You hear this a lot about any sort of weight-loss diet that the speaker deems to be a “fad” or a scam. Specifically, it seems like this is applied to any of the low-carb protocols you see out there. I’ve certainly heard it said about the paleo diet more than a few times.
But what does this actually mean? I talked before about how overly calorie-restricted diets do actually increase the chance of a weight rebound. That’s just biologically true. You downregulate some metabolic processes, you catabolize some muscle mass, you’re going to burn fewer calories and when you go back to eating what you were before, chances are good the weight will come back as fast or faster than you put it on the first time. But the people who are saying that “the weight will all come back” generally aren’t informed about the process or the mechanism which increases the chances for weight gain if someone goes off the rails. They’re just saying it because they think the diet you’ve chosen is invalid, or a fad or whatever. If we’re being honest, it’s probably more of a way for them to justify not losing weight in the first place (for themselves, most likely) than it is any actual informed opinion about the effectiveness of your diet choices.
So here’s the question: If the weight does come back after you go off the rails on a healthy weight-loss diet and go back to eating pizza, tacos and sundaes, what does that say about the weight-loss diet? I think very little, honestly. Let’s say you eat like I used to eat. Double cheeseburgers with fries and a large drink (with no ice because all that ice just takes up valuable high-fructose corn syrup real estate), the greasiest, nastiest pizza you can find, tacos by the bag, deep-fried macaroni and cheese wedges (yes they exist and they are delicious), and so much candy, I think I personally put all the Wonka children through college. That’s not a good diet by anyone’s measure. Now let’s say you were to start eating a weighed and measured, counted-calorie diet that was at a reasonable daily caloric deficit and that was high in whole grains, high in fruits and vegetables, moderate in protein (at least half from vegetable sources) and almost completely devoid of sugars and saturated animal fats. That’s the diet that the USDA and any number of other governmental organizations want you to be on. If you listen to almost any dietician, doctor, personal trainer or anyone else, that’s a legitimate, long-term, non-fad, healthy diet. Now let’s say you go off the rails on that diet. It starts with a slice of birthday cake and ends with you waking up in a drift of candy wrappers and greasy napkins. You’ve gone “off the diet” and you figure you just don’t have the willpower to handle a diet like that, so you go back to eating your chemical-soaked snack cakes and your sugary cereals and your Hyper Fizz sodas. You had lost some significant weight, but it all came back. Was that the fault of the weight loss diet you had been eating previously, or did you just prove that the same crappy diet that made you fat once can make you fat twice?
That’s my issue with this contention. There has never been any diet at any time in history or in any place in the world that, long-term, can prevent you from gaining weight after you stop eating that diet and start eating another. Does that even make sense as an expectation? That’s like thinking that there’s a coat you can put on that will keep you warm long after you’ve taken it off. It’s nonsense. It’s an absurd standard to judge a weight loss diet by, for one, and it doesn’t do anything to increase understanding of what does make for a good diet. All it does is attempt to tear down diets that detractors think are invalid when they’re not educated enough to have an informed opinion on the subject.
So what should our measures be for a good diet, then? I think a diet that helps you to be healthy, lean, energetic and happy is a good standard. If you are getting those things out of your USDA food guide plate, then more power to you. If you’ve got a system set up where you eat whatever you want and then go hit a tire with a sledgehammer 200 times to burn off the cheesecake, that’s awesome. Cheesecake is delicious and that tire had it coming. If, however, you’re having problems sleeping or you’re having digestive issues or chronic illnesses or you’ve got more body fat than you’d like, or you’re feeling depressed, it’s worth looking into a new diet to see if it can help. Obviously, I’ve found one that really works for me. You just need to find one that works for you. Do the research. Learn the science. Get educated enough to know why you’re doing what you’re doing so the chubby, helpful people who tell you “the weight will come back” will get a hefty dose of knowledge by way of thanks for their “help”.