The book Why Diets Make Us Fat: The Unintended Consequences of Our Obsession with Weight Loss makes a spirited case for abandoning diets in favor of behaviors that will truly improve and extend our lives. Author Sandra Aamodt, PhD, neuroscientist and former editor of a leading brain research journal, believes traditional diets just do not work and often leave the dieter worse off than before. She points out that the brain responds to any substantial weight loss by lowering metabolism, increasing hunger, and reducing physical activity in subconscious ways, nudging us slowly to regain the weight. She provides a scientific rationale for why dieting has not made us thin or healthy. It is not because we lack willpower, but because our brains are working to protect us from starvation, as they have done for thousands of generations. Instead of dieting, the author recommends eating mindfully with attention, joy, and without judgment while being fully aware of hunger and fullness, the experience of eating itself, and its effects on our bodies.
In the United States alone, 108 million people went on a diet last year and 80% of girls have been on a diet by the time they’re 10 years old. Yet, research shows that the vast majority of people who purposely lose weight gain it back. In addition, girls whose families tease them about their weight are twice as likely to gain weight. Sandra Aamodt was no different. At age 13, she started her first diet in her own quest to be thin, leading to a vicious cycle of yo-yo dieting that spanned the next 30 years. In 2010, she vowed to go an entire year without dieting or weighing herself and to exercise every day. Through the process, she realized how much mental energy she was wasting on trying to control her eating and how much the need to be thin was damaging her self-image.
That’s when she turned to mindful eating to improve her own relationship with food. She notes that,intuitive eaters are less likely to be overweight and they spend less time thinking about food. While,controlled eaters think more about food and are more susceptible to binge eating. Although she subscribes to the 1980s theory that we each have our own unique “set-point” range for bodyweight, she believes we do have the power to influence our own health and wellbeing through exercise and other health-affirming activities.
From a scientific perspective, she points out that it’s the brain that controls our hunger and energy use. She discusses the role of the hypothalamus, chemical signals and stress hormones that act on fat cells to increase abdominal fat and weight anxiety, asserting dieting can lead to binge eating and weight gain down the road. She highlights the work of researcher Dr. Rudy Leibel of Columbia University that determined people who have lost 10% of their body weight burn 250 to 400 calories less per day because metabolism is suppressed. This means that a successful dieter must eat this much less forever than someone of the same weight who has always been thin. No wonder it’s difficult to keep lost weight off for good!
As a dietitian, this book helped me bridge the gap between my knowledge of the science of nutrition and the neuroscience related to weight regulation. It is divided into three key parts: the trouble with diets, why we gain weight, and a better way. Aamodt hopes parents will be among the readers of her new book and realize that it’s really ok for kids to eat when they are hungry. Expressing anxiety about children's bodies is not going to make them thinner. Instead, it's likely to lead to stress, shame, stigma, weight gain, and increased risk of eating disorders. The book may also help chronic dieters understand the neuroscience and psychology behind yo-yo dieting to help put an end to the common cycle of weight gain, loss, and regain.
The hardcover edition, published in June 2016, retails for $16.99 on Amazon or read it on Kindle for $13.99. If you decide to use this book, please share your experience. Tag me on Facebook KarenMaceBuch and NutritionConnectionsLLC, or tweet me @karenbuch using #FoodNewsReviews.
Disclosure: The reviewer received a review copy and was compensated to write this post when it was first published on Nutrition411.com. Thoughts and opinions expressed are the reviewer’s own.