Fat Loss & Weight Loss are Not the Same
Lost 14 pounds in 7 days!!!
How many magazine covers have you seen with that? Probably billions at this point.
The real truth behind these claims is it is almost all water weight. Fat loss and weight loss are not the same thing and one can lose A LOT of water weight, really quickly, while fat loss takes quite a bit longer.
Let’s use a simple math equation to highlight what I mean. Let's say it takes a ~3500 calorie deficit to lose a pound of fat (this is not 100% accurate but close enough for our purposes), and you follow a crash/cleanse type diet where you eat 800 calories a day and burn 2000 calories a day. That means you have a net 1200 calorie a day deficit to start.
So, after the first week you are at a net deficit of ~ 8400 calories, which means you are at about 2.5 pounds of fat loss. So if the scale weight reads a drop of 10 pounds, you are down 7.5 pounds of water.
The Wrap Up
Most diet books are trying to sell you on their specific idea, because it is sexy and has a good story.
The sad truth is that almost all of them don’t tell you the real truth and what you really need to know.
Here is what I wish they told you so you could separate the truth from a slick message.
The exact type of diet you eat really doesn’t matter all that much. Dieting isn’t the holy grail of health, in fact it is a very small part of it. Chronic dieting often leads to failure. Magic fat burning foods and detox foods are not a thing. And a lot of quick success stories about weight loss are not fat loss stories, they are water loss stories.
- Comparison of Weight-Loss Diets with Different Compositions of Fat, Protein, and Carbohydrates
- Comparison of the Atkins, Zone, Ornish, and LEARN Diets for Change in Weight and Related Risk Factors Among Overweight Premenopausal Women. The A TO Z Weight Loss Study: A Randomized Trial
- Effect of Low-Fat vs Low-Carbohydrate Diet on 12-Month Weight Loss in Overweight Adults and the Association With Genotype Pattern or Insulin Secretion. The DIETFITS Randomized Clinical Trial
- Calorie for Calorie, Dietary Fat Restriction Results in More Body Fat Loss than Carbohydrate Restriction in People with Obesity.
- Energy expenditure and body composition changes after an isocaloric ketogenic diet in overweight and obese men